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Myanmar: Constitutional Reform, a crucial step in the transition to a more democratic nation

GENEVA (23 May 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, today called on Myanmar to press forward with the on-going process of constitutional reform.

“A country’s Constitution should be a reflection of its people’s collective aspiration, and it should embrace fundamental principles of democracy and human rights,” Mr. Ojea Quintana said. “Constitutional reform in Myanmar is a crucial step in the transition to a more democratic nation.”

The independent expert’s call comes as the 31-member Parliamentary committee reviews proposed constitutional amendments to the 2008 Constitution with a view to drafting an amendment bill for submission to Parliament.

“I hope for the amended Myanmar Constitution to be one which respects the fundamental human rights of all people living in Myanmar and not just its citizens, and one which recognizes the will of the majority but also protects the rights of the individual and minorities,” the independent expert said.

For the Special Rapporteur, the current constitutional reform process offers a key opportunity to address serious shortcomings which might become further entrenched and destabilize the reform process.

A healthy Constitution must be amended to strengthen democratic attitudes and values, to facilitate national reconciliation and the peace process, and also address the needs of the Myanmar society, as remarked by the country’s President in January this year.

However, Mr. Ojea Quintana cautioned that Myanmar is only at the beginning of a transition and that the rule of law has yet to take root, and warned that the current Constitution contains a number of provisions which undermine the rule of law and fundamental human rights.

“In order for the rule of law to prevail, the laws of the land must be in line with international human rights standards and they must apply equally to all persons,” he said. “There must be accountability of all State institutions and there must be civilian control and oversight over the military.”

“Leaving the military with an effective veto over constitutional changes, among others, does not augur well with Myanmar’s democratic ambitions especially leading up to the 2015 elections,” the human rights expert stressed. “The right of the people of Myanmar to choose their own Government and President must also be respected and upheld.”

The Special Rapporteur noted that concerns have been raised that the reform process could be upset by peaceful gatherings and rallies calling for certain constitutional amendments to be made. He believes, instead, that “such exercise of the right to freedom of expression and the right to public participation is not only a healthy sign of human rights principles at play, but that it is also a necessity for Myanmar in its transition to a more democratic nation.”

Mr. Ojea Quintana completes his six-year term as the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar at the end of this month.

Mr. Tomás Ojea Quintana (Argentina) was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2008. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. He has worked at the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. He was also the Executive Director of the OHCHR Programme for Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Bolivia. Most recently, Mr. Ojea Quintana has represented the Argentinean NGO “Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo” in cases concerning child abduction during the military régime. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/MM/Pages/SRMyanmar.aspx

Check the Special Rapporteur’s latest report on Myanmar, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session25/Pages/ListReports.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Myanmar: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Azwa Petra (+41 22 928 9103 / apetra@ohchr.org) or write to sr-myanmar@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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