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Myanmar: Support for reforms means raising human rights concerns, says UN rights expert

Myanmar, reforms & human rights

25 October 2013

NEW YORK / GENEVA (25 October 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, made an urgent appeal to the international community to remain engaged on human rights at every step of the country’s reform process.

“Being a friend of Myanmar and a supporter of the current reform process involves raising human rights concerns and working with the Government to find solutions,” Mr. Ojea Quintana said during the presentation of his final report* to the UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday.

“Myanmar has made some important steps towards democratic reform and national reconciliation, which includes the release of hundreds of prisoners of conscience, greater media freedom, an active Parliament and the prospect of a national ceasefire accord next month,” the expert noted. “These developments need to be supported and encouraged, but it is also important to highlight the human rights shortcomings that exist in the reform process and work to find solutions.”

In his report, the Special Rapporteur emphasized the significance of the 13 ceasefire agreements that have been signed with ethnic armed groups, and the prospect of a national ceasefire accord.

“The fighting that continues in parts of Kachin and Northern Shan State acts as a reminder of the suffering these conflicts have brought to the people of Myanmar. The end of fighting in itself brings immediate improvements to the human rights situation, following decades of serious and widespread violations committed by the military for which there has been no accountability,” the expert said.

While welcoming the release of political prisoners, with over 950 released since May 2011, he expressed concern over the arrests and convictions of human rights defenders and peaceful protestors, including those involved in land rights issues. “I urge the Government to listen to local grievances and release the persons currently being detained for peacefully protesting on these issues,” he said.

The UN expert noted Rakhine State is continuing to experience a profound crisis. He acknowledged that the Government is showing a greater willingness to address the situation, but expressed concern that the underlying issue of discrimination against Muslim and particularly Rohingya populations remains unattended.

“The Government has yet to fulfil its obligation under international human rights law to investigate the allegations of widespread human rights violations, including by the security forces, reportedly committed during and after last year’s violence and to hold the perpetrators to account,” he said.

Mr. Ojea Quintana warned that the situation in Rakhine State was helping to feed a wider anti-Muslim narrative in Myanmar, which was posing one of the most serious threats to the reform process. “There are leaders within the community, including Buddhist monks, who are playing a positive role in addressing the discrimination and violence against Muslim populations,” he said. “These voices need to be heard and supported.”

Reflecting on the positive changes that had taken place over the past two years in Myanmar, the Rapporteur called for important steps to maintain the momentum: “Reforms of some sections of the Constitution are imperative for the democratic transition and national reconciliation to proceed. This includes the amendment of provisions which allow for military appointees to occupy 25 per cent of seats in Parliament and which disqualify persons from being President on unfair grounds, and the inclusion of provisions to address the aspirations of ethnic minority groups.”

“This is my final report to the General Assembly, and I want to express my gratitude to the people of Myanmar who have always engaged enthusiastically with me throughout the course of my mandate with the hope of seeing improvements to the situation of human rights,” he said, as he completes the maximum six years on the mandate next year. The Human Rights Council is scheduled to appoint a new mandate holder in March.

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. Learn more, log on to:

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