Myanmar: UN human rights expert reports cautious optimism among parties

6 April 2001

A United Nations human rights expert who has just returned from Myanmar after three days of talks with government and opposition party leaders said today that there appeared to be cautious optimism about the latest developments in the country.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, told reporters in Geneva that all of the parties had conveyed to him the impression that something was happening "in terms of conversation, talks, dialogue -- we may use any word as nobody says exactly what is happening."

Mr. Pinheiro stressed that he was working to support the efforts of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for Myanmar, Razali Ismail, who is trying to facilitate a dialogue between the Government and the opposition with the involvement of national minorities.

Asked if he thought that the cautious optimism could be translated into concrete measures, Mr. Pinheiro said that the authorities had spoken with him about the possibility of having democratization, a civilian government and the guarantee of basic freedoms in Myanmar.

The discussions had also touched on the possible release of political prisoners. Mr. Pinheiro said he had expressed his hope that detained members of Parliament, elderly prisoners and prisoners with mental problems could be freed as soon as possible. He added that he would like to have full access to Myanmar's prisons during his next visit, which he hoped would take place in July.

The Special Rapporteur observed that human rights was a new concept for Myanmar -- an isolated country whose people had not been exposed to such international principles. He welcomed the fact that government representatives had expressed enthusiasm about international covenants and UN mechanisms dealing with human rights.