Myanmar: UN expert outlines steps for improving human rights

8 October 2008
Tomas Ojea Quintana, Special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

Improving the situation of human rights in Myanmar is still a challenging task, according to the independent United Nations expert on the issue, who has outlined a series of measures for the South-East Asian as it proceeds with its “road map to democracy” announced earlier this year.

“Respect for international human rights standards is indispensable in paving the road to democracy,” Tomás Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, writes in a report released today.

“Myanmar is going through a unique moment in its political history,” he says, noting that the country’s new Constitution was finalized in February and adopted through a referendum in May. “The next step in the road map for national reconciliation and democratic transition is the election in 2010.”

He stresses that if those general elections are prepared and conducted in an atmosphere in which human rights are fully respected, “the process will be credible, resulting in progressive achievement of democratic values.”

Mr. Quintana proposes four core human rights elements to be completed by the Government before the 2010 elections. The first is to review and amend those domestic laws which limit fundamental rights – such as freedom of expression, opinion, peaceful assembly and association – and contravene the new Constitution and international human rights standards.

“The right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, as well as the right to freedom of opinion and expression, are fundamental rights to be respected in the process towards the establishment of a solid and reliable democracy,” stated the Special Rapporteur.

“However, full enjoyment of those rights remains outstanding in Myanmar, according to reliable reports on the extension of detentions and/or new arrests of political activists.”

Mr. Quintana proposes the progressive release of prisoners of conscience, of which there are more than 2,000 detained in different facilities around the country.

“Without the free participation of prisoners of conscience, the very credibility of the general elections of 2010 would be at stake,” he stressed, adding that prisoner release would also reduce tension and inspire political participation.

Last month the Myanmar authorities freed several detainees as part of an amnesty procedure, including the country’s longest-serving political prisoner, U Win Tin, and six other senior members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), whose leader Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest.

Mr. Quintana had welcomed the move, saying he hoped it “would be the first in a series of releases of other prisoners of conscience.”

The transition to multi-party democratic and civil government, as planned by the new Constitution, will require “an intensive process of incorporating democratic values,” the Special Rapporteur notes.

Among the measures the Government should adopt are repealing discriminatory legislation, continuing efforts to respond to the aftermath of the deadly cyclone that struck the country in early May, and avoiding the recruitment of child soldiers.

He also suggests a number of changes for the country’s judiciary, which currently “is not independent and is under the direct control of the Government and the military.” Proposed measures include guaranteeing due process, exercising full independence and impartiality and setting up mechanisms to investigate human rights abuses.

Mr. Quintana, who took up his post in May 2007, serves in an independent and unpaid capacity and reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, as do all Special Rapporteurs.


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