Full democracy in Myanmar will take generations to achieve – UN expert

23 October 2008

Democracy will take decades to take root in Myanmar, and in the meantime tangible, step-by-step benchmarks should be set up to spur progress in the Asian country, an independent United Nations human rights expert told the General Assembly today.

Addressing the Assembly’s third committee (social, humanitarian and cultural), Tomás Ojea Quintana said assistance, expertise and cooperation with Myanmar should be provided to help its authorities realize those benchmarks.

“Restoration of full democracy cannot happen overnight; it will take generations,” he said.

Mr. Quintana, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, told the committee that it was not enough for the Assembly to adopt resolutions about the country – it should also provide the resources to implement those resources.

While Myanmar’s Government has the prime responsibility to protect and promote human rights within the country’s borders, the international community should stand ready to help at any time.

Earlier this month, in a report issued following his first visit to Myanmar, Mr. Quintana proposed that four core human rights elements be implemented: the revision of domestic laws that limit fundamental rights, the progressive release of the estimated 2,000 prisoners of conscience still in detention, the reform and training of the military so that it conforms with human rights, and changes to the judiciary so that it is fully independent.

These four elements must be completed before national elections are held in 2010, the Special Rapporteur told journalists after his presentation to the Assembly committee.

In response to questions, he called for the immediate release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League of Democracy (NLD) who is under house arrest.

“She’s under arbitrary detention,” Mr. Quintana said, describing the situation as a serious violation of human rights and warning that he was not confident she would be released in the near future.

Mr. Quintana, who serves in an independent and unpaid capacity, said he hopes to visit Myanmar again before the end of the year.

After he addressed the Assembly committee, Myanmar’s representative said Mr. Quintana had given an independent, caring and fair-minded perspective on the country, and noted that he had drawn attention to positive developments, such as the recent release of a significant number of prisoners and plans to hold multi-party elections.

But he said the Special Rapporteur had also included unsubstantiated information in his presentation, often based on what he said were distorted allegations from exiles, and had unfairly criticized the Government’s response to the devastation wreaked by Cyclone Nargis in May.


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