Human Rights Council remains divided over Burma

Quintana Bangkok Post

(Mizzima) – Meeting in Geneva, the United Nations Human Rights Council revealed it remains as divided as ever regarding the political machinations currently underway in military-ruled Burma.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma, presented his findings to the body on Monday following his third visit to the crisis-stricken Southeast Asian country.

Quintana iterated that the proposed 2010 elections at least thus far appear to be an opportunity not seized upon by the Burmese junta, as little progress is discernible toward the convening of free and fair polls. The envoy added that there also appears to have been little done on the part of authorities concerning his earlier four core human rights recommendations.

In October of 2008 the special envoy recommended the release of all prisoners of conscience, a review of national legislation in accordance with international human rights standards, judicial reform and the implementation of a human rights training program for the armed forces.

However, as with Quintana’s previous reports to the Council, representatives responded along predictably divisive lines, with most Western countries demanding the Burmese junta do more to meet its international human rights obligations and regional voices insisting the regime was making progress in guaranteeing the rights of its citizens.

Significantly, Australia joined the ranks of those in vocal support of a UN commission of inquiry into whether or not international crimes against humanity have been committed in Burma.

According to Quintana, “there is an indication that human rights violations are the result of a State policy, originating from decisions by authorities in the executive, military and judiciary at all levels.”

United States representative Douglas Griffiths added, “The recommendation that the United Nations consider creating a commission of inquiry was significant. That recommendation served to underscore the seriousness of the human rights problems in the country, and the pressing need for the international community to find an effective way to address challenges there.”

The move to establish a commission of inquiry is further supported by numerous international rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Nonetheless, Burma’s representative to the body maintained the regime’s long held line that the country’s transition towards democracy is proceeding apace while there exist no prisoners of conscience in the country’s penal system.

Despite the much maligned election laws recently released by the junta, which opponents argue merely serve to cement the military’s stranglehold, regional countries rose in guarded defense of the regime’s actions, with Thailand’s representative even claiming that a “positive trend” could be discerned regarding the events of recent weeks.

Meanwhile representatives from China and Bangladesh joined Vietnam in urging the Council to recognize the “serious commitment of Myanmar [Burma] to the national reconciliation process.”

Japan, for its part, chose to emphasize the importance of benchmarks as Burma embarks on a transition from military to democratic rule.

As presently outlined, Burma’s election laws preclude opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from participating in the elections, a position widely condemned by Quintana, Western governments and rights groups alike. Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, is expected to convene a high-level meeting at the end of March to outline a strategy in light of the restrictive election laws.


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