Myanmar Must Face Up To Junta Crimes, UN Envoy Says

GENEVA – Burma must pursue crimes committed by the former junta but neither the quasi-civilian government nor opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi have any appetite to do so for now, a United Nations investigator said on Friday.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, said accountability for decades of violations was crucial for healing as well as for solidifying reforms.

The military regime stands accused of having used forced labour, suppressing ethnic minorities and killings and torture by its troops and police.

Ojea Quintana, asked about prospects of a truth commission or prosecutions, said: “The reality is that in Myanmar, this is not on the agenda of any of the stakeholders. It’s not on the government agenda, it’s not on the other political parties agenda and it’s not on the ethnic minority groups agenda.”

The independent UN investigator, speaking to a news briefing in Geneva, held talks with senior officials in Burma as well as Suu Kyi during his latest visit last month.

Suu Kyi’s inexperienced party began its first congress on Friday aiming to push forward positions that will become increasingly important in the run-up to a 2015 election that could sweep it into government.

On Thursday, Ojea Quintana said in an annual report that the crisis in Arakan State, where sectarian violence erupted last year, risks spreading and endangering democratic reforms undertaken since military rule ended in 2011.

The government of President Thein Sein, a former junta general, has international obligations to face “serious crimes and systematic human rights abuses”, he said.

“But in Myanmar there is not any possibility at this moment to start even a discussion on this. I think that there is a religious component in the middle as well, in terms of believing in forgiveness and looking to the future and not into the past,” he said, referring to the majority Buddhist country.

Noting that his native Argentina had emerged from a military dictatorship in the 1980s, Ojea Quintana said:

“I really believe that at some point there will be a need for healing of what happened in the past … We need to keep sending the message that this is also very important for any transition to become successful to learn from the past.

“To learn from the past you need to understand what happened and not just to act as if nothing had happened in Myanmar that had a military regime for more than 40 years.”

Ojea Quintana said Burma was lobbying member states of the UN Human Rights Council to end his mandate, which currently goes to May 2014. He felt continuing scrutiny was needed.

Foreign investors seeking opportunities in mineral-rich Burma should ensure their operations have a positive impact, ranging from ensuring workers’ rights to avoiding “land grabs”.

“The international community is now facing a kind of tension between two kinds of interests. There is a strong interest in economics and lots of countries all over the world right now want to start doing business with Myanmar. We welcome that because it might bring development,” he said.

“At the same time, the international community needs to follow UN principles on human rights, to remember human rights are at the core of any transition, development and economic process.”

7 Responses to Myanmar Must Face Up To Junta Crimes, UN Envoy Says

  1. The sham military-drafted constitution grants junta officials immunity from prosecution, but this clause won’t protect them from international prosecution.

    Senior General Than Shwe, leader of the Burmese junta, could be the first Asian to face an international war-crimes tribunal .

    This is not just my opinion, as a compelling case for investigating war crimes in Burma was made in a May 2009 by the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, in a report called “Crimes in Burma”.

    Referring only to U.N. documents, the report laid out the “systematic and widespread” atrocities committed in Burma in recent years: killings, torture, rape, “epidemic levels” of forced labour, a million people homeless and the recruitment of tens of thousands of child soldiers.

    These abuses were usually committed during armed conflict making them war crimes and crimes against humanity. The U.N. Security Council could establish a commission to investigate war crimes in Burma, then create a special tribunal to try Than Shwe, the man ultimately responsible for them.

    Bring on that day I say!

  2. Great ideal idea. It is the right thing to do but may not be the right time or even it might not be the only right way to do, in my opinion. Even bringing up an issue as such might scare them at this point. Then they become more protective of themselves by holding on to power. I am now 40 years old man and experienced the bitter years of the past in this nation. And yet I would say that forgiveness is a better option and more powerful than revenge. Forgiveness never is ignorance but higher dignity.

    • I don’t think people are looking for revenge, John – they just want justice.

    • i totally agree with Terry. Yes, Than shwe must be prosecuted for the crimes against humnity. It has nothing do with dignity or forgiveness. The damage has been done by Than Shwe is enormous. It is about justice yes. Imagine if your family members were killed by Than Shwe, then you will change your definition of forgiveness and dignity.
      The thing is I do not believe in the U.N which is controlled by the U.S which wants to deal with Burma. The U.N is playing this card for the U.S to woe Burma back from China.
      It won’t happen, if the U.S can enter Burma market. It is only game.

  3. Yeah! Tomas Ojea Quintana – you’re the only hero left.

  4. Justice is far from the victims. Ne Win got away. Than Shwe is still protected from his crimes against humanity. The criminals are still above the law in Myanmar.

  5. whatever happened to crimes committed by the US in Vietnam, whatever happened to the WMD lies, whatever happened to the International Human Rights clinic at Harvard law school whatever happened – charity does apparently only begins at home

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