Burma’s Rights Violations Continue despite Reforms: UN Envoy

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 18 February 2013

RANGOON—A UN rights envoy visiting Burma has warned that human rights violations in the country are continuing, as the government’s ongoing reform process is lacking in its implementation on the ground.

During a press conference on Saturday at the end of his five-day visit to Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, told reporters that “while the process of reform is continuing in the right direction, there are significant human rights shortcomings that remain unaddressed.”

The UN special rapporteur visited internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps and prisons in Kachin State in northern Burma, where the central government and Kachin rebels have been at war since June 2011. Peace talks between both parties were held on the Chinese border on Feb.4 and are due to resume this week.

“While I welcome the peace talks, I am concerned about the ongoing practice of arbitrary arrest and torture during interrogation by the military of Kachin men accused of belonging to the Kachin Independence Army,” he said.

“Furthermore, the ongoing large military presence which remains beyond the reach of accountability mechanisms, means that serious human rights violations are continuing there [in Kachin state],” he added.

Quintana also visited IDP camps in Arakan State in western Burma, where communal strife between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims erupted last year. He said he was able to meet some people out of the approximately 110,000 internally displaced people there, most of who are Rohingya.

“My major concern lies with the lack of adequate health care in the larger Muslim camps. I urge the central and state authorities to ensure that adequate medical care is provided to all IDP camps,” he said.

The Rohingya are not officially recognized as an ethnic minority by the governments in Burma or in neighboring Bangladesh. Local Arakanese leaders and state security forces have been accused being complicit in attacks on the group. Médecins Sans Frontières alleged on Feb. 7 that local authorities were blocking medical aid for Rohingya IDP camps.

Despite acknowledging the government’s release of a large number of political prisoners last year, the UN rights envoy stressed that a significant number remain incarcerated. Quintana visited to Rangoon’s Insein Prison, where he met five prisoners of conscience.

He also spoke with several family members of people who died following torture during interrogations in police custody. Quintana expressed his concern about such malpractices in prisons around the country and said it was “an ongoing practice” that highlights the gaps that exist between the reforms at the highest levels of government and the reality on the ground.

“Furthermore, permits for assemblies are being granted and denied arbitrarily and on political grounds. And the behavior of law enforcement personnel towards protestors is not always consistent with international human rights standards,” he said.

While in Burma, the UN special rapporteur also met with high-ranking government officials, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, members of the 88 Generation Students group and other civil society organizations.

Activist Kyaw Min Yu, also known as Jimmy, was among the student group members who met with the UN rights envoy. He said they made suggestions to Quintana on issues like humanitarian aid in Kachin State, political prisoners, IDPs and other rights issues.

“We suggested the hot topics he should take into consideration,” said the student leader. “Given the issues we discussed with Mr Quintana, we still need a UN rights envoy who keeps a watchful eye on Burma, even though our country is now in a transitional period.”

Quintana was appointed as UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma in 2008 and he has since visited the country seven times.