Human Rights Dialogue with Burma 'Very Positive': US

By Lalit K Jha 18 October 2012

WASHINGTON—The first dialogue on human rights between the USA and Burma was “very positive,” a senior US official said on Wednesday.

“We are confident that we have now an open channel with the government of Burma to discuss human rights and to continue to work on bringing them where they want to be in terms of human rights standards for their government,” the US State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, told reporters at her daily news conference.

The first Human Rights dialogue with the Burmese government was held this week in Naypyidaw by a US delegation led by Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner. The 22-member inter-agency delegation included senior representatives from the White House National Security staff, the Office of the Vice-President, the Department of Homeland Security, the US Agency for International Development, and the Department of Defense.

“The talks reflected our whole-of-government approach for engagement with Burma to address outstanding concerns of the international community in the area of human rights. The results of the dialogue were assessed to be very positive and we look forward to continuing these discussions with Burmese authorities,” Nuland said.

“We were able to talk about a broad cross-section of human rights issues,” she continued. “You saw that the delegation reflected experts in different aspects of how our government addresses human rights, and we weren’t sure whether the Burmese would be open to addressing all of those issues, and they were,” she said, adding that she hoped that this would lead to much more human rights dialogue with Burma.

“I’m not going to predict the patience of the Burmese people, but we have all spoken out about the need to get to zero in terms of political prisoners, and we’re continuing to work with the government of Burma on that,” Nuland said.

US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns is due to arrive in Naypyidaw on Oct. 18. He is scheduled to meet the President Thein Sein, members of his government, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, told news reporters in Jeddah that his organization has not received any formal notification from the Burmese that it will not open an OIC humanitarian Office in Burma.

However, he revealed that OIC had earlier received an indirect request from the Ministry of Borders in Burma to postpone the opening of the office. The Minister of Borders had represented the Burmese government in signing the cooperation agreement with the OIC delegation in Burma last month.

Ihsanoglu said the agreement stated that the OIC office was to temporarily supervise the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those affected by sectarian violence in Arakan State, in cooperation with the Burmese government. He stressed that the OIC office will not have a particular nature and will be similar to other humanitarian offices established by organizations in a number of countries affected by humanitarian crises.

According to Ihsanoglu, the Burmese government expressed support for the OIC office during a meeting with an OIC delegation last month and added that OIC has assured Burma that it intends to provide aid to those affected people without ethnic or religious discrimination.

Stressing that the OIC will not politicize humanitarian work, even though it continues its endeavors so that Muslim Rohingya minority can regain its legal and constitutional rights in the country, he said the Organization’s move on the restoring of the constitutional rights of the Rohingya would be through official diplomatic channels and not through the mentioned humanitarian office, adding that it is in no one’s interest to politicize humanitarian action.

Ihsanoglu said that the move to open such an office was aimed at achieving solidarity among peoples of the Muslim world and other peoples, stating that the Turkish and Indonesian Red Crescent institutions offer humanitarian assistance to all, reflecting an OIC model for humanitarian action.