Quintana Releases Final Report on Burma Human Rights

By Samantha Michaels 14 March 2014

RANGOON — The outgoing UN human rights rapporteur for Burma will urge the United Nations to get involved in an investigation into allegations that dozens of Rohingya Muslims were killed in Duu Chee Yar Tan village, Arakan State.

In his final report after six years of monitoring the rights situation in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana said he would recommend that the UN Human Rights Council assist with an inquiry into the situation because the Burmese government had failed to conduct a credible investigation on its own.

The UN rapporteur is expected to make these recommendations formally when he presents his report to the UN council on Monday.

Earlier this week, a government-backed investigation commission said it had found no evidence to suggest that police officers and an Arakanese Buddhist mob killed about 40 Rohingyas in Duu Chee Yar Tan in January. Members of the investigation commission included an adviser to President Thein Sein and an official from the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, which earlier conducted its own investigation into the matter and also concluded that there was no evidence of a massacre.

“In view of the failure of the government to conduct a credible and independent investigation into the allegations of widespread and systematic human rights violations in Rakhine [Arakan] State which may constitute crimes against humanity, particularly since the outbreak of the June 2012 violence … the Special Rapporteur calls on the Human Rights Council to work with the Government to establish a credible investigation to uncover the truth of what happened in Du Chee Yar Tan on 13 and 14 January 2014, and to hold anyone responsible for human rights violations to account,” said the report, published late this week on the website for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Quintana made his ninth and final mission to Burma from Feb. 14-19. In Arakan State he met with the chief of the state police force and revisited Aung Mingalar, the only remaining Muslim neighborhood in the state capital Sittwe. He also went to Laiza, a rebel stronghold in the conflict area of Kachin State, as well as the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division and the Thilawa Special Economic Zone in Rangoon Division, both sites of alleged land-grabs.

He noted “significant changes” for the better in the country’s overall rights situation since he began monitoring six years ago, including presidential amnesties that have led to the release of more than 1,100 political prisoners, free and fair by-elections in 2012, and progress in winding down decades of armed conflict in ethnic border states.

However, he said he was disappointed that Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Burma’s armed forces, never once agreed to meet with him during his term. The UN rapporteur said it was important for the military to engage more with the international community.

“For the time being, the military retains a prevailing role in the life and institutions of Myanmar [Burma],” said the report. “State institutions in general remain unaccountable and the judiciary is not yet functioning as an independent branch of the State. Moreover, the rule of law cannot yet be said to exist in Myanmar. In this regard, tackling the impunity and systematic discrimination in Rakhine State represents a particular challenge which, if left unaddressed, could jeopardise the entire reform process.”

The report reiterated many of the concerns expressed by Quintana last month, at the close of his visit, regarding ongoing rights violations in Kachin State and northern Shan State, including allegations of rape, arbitrary detention and torture during interrogation. It also expressed concerns over press freedoms.

“The Special Rapporteur highlights that there is a long way to go before Myanmar has a free, uncensored and unhindered press,” it said, noting the recent detention of journalists from two local publications for their reporting about sensitive issues.

According to the report, Quintana received assurances from Minister of Information Aung Kyi that the Printers and Publishers Registration Bill had been amended to remove the ministry’s power to grant and revoke publication licenses. The bill was formally approved by Parliament last week and will soon be signed into law by Thein Sein, but members of Burma’s Interim Press Council say it still grants the government unilateral authority to withhold or revoke licenses.

The new rapporteur on human rights in Burma will be Yanghee Lee, a South Korean expert on children’s rights issues. She has been a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child since 2003, and the committee’s chair from 2007 to 2011.