(New York) - The United Nations special envoy on Burma should demand that the military government commit to the creation of a structured mechanism for negotiations with opposition parties and civil society on a quick transition to civilian rule, Human Rights Watch said today. On Saturday, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, begins his second visit to Burma since the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrations in September and October.

“Superficial dialogue without a clear purpose or structure will simply lead to more empty photo opportunities of opposition leaders like Aung San Suu Kyi with powerless government officials,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s important that this visit gets to the heart of the matter – the need to end continued draconian military rule and systematic human rights abuses.”

When he briefed the UN Security Council on October 5, Gambari stated that he had encouraged the Burmese government to pursue “the promotion of an all-inclusive national reconciliation process.” The government’s long-running National Convention to write a new constitution ended in early September with an engineered outcome after 14 years of tightly controlled meetings with no public participation. The deteriorating socio-economic conditions and the lack of genuine dialogue in Burma were the main factors that led monks and others to take to the streets.

Human Rights Watch also urged Gambari to obtain public guarantees from the government of complete cooperation with the November visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Burma. This should include full and unfettered access to political prisoners and detainees, and to all official and unofficial places of detention, as well as protection for individuals who meet the Special Rapporteur.

“Full cooperation with the United Nations on investigations into the recent crackdown should be a litmus test for the usefulness of continued engagement with the Burmese government,” said Adams.

Since Gambari’s last visit to Burma four weeks ago, the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has continued to arrest individuals accused of being involved in the protests – or even just standing in public watching the demonstrations. Information from throughout the country indicates widespread fear among the populace. While UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Gambari have called for the release of all political prisoners, to date, few prominent political activists have been released.

The SPDC appointed deputy labor minister Aung Kyi to serve as the government’s liaison with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, although there has been no high-level meeting since that appointment. Far from demonstrating an interest in national reconciliation, Burmese state propaganda and mass rallies of supposed civilian supporters have accused the demonstrators of being supported by outside agitators and the international media of distorting the real situation in Burma.

The government’s brutality is well-documented. A Human Rights Watch report released this week showed how the SPDC continues to forcibly recruit children as young as 10 years old into its ranks as adults desert. (https://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2007/10/31/burma17178.htm)

Human Rights Watch called for the government to make commitments to Special Envoy Gambari to:

  • Immediately release all persons detained for exercising their rights to free expression, association and assembly, including during the recent unrest;
  • Promptly begin a genuine process of dialogue with all political parties, representatives of Burma’s many ethnic groups, social and political activists, the Buddhist clergy, and other civil society groups, on political, social and economic conditions in Burma;
  • Cease military attacks targeting ethnic minority populations throughout the country; and,
  • End unnecessary or excessive restrictions on the operations of international humanitarian aid agencies, including UN agencies and international relief organizations.

The Security Council, with the consent of China and Russia, has already called on Burma to take similar steps.

“The Burmese government has done nothing to reverse the crackdown of the past two months,” said Adams. “The Chinese, Indian and Russian governments, which are key supporters of the military, should publicly back Gambari in efforts to make real progress on human rights.”