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Human Rights Council: Maintain Scrutiny of Burma

International Pressure Needed on Minority Rights, Political Prisoners, Laws

(Geneva) – The United Nations Human Rights Council should retain its current level of scrutiny of Burma’s still poor human rights situation, Human Rights Watch said today.

The draft resolution on Burma for the council’s present session should continue the mandate of the special rapporteur on Burma under Item 4 of the council’s agenda to ensure monitoring and reporting on human rights developments in the country. Agenda Item 4 is for situations that require the council’s continuing attention.

“The Human Rights Council’s support for reform in Burma should not veil international concern about continued serious abuses in the country,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “The council should endorse continued monitoring and reporting on Burma to move human rights reform forward and address the many challenging human rights issues that remain.”

The recently released report of the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, outlines continued challenges to improve the rights of Rohingya Muslims, end grave violations of the laws of war in Kachin State, ensure humanitarian aid reaches populations in need, and reform or revoke rights-abusing laws. President Thein Sein, who is visiting Europe, and government representatives at the council continue to deny independent findings of continuing abuses in Burma, including those described in the Quintana report.

Pledges made by Thein Sein on November 19, 2012, on the eve of a visit to Rangoon by US President Barack Obama, included a promise to invite the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish an office in Burma, implement a mechanism to review the cases of political prisoners still in prison, end violence in Arakan State and hold accountable those responsible for attacks, and permit the International Committee of the Red Cross to resume prison visits and monitor conflict areas.

“The Human Rights Council should call for the fulfilment of these reform pledges and recognize that it has a prominent role to play monitoring their implementation,” de Rivero said. “Downgrading the scrutiny of the UN human rights body that has contributed so much to the current reforms would be premature and potentially disruptive of this fledgling process.”

Human Rights Watch urged the Human Rights Council to call on the government of Burma to take the following steps to further the reform process:

  • Sign a memorandum of understanding on the establishment of an office of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the country that has a full mandate for rights monitoring, protection, and technical assistance;
  • Fulfill the pledge to release remaining political prisoners and fully support the work of the political prisoner review mechanism established by the government in February;
  • Take all necessary measures to end human rights abuses that continue to be committed by the military, most notably in Kachin State, and hold accountable those responsible for such abuses;
  • Set a clear target date for the review of existing laws, decrees, and regulations that have been used to prosecute peaceful dissidents and otherwise violate fundamental rights, with the aim to revoke them or bring them into compliance with international human rights standards; and
  • Fulfill the pledge to “pursue sustainable political solutions that address efficient governance and rights of ethnic nationalities” in Burma. Addressing this issue should include amending the 1982 Citizenship Law, whose discriminatory provisions have been used to deny citizenship to most Rohingya Muslims and other minority groups. 

“The council should not let the government sweep the issue of minority rights under the rug,” de Rivero said. “This includes revising the 1982 Citizenship Law to end discrimination against Rohingya Muslims.”

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