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22-28 August: Quintana Sees Through Burma Regime’s Public Relations Tricks

August 29, 2011

Throughout the course of the past few weeks the regime has put a great deal of effort into burnishing its image, taking a number of steps aimed at appearing to be responsive to international demands for democratic change. Sadly, most of these steps are simply window dressing and have not reduced the incidences of human rights abuses in Burma.

One action the regime has taken that is designed to improve its reputation internationally is the very public meeting between President Thein Sein and opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. But all talks between Daw Suu and the regime have focused on avoiding “conflicting views” rather than engaging in the genuine dialogue necessary for national reconciliation. Similarly, the second session of parliament opened this past week as part of the regime’s campaign to appear as if it has transitioned to civilian government. Given that 76% of the seats are held by MPs from the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, this parliament is still little more than a rubber stamp for the military regime.

The regime invited the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, to visit the country for the first time in more than a year. Quintana, who boldly called for a Commission of Inquiry a year and a half ago, was not taken in by the regime’s public relations campaign. In a press conference given at the conclusion of his visit on 25 August, he noted that there have been positive developments in the country since his last visit but that, “there are still serious and ongoing human rights concerns that need to be addressed.” Among those concerns that Quintana mentioned are “the continuing detention of a large number of prisoners of conscience” and “the continuing allegations of torture and ill-treatment during interrogation, the use of prisoners as porters for the military, and the transfers of prisoners to prisons in remote areas.”

The regime’s efforts to appear as if it is transitioning to a democracy clearly do not extend to entering into nationwide ceasefire negotiations to end the conflict in Eastern Burma. Grave human rights abuses in conflict areas have continued unabated, despite Quintana’s visit to the country. As he described, “the ongoing tensions in ethnic border areas and armed conflict with some armed ethnic groups, continue to engender serious human rights violations, including attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, internal displacement, land confiscations, the recruitment of child soldiers, as well as forced labour and portering.”

Additionally, regardless of the political developments currently taking place in the country steps must be taken to address the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated as part of the Burma Army’s offensives against ethnic armed groups. As Quintana himself noted, “justice and accountability measures, as well as measures to ensure access to the truth, are fundamental for [Burma] to face its past and current human rights challenges, and to move forward towards national reconciliation.” Given that the current regime in Burma is unwilling and unable to provide such accountability, as Quintana also noted, “the capacity, independence and impartiality of the judiciary remain outstanding issue.” The international community must therefore take responsibility for doing so through the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry.

The international community must follow Quintana’s lead and not be fooled by the regime’s public relations campaign. They must continue to demand genuine change and, as Khin Ohmar, Coordinator of Burma Partnership and Foreign Affairs Secretary of the Forum for Democracy in Burma told a conference in India this weekend, insist on “[t]he release of [all] 2,000 political prisoners, stopping the attacks against ethnic nationalities and holding an inclusive dialogue” as “the three benchmarks necessary for democratization and reconciliation in Burma.”

News Highlights

UN Special Rapporteur Tomás Ojea Quintana meets political prisoners, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; NLD raises the Depayin Massacre and the party’s legal status with Quintana, who promises to arrange for a UN legal expert to further discuss with the NLD

Speaker Shwe Mann opens the second parliamentary session in Nayipyidaw

Inside Burma

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi expresses optimism about the beginning of a co-operation process with the regime

Lower House MP Thein Nyunt puts forward a motion for the release of all  “prisoners of conscience” since the regime denies the existence of “political prisoners”

Major General Soe Shein, a trusted disciple of former dictator Senior General Than Shwe, is appointed to lead Burma’s military intelligence

According to the Lower House of Parliament Burma will run a deficit of about US$3.2 billion in the 2011-2012 fiscal year

Burma’s Health Minister states that his department received a very small budget, about only 43% of its essential need

Dr Nay Zin Latt, an advisor to President Thein Sein, says the regime will form a national independent human rights committee, however, doubts remain about the future body’s autonomy

Burma’s newest political party, the New National Democracy Party, wants to work for peace in order to bring about national reconciliation

Regime rejects Kachin Independence Organization’s peace talk based on the principles of the Panglong Treaty, stating it will only agree to peace talks based upon the 2008 Constitution

Deadly clashes continue in Kachin State with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) killing three Burma Army soldiers during an attack against troops deployed to protect military trucks; another attack by the KIA on the Mandalay-Muse border route kills two Burma Army soldiers and injures four

Burma Army troops shoot dead a teenage boy in a paddy field in Bhamo District and plant a mine at an electrical transformer in the crowded area of Myitkyina, Kachin State

Shan State authorities send an offer of peace negotiations to the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army which insists that the negotiation should be between the United Nationalities Federal Council and the regime

Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) ambushes Karen State minister and other officials in Myawaddy township, leaving three dead and one injured and call for nationwide ceasefire and withdrawal of all regime forces in ethnic areas

Upper House Speaker Khin Aung Myint says more prisoners would be released “when it is certain they would not endanger the peace and stability of the state

Insein Prison Court in Rangoon sentences a volunteer with an NLD-affiliated blood donation group to 10 years in prison for breaking the Electronic Transactions Act

Union Supreme Court revokes the license of a lawyer known for representing farmers with cases regarding the forcible seizure of their land by the state or private companies

Over 20 lawyers whose licenses had been revoked hold a press conference explaining their plan to regain their licenses, NLD plans to assist them in applying for licenses renewal

Local news journal waits for approval from the censorship board to publish an article by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (Burmese)

Regional

Refugees from Burma in Thailand and Malaysia fear of being forced back to Burma after President Thein Sein’s invitation for them to return home

Vice Chairman of a subcommittee of the Thai National Human Rights Commission, Surapong Kongchantuk, has said now is not yet the right time to repatriate refugees from Burma

Rohingya asylum seekers allege abuses at the hands of Thai authorities

Burma demands the return of a 32 sq-km strip of land lying between its Monghsat township and Thailand’s Mae Ai district, currently under the control of Thai Army forces

Japan plans to accept refugees from Burma from Umpiem camp, second largest refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border, in 2012

International

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, urges Burma to step up reforms

Ban Ki-moon, US and EU lawmakers all welcome the recent meeting between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein

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Reports

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This post is in: Weekly Highlights