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Myanmar Waits Approval of Draft Rights Law

Originally appeared in The Myanmar Times

December 14, 2012

A draft Myanmar National Human Rights law aimed at broadening the work of the human right commission and ensuring its independence has been sent to President U Thein Sein, the commission’s chairman said last week.

U Win Mra, chairman of Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, said he hoped the president would approve the draft “very soon”.

“In order to protect human rights and to enhance our work, we need more authority to act and work independently,” he told The Myanmar Times on Monday, December 10 after a Human Rights Day ceremony at Inya Lake Hotel in Yangon.

The law will also resolve a dispute between the government and legislators over the formation of the commission, as it will have to be submitted to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw for approval. In April, the parliament refused to approve the government’s funding request for the commission because legislators argued that its formation by presidential decree did not conform to the constitution.

“After the president has approved [the draft], we will send it to the hluttaw. Then they will debate, consider and enact it as a law,” U Win Mra said.

While he declined to give details about the draft’s contents, U Win Mra hinted that it would increase or formalise civil society involvement in the right commission.

“If we want to work independently, we cannot forget the important role of civil society,” he said.

He said that a team would be established to decide on a new structure and members for the commission, which was formed in September 2011.

“Old members can be reselected as they already know the tasks and procedures and new members [can be added]. There is chance that [the commission’s makeup] will change.”

The commission released a statement to mark Human Rights Day in which it outlined some of its activities since its formation, including the examination of most of the more than 3000 complaint letters the commission had received to the end of November.

“Since it is the first time that a human rights complaint procedure has been established in the country, many people immediately started to send in their complaints soon after the establishment of the commission,” U Win Mra said at the Monday, December 10 ceremony. “Through this mechanism, a culture that human rights violations must be protected has been established.”

The statement said the commission’s letters of appeal to the president and statements on the need to grant amnesties to prisoners had also led to the release of “thousands of prisoners and finally in a plan for transparent process to examine the cases of remaining prisoners, as announced by the Information Team of the President’s Office”.

“The commission is gratified that some of those released are currently playing an important role in the country’s democratisation process. The experience of the commission in protection work has vividly underscored the importance of the government’s cooperation and that of other stakeholders,” the statement said.

Noting that Myanmar was the first country to vote for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, U Win Mra also used his address to call on the government to sign up to two subsequent human rights covenants, which came into force in 1976.

“It is high time for the Myanmar government to give careful consideration to accede to the two covenants to demonstrate its deeper commitment to human right,” he said.

The event was the first official Human Rights Day celebration in Myanmar since 1988, and was also attended by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator Mr Ashok Nigam and Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights regional representative Ms Matilda Bogner, as well as journalists, diplomats and civil society leaders.

At the ceremony Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said education is the key to building a strong foundation for respect of human rights.

“Unless people can make their expressions not only known, but respected, their aspirations will be ignored,” she said.

She added that Myanmar people need to learn how to reach decisions through consensus.

“I’ve always said that Burmese people, the people of this country, not just the Burmese, all the different ethnic nationalities, are weak in achieving compromise through negotiation. This is something we have to learn through practice and through listening.”

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This post is in: NHRC Monitor

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