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Burma: International Commission Needed to Address Impunity

By The International Center for Transitional Justice  •  December 10, 2010

A transition in Burma should entail a genuine effort to end impunity for human rights violations, including an international commission of inquiry into allegations of these crimes, said the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) on the 62nd anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Reconciliation in Burma must include an acknowledgement that people have suffered,” said Patrick Pierce, head of ICTJ’s Burma Program. “A commission of inquiry is a necessary first step. The military regime denies that any crimes are occurring, so it falls to the international community to help gather and review information about the allegations,” he said.

The recommendation for a commission of inquiry is included in the new ICTJ briefing, “Impunity or Reconciliation in Burma’s Transition.” The briefing discusses Burma’s recent elections, the outbreak of armed conflict and Aung San Suu Kyi’s November release from house arrest.

It concludes that the elections and upsurge in violence mark a step backward on the road to a genuine democratic transition, but Aung San Suu Kyi’s emergence from house arrest may offer an alternative to the military’s roadmap for transition.

The briefing’s key recommendations include:

  • Through the General Assembly, the United Nations should establish a commission of inquiry into allegations of gross violations of human rights, following the recommendation of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.
  • The UN Secretary-General should continue to use his good offices, as well as strengthen the role of his special adviser to mediate the conflicts in Burma by bringing all key stakeholders to the negotiating table to foster national reconciliation and address impunity.
  • The ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) should allow Aung San Suu Kyi to travel freely throughout the country, should not impose restrictions on her freedom of speech or assembly and should guarantee her safety.
  • The SPDC should release all of the remaining political prisoners to demonstrate the government’s willingness to include all parties in the process of national reconciliation.
  • The SPDC should conduct a review of the 2008 Constitution through an inclusive process involving all political parties, and remove the provisions that maintain impunity for human rights violations, particularly Article 445.
  • The SPDC should engage in a genuine dialogue with the NLD and other winners of the 1990 elections, as well as ethnic leaders and all stakeholders who could play important roles in fostering national reconciliation.

Background

Burma, now renamed Myanmar, has been under military rule since a 1962 coup d’état. The current regime, the SPDC, has led a process of political transition designed to protect its leading role in the political life of the country.

A new constitution—drafted in 2008 and approved by referendum in 2009—set the course for the November 2010 elections, the country’s first elections in 20 years.

The November 2010 elections marked a major effort by the military regime to gain legitimacy, both domestically and with the international community. A highly flawed election process excluded several hundred villages and numerous political parties from participating and entrenched military rule under the guise of a democratically-elected government.

Burma’s prisons currently hold over 2,000 political prisoners. Civil society organizations that focus on human rights education, documentation and advocacy are severely restricted inside the country and members risk imprisonment for their work.

In his 2010 report to the Human Rights Council, Tomás Ojea Quintana, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, called on the UN to consider implementing a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma. This call is being backed by an increasing number of countries, all previous human rights special rapporteurs for Burma and a range of international human rights organizations.

Download the full briefing here.
For more information on ICTJ’s work in Burma, click here.

ICTJ gratefully acknowledges its funder, Not On Our Watch, whose support made this briefing paper possible.

About ICTJ

The International Center for Transitional Justice works to redress and prevent the most severe violations of human rights by confronting legacies of mass abuse. ICTJ seeks holistic solutions to promote accountability and create just and peaceful societies. For more information, visit www.ictj.org.

Contact
Patrick Pierce (Thailand)
Burma Program Head
Tel +66 (0)84-203-1920
ppierce@ictj.org

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