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Regime Denies Violations in Review at UN Human Rights Council Amid Increased Violence on the Ground

By Burma Partnership  •  June 13, 2011

On 8 June 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council reviewed and adopted the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Burma, which took place earlier this year in January. International human rights groups and Burma groups such as the Burma Forum on the Universal Periodic Review (BF-UPR) expressed serious concern regarding the lack of concrete responses to vital recommendations, including those “calling for the protection of civilians in conflict areas and the rights of internally displaced persons,” and the “end [of] the practice of torture by security forces,” amongst many others. As the Asian Legal Resource Centre stated in their statement, “the Council need only look at the recommendations that [Burma] has not accepted to understand the challenges that the UPR faces in attempting to be relevant and effective concerning extreme human rights situations.”

When Burma appeared before the Human Rights Council in January 2011, the military regime’s delegation denied all serious human rights violations and immediately rejected 70 out of a total of 190 recommendations made by member states. Delegates provided a false account of the current human rights situation in Burma, stating that there are “no widespread occurrences of human rights violations with impunity.” In response to Burma’s UPR session, Elaine Pearson, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch, Asia Division stated, “Burmese authorities only demonstrate perfunctory cooperation, doing the bare minimum to deter international criticism, not genuine efforts to provide for the rights of their citizens.”

During the session, multiple states raised a series of important thematic issues including the large scale and ongoing detention of political prisoners, the forced recruitment of child soldiers, sexual violence against women, and the widespread and systematic nature of the violations being directed at civilian populations. However, the regime remained steadfast in its denial of the continued existence of human rights violations on various fronts.

On the issue of political prisoners, Zaw Win, Director General of the Prisons Department, maintained that the alleged political prisoners “are in prison because they had breached the prevailing laws and not because of their political belief,” and that “there are no prison deaths resulting from torture… When necessary, if facilities for surgical or other medical attention is not available in the jail hospital, the prisoner is sent to the general hospital for treatment.” This is despite the overwhelming body of evidence to suggest the contrary. Over the years, the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP) has documented the deaths of 146 political prisoners due to torture, ill treatment, or denial of access to medical care.

The regime also denied involvement in forced displacement, particularly with respect to development projects. Khin Saw Aye, Director of the Ministry of Finance and Revenue claimed, “the government provides a reasonable area of land for resettlement after the negotiations are made with the local community,” and that “authorities and the project partners are vigilant to prevent the occurrence of any incidence which reflects the violations of human rights in the project site areas.” However, Khin Saw Aye’s statement is in complete contradiction to extensive documentation, including reports made by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana. This is not to mention displacement due to armed conflict, the latest of which includes renewed fighting in Kachin State between the Kachin Independence Army and the Burma Army. For breaking news on the conflict, please visit the Kachin News Group.

The regime’s brazen unwillingness to acknowledge these issues through engagement with the UPR process signals that the international community should hold little, if any, optimism about genuine reform or human rights remedies. Hundreds civil society and community groups from Burma, solidarity organizations and international human rights NGOs like Human Rights Watch have again called for a Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes to ensure justice for the people of Burma.

In her opening statement to the Human Rights Council session, the High Commissioner for Human Rights emphasized that, “sustainable transition requires an end to impunity and ensuring accountability.” This is a critical point. There are no existing mechanisms available inside Burma that could reliably and adeptly establish justice and accountability. The failure to independently investigate widespread and systematic violations of human rights delays the healing of affected individuals and communities and will only make further abuses inevitable. Though in practice the realization of human rights occurs ‘progressively’, the regime’s false narrative on progress in Burma and their persistent unwillingness to cooperate meaningfully with the United Nations firmly suggests that they are committed to propaganda, rather than problem solving. The UN should see the unwillingness of the regime to address ongoing human rights violations as strong grounds to establish a Commission of Inquiry into possible crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma.

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