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Burma’s NHRC: Cheerleader for the Regime

By Burma Partnership  •  December 12, 2011

On Saturday, the world celebrated International Human Rights Day. However, in Burma, this anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights marked yet another year without any improvement in the human rights situation of the people.

The newly formed National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) used the occasion to release a statement praising the regime’s commitment to human rights.

In its statement, the NHRC referred to the importance of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The NHRC is right these two texts are of high importance. In fact, they are of such importance that, if the NHRC was an independent effective human rights body, it would have surely called on the regime to ratify these two fundamental instruments.

The NHRC further states that, “The Constitution adopted on 29 May, 2008 overwhelmingly by the people of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar also enshrines these fundamental human rights.” This sentence alone is enough to clearly demonstrate that the NHRC is nothing more than a tool used to legitimize the regime. Firstly, the 2008 Constitution is an undemocratic military-drafted Constitution adopted by a flawed referendum held only few weeks after Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, killing 138,000 people and leaving 2.4 million people struggling to survive. Secondly, the 2008 Constitution itself violates the rights of the people of Burma and is an instrument used by the regime to maintain power and oppress the population. Thirdly, if the NHRC was in a position to independently carry out its work, it would not blindly promote a Constitution that enshrines human rights violations and protects perpetrators. Rather the NHRC would call on the regime to amend the Constitution to be in compliance with international human rights standards.

It is not a surprise that the language in the NHRC’s statement is identical to that used by regime officials. The NHRC is composed of people who have made a career out of defending the regime’s abysmal human rights record. The Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the commission are former regime spokespersons at the UN, who constantly denied the existence of human rights violations, impunity, forced labour and use of child soldiers in Burma. The leadership of the commission clearly lacks credibility, leaving little hope that the body will ever be able to carry out its duties independently.

The NHRC also claimed that it complies with the Paris Principles, which are the international standards that are used to determine a national human rights institution’s independence and effectiveness. However, a simple glance at the NHRC’s composition, establishment, and mandate is enough to clearly demonstrate that it violates these core principles.

In a final attempt at proving the NHRC’s effectiveness, the body states that it has finished drafting its Rules of Procedure. Where are they? There is little publicly available information about the NHRC. The entire process of its establishment is everything but transparent, making it clear that the commission is not designed to be a functional and effective institution, accessible to the public and, in particular, victims of human rights violations.

The international community must not sideline the issue of impunity in Burma because of the so called “reforms” that Thein Sein’s government has taken, including the establishment of the NHRC. Now is the time for the international community to call on the regime to take the necessary steps to make the commission a truly independent and effective mechanism by complying with the international standards. Today’s NHRC is not a solution to human rights violations and rampant impunity, but will only serve as a tool for whitewashing Burma’s appalling record of human rights abuses.

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This post is in: Blog, NHRC Monitor

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