Myanmar must stay in rights spotlight: UN monitor

Myanmar must stay in rights spotlight: UN monitor

The world must keep Myanmar in the spotlight, a UN human rights monitor warned Friday, saying there was a gap between words and deeds since its military junta made way for democracy.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, set to present a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council next week, urged foreign nations to be cautious as they jostle to do business in the former pariah state.

“I believe the international community is facing now a kind of tension between two kinds of interests. There’s a strong interest on economics. A lot of countries want to start doing business with Myanmar. We need to welcome that, it’s important, as it might bring development,” Quintana told reporters.

“But at the same time, the international community needs to follow United Nations principles of human rights. To remember that human rights are at the core of any transition, development, and economic process,” he said.

Quintana is from Argentina, which also made the transition from military rule in the 1980s, and worked as a lawyer for victims of the junta’s abuses.

He was appointed as the UN’s Myanmar monitor in 2008, and has conducted regular visits to assess its transition.

In 2010, democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was released after two decades under house arrest.

The junta’s four-decade rule ended formally in 2011 when reformist Thein Sein — a former military commander — become president.

“As a general assessment, the process has created conditions to improve human rights,” said Quintana.

“This is the time to really stress that the decisions that have been taken at the higher level must be implemented on the ground. We haven’t seen too much change on the ground. This is the reality.

“If these human rights shortcomings are not addressed, they might become entrenched,” he added.

He warned that some laws passed by the civilian government “do not meet international human rights standards”, pointing to rules on peaceful assembly.

“People are still finding themselves arrested and imprisoned for holding demonstrations,” he said.

The civilian constitution effectively guarantees impunity for past human rights violations, he noted, and the army still appoints 25 percent of lawmakers.

In addition, while over 800 prisoners of conscience have been freed since 2011, some 250 remain behind bars, he said.

“So much has been said about the need to develop the rule of law in Myanmar, but this can only happen if the laws of land are in line with international human rights standards, and they are applied equally to all persons and institutions, including the military.”

He raised concerns about abuses by security forces in ethnic conflict areas such as Kachin state, where fighting with separatists resumed in 2011, and sectarian violence against Rohingya Muslims.

The Rohingya, numbering about 800,000, have been described by the UN as one of the most persecuted minorities on the planet, with thousands seeking refuge in neighbouring countries as boat people.

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