Check Against Delivery



Statement by Mr. Paolo Sergio Pinheiro

Special Rapporteur  on the situation of human rights in Myanmar


58th Session of the General Assembly

Third Committee, Item 117 (c)


12 November 2003, New York




Mr. President,


I have the honor to introduce my interim report, which refers to my activities and developments relating to the human rights situation in Myanmar in the first seven months of 2003.  I am pleased to present you an update following my sixth visit to Myanmar from 3 to 8 November 2003.


My main governmental interlocutors were the Prime Minister, General Khin Nyunt; the Secretary-2 of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC); the Foreign Minister and his Deputy; the Home Minister; the Head of Department of the Office of the Military Intelligence; the Director-General of the Prisons Department; representatives of the governmental Human Rights Committee and the National Convention Convening Commission.  I had access to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (DASSK), the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD), as well as three members of the NLD Central Executive Committee (CEC), who are currently under house arrest.  I also met with representatives of ethnic nationalities parties and other political parties, the United Nations Country Team (UNCT), the diplomatic community, international civil society organizations, international and local business community, and the media. I would like to express my appreciation to the Myanmar authorities for their full cooperation in facilitating my mission.


Mr. President,


This visit took place in a very different context to past visits. Since my last mission in March 2003, the human rights situation and the process for national reconciliation have been marked by significant setbacks.  The incident in Depayin on 30 May 2003 involved serious human rights abuses and had deep political implications. In my last report, I presented the accounts of the 30 May events according to the version of the authorities and other reliable sources, as well as my own preliminary reading of the incident, based on the information available at the time of writing. During this mission, I was able to supplement my knowledge about the incident through interviews with some victims and eyewitnesses as well as discussions with the authorities and DASSK.  In response to my request, I was told that the authorities would share with me an unpublished report on the results of their official investigation. From what I heard and saw during this mission, I can say that there is a prima facie evidence that the Depayin incident could not have happened without the connivance of State agents.  The evidence that I was able to collect until now indicates that, as pro-DASSK’s rallies were growing larger, in particular from 25 to 30 May 2003, there was an escalation of threats, provocation, harassment, intimidation, bullying, and orchestrated acts of violence with the involvement of those opposed to the NLD and/or those who had some connection to government affiliated bodies. I find it difficult to believe that it would not have been possible to handle the evolving situation peacefully, thus averting the unnecessary loss of human life and suffering.


What happened at Depayin constitutes a lamentable regression in the area of human rights, not only the incident itself but also its ripple effects: the closure of all NLD offices in the country; the incommunicado detention of DASSK; the house arrest of NLD-CEC members; arrests and sentencing of NLD members and supporters, and other activists; and their increased surveillance and intimidation. Effective measures to bring to justice the perpetrators are still lacking, as mostly people, who were victims of attack, rather than their attackers had been arrested.


Rectifying this regression requires the immediate and unconditional release of all those who have been in detention or under house arrest since 30 May 2003.  In addition, compensation for the surviving victims and the families of those who lost their lives should be considered.  There should also be a thorough investigation, in accordance with international standards, including public announcement of its results and accountability of those responsible.  There should also be guarantees for non-reprisal and non-intimidation against those who cooperate in establishing the truth about Depayin. NLD offices should be re-opened too. All of these measures will contribute to healing some of the wounds left by this tragedy.


Looking back at the period between May 2002 and May 2003, when many people had some hope, albeit mixed with uncertainty, I have the impression that opportunities were missed to build on the earlier confidence-building efforts. Lack of sufficiently solid bonds of mutual confidence lead to mistrust instead of growing confidence and eventually resulted in what happened in Depayin. The tragedy on 30 May 2003 should not have happened and must not occur again.


The 30 May events also became a key defining moment in the change of attitude of the international community towards Myanmar. The SPDC came under unprecedented international condemnation, which resulted in increased international sanctions against the country.  Subsequent actions of the SPDC, namely the appointment of the new Prime Minister in August 2003 and his announcement of the seven-point road map, were acknowledged by some members of the international community.


Lessons should be learned from the Depayin incident and that knowledge applied sooner rather than later by all those who really care for the future of Myanmar.  It is not a question of seeking revenge, or taking a partisan political stance.  Effective redress of those human rights violations involved in the incident would also provide a moral compass to guide the country forward on the path to democratization. Missing this opportunity for reconciliation could lead to more negative developments. I, therefore, proposed to the SPDC that they allow me to conduct an independent assessment of the 30 May events.  The authorities have not yet agreed to this proposal.


During this mission, I got sufficient insights on the so-called road map of the SPDC. The SPDC established three committees (Convening, Working and Administrative) to prepare the National Convention, which had their first joint meeting on 5 November 2003. The authorities informed me that the starting point for the National Convention would be the 104 Principles, all political parties would be able to participate equally in the Convention and there would be new elections according to a new constitution. My reading of this information is that the results of the 1990 elections are unlikely to be considered. In my view, these and other indications do not yet show those elements conducive to a genuinely free, transparent, and inclusive process involving all political parties, ethnic nationalities and elements of civil society.


I reiterated that any credible political transition, to be successful, should be guided by human rights principles.  These require the lifting of all remaining restrictions on the freedoms of expression, movement, information, assembly and association and the repealing of related “security” legislation.  I indicated that the opening and reopening of all political parties’ offices must be considered as an immediate priority. At the moment, the only political party able to conduct its activities is the National Unity Party (NUP).  The remaining nine of the ten legally registered political parties exist only in name because of the restrictions in place. I also proposed that the SPDC pursues the establishment of a national human rights institution according to the Paris Principles, as an important step on the path towards a credible political transition. The implementation of the above-mentioned human rights requirements will create an enabling environment for open and wide-ranging discussion among the SPDC, all political parties and ethnic nationalities.   


As the authorities at all levels expressed their agreement in principle to my proposals for incorporating human rights and freedoms from the early stages of any process leading to political transition, I expect that credible indications would be given as to when and how these human rights reforms would be implemented.


Concerning the circumstances surrounding the situation of DASSK, I was informed by the authorities that she is no longer being detained under any provision of “security” legislation. However her phone line remains cut off and security arrangements remain in place.  In effect, her circumstances are those of one who has been placed under house arrest. She made it very clear to me that she would not accept freedom for herself until all those arrested since 30 May 2003 have been released. To my knowledge, so far, the SPDC has not yet made any offer to release her.


Despite my repeated calls to refrain from new arrests, I received reports that there had been approximately 250 new arrests since 30 May 2003. However, the latest governmental figures I received quote 153 people arrested in connection with the Depayin incident, out of which, according to the same source, 109 have so far been released, including the eight prisoners released on 9 November 2003. My estimation, based on crosschecking the figures from various sources, is that the number of remaining detainees appears to be higher than the official figure. Their immediate and unconditional release in no way affects the standing request for the release of all remaining political prisoners. I called for an amnesty to release all political prisoners as a “barometer” of a sound political transition. In the political history of Myanmar, there have been examples of amnesty laws, which could encourage the government in pursuing such an initiative at this juncture.


During my visit to Insein Central Prison, where I interviewed 19 political prisoners, I was able to verify that the practice of extending the detention of those political prisoners who have served their prison sentence by placing them under “administrative detention” still continues.  This practice continues to be applied even to very elderly and infirm prisoners. Although I am pleased to report that their spirit is strong in spite of their long imprisonment, I condemn this practice as cruel and unacceptable. Although the law provides for this measure, I called for the repealing of the relevant legislation as these provisions contravene international human rights standards.


I have to report the continuing ill treatment of detainees in pre-trial detention, especially in Military Intelligence (MI) interrogation centers.  In addition, I am very concerned about detainees either in pre-trial detention or undergoing trial proceedings who are allegedly kept in conditions which amount to incommunicado detention.  Moreover, the grounds for arresting these individuals are often highly arbitrary, i.e. purely for the exercise of their freedoms of opinion and expression.  In addition, the right to a fair trial, including the right to access a lawyer, continues to be denied to political detainees.


I am also concerned with reports of recurring religious intolerance and violence allegedly instigated to distract attention from present political problems, which I will address in more details in my future reports. I am also concerned about the reportedly forced conscription of civilians into military training as well as forced participation at political rallies staged to support the government’s roadmap.


I have to report that an agreement on the modalities for an independent assessment in Shan State has not yet been reached. I will pursue it with the relevant authorities, as I remain concerned with continuing allegations of serious human rights violations in ethnic minority areas. 


The suffering of the vulnerable in Myanmar is evident. I was able to visit the recently inaugurated exhibition on HIV/AIDS, and was impressed by the efforts of the government and the development assistance community to prevent and fight HIV/AIDS. I am also aware of the other activities of the assistance community to address suffering in areas that include health, protection, education and livelihoods. Much more needs to be done; the vulnerable of Myanmar cannot be made to pay for economic policies that do not place sufficient emphasis on the poor. I am impressed by the work of the UN community in Myanmar and their partners, including the cooperation between the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Myanmar Human Rights Committee to conduct human rights training for government officials. This is the first such cooperation between the UN and Myanmar authorities. I will encourage you to do more to support the initiatives of the UNCT and their partners. Cooperation could be, for example, explored in the area of economic reforms and sustainable livelihood options should the political transition arrive at a positive outcome.


Mr. President,


The 30 May events defined the political realities in the country in a much more clear-cut way than previously.  Now the situation is unique and complicated and I do not see any other solution for Myanmar than through dialogue and harmony at the negotiation table.  At this delicate juncture in the history of Myanmar, the SPDC, the NLD and other political parties, as well as the ethnic nationalities must put their heads together and decide what direction is best for their country and how they want to get there.  A unilateral move by any one group that excludes the others will not bring Myanmar closer to its optimal destination. The continuation of the present stalemate is a serious obstacle to the improvement in human rights of all people of Myanmar.