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His Excellency U Mya Than,
Permanent Representative and
Leader of the Myanmar Observer Delegation
the Sixtieth Session of the Commission on
Rebuttals to the draft resolution No. E/CN.4/2004/L.34
Geneva, 21 April 2004
I should like to offer some comments on the draft resolution on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, contained in document E/CN. 4/2004/L.34, submitted and orally amended by Ireland on behalf of the European Union and other countries.
I wish to express our appreciation to Ambassador Mary Whelan and her delegation for their understanding and coordination as the Chair of the EU in consultations with other delegations, including my own, on the draft resolution.
This year's draft resolution is, however, still a far cry from what it ought to be, i.e., a fair, constructive, balanced and forward-looking draft resolution.
Myanmar is at a critical juncture of its political evolution. There is optimism on the positive developments, currently unfolding in Myanmar. The 7-step Road Map, proclaimed by General Khin Nyunt, Prime Minister of the Union of Myanmar, is the key to the political future of the country. The reconvening of the National Convention — the first step of the Road Map — will take place next month.
The lack of balance in L.34 lies in the fact that it has failed to reflect such recent positive developments in Myanmar in an appropriate and fitting manner. Several recent landmark developments, including the proclamation of the Road Map by the Prime Minister and the forthcoming meeting of the National Convention in May, are missing in the welcoming operative paragraph. The problem is that, when the draft resolution reflects positive developments, it does so grudgingly or only "takes note".
The proclamation of the 7-step Road Map by General Khin Nyunt, Prime Minister of the Union of Myanmar, on 30 August 2003 is a watershed in the political evolution of Myanmar. It has been welcomed by the Seventh ASEAN+3 Summit held in Bali, Indonesia in October 2003. It has also been hailed by other countries in the region. Professor Pinheiro, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, in his report to the Sixtieth Session as well as in his oral presentation to the Commission on 26 March, has reflected this positive development. His report and oral presentation reads: -
"The announcement of the road map by the Prime Minister in August 2003 was acknowledged by some members of the international community as a positive initiative towards a process of political transition."
This ought to be duly reflected in the draft resolution. But this is actually missing in the welcoming operative paragraph of L.34.
The same applies to the reconvening of the National Convention on 17 May 2004. The constitutional process through the National Convention and the reconvening of the National Convention next month have been hailed by the entire people and the national groups as well as by the countries in the region.
Preparations are in progress. Representatives from the eight strata of the people will take part in the National Convention. This constitutional process is of great importance for the future of the country. This should also be reflected more positively in the draft resolution.
What is also conspicuous by its absence in the welcoming paragraph of the draft resolution is a reference to the signal achievements by the Myanmar Government in combating the scourge of illicit drugs. I am quoting here only independent sources to underline this hiatus.
The 2003 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) by the Department of State of the United States of America acknowledges that the estimated opium production in Myanmar had decreased by 81 percent over the past 7 years. It has also been recognized by the 2003 International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) that, as a result of the continuing efforts of the Myanmar Government, the poppy cultivation in the frontier areas of the country had declined by almost two-thirds since 1996.
Such important achievements in the war on illicit drugs ought to be duly recognized and reflected in the draft resolution.
In the international arena, Myanmar is playing an active role and cooperating fully with the United Nations, the Commission on Human Rights and other international organizations.
Myanmar's full cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UNHCR, the UNICEF, the ICRC, the Commission on Human Rights as well as with the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General and the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar is well known. These developments have indeed been reflected in the draft resolution.
As a matter of fact, more instances of positive developments in Myanmar, which are well-documented and acknowledged by the countries in the region and the international community, also ought to be accorded their rightful place in the draft resolution.
May I now turn to some highly imbalanced and factually incorrect negative paragraphs.
I have already dwelt at length on the correct and accurate account of the 30 May incident in my statement in the Commission on 26 March. I shall, therefore, refrain from repeating the detailed account of the incident.
The draft resolution is, once again, reverting to the incident, using accusatory language.
Much water has passed ever since under Mt. Blanc Bridge in Lake Geneva. The 30 May incident has been overtaken by events. We should be forward-looking rather than backward-looking.
The authorities have taken necessary steps in this respect. Most of the people detained in connection with the incident have been released.
There is the welcome news that the Chairman and the Leader of the National League for Democracy U Aung Shwe and the Secretary of the NLD U Lwin have been released last week. Incidentally, U Aung Shwe and U Lwin were the politicians from the NLD who represented the Party and participated in the National Convention way back in 1996.
The NLD Headquarters has also been allowed to reopen over the weekend.
These are the welcome positive developments, as we approach the date for the reconvening of the National Convention.
Some NGOs are, once again, indulging in the litany of allegations concerning violence against women in the Shan and other States. Their sweeping allegations are unfounded and devoid of any credibility. The National Intelligence Bureau, the Police Force and the Special Branch carried out comprehensive investigations into those allegations. The Representatives of the Myanmar National Committee for Women Affairs (MNCWA) also conducted thorough investigations into further cases of allegations. The findings of these investigations have been transmitted to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
(OHCHR), the Special Rapporteur on the situation on Human Rights in Myanmar as well as to the thematic Special Rapporteurs. These replies from the Myanmar Government had been reflected in the relevant documents of the Sixtieth Session of the Commission on Human Rights.
Those allegations by the NGOs that rape has been used as a weapon are nothing but a travesty of truth. Never has it been the policy of the Government to allow or condone such a crime whether it is committed by a civilian or a member of the Armed Forces. On the contrary, women are held in high esteem by the Myanmar society. As a rule, women have never been subjected to any forms of degrading treatments.
We have spoken about the unique position held by the Myanmar women in our society on previous occasions. It, however, bears reiterating here the important role played by the Myanmar women in the country. It is no exaggeration to say that the status of the Myanmar women is among the highest in the world. Their social status and legal rights such as marital and inheritance rights are much higher than in many countries around the world.
A great deal has been done in Myanmar in terms of protection and promotion of rights of women. In pursuance of the Beijing Declaration issued at the Fourth World Conference on Women, the Myanmar National Committee for Women Affairs (MNCWA) was formed in 1996. A separate Sub-Committee on Violence Against Women (VAW) has been set up, and a mechanism has been established to effectively deal with complaints by victims of all forms of VAW.
The MNCWA is carrying out a wide range of activities for the advancement of women in the country.
In cooperation with the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking in Mekong Sub-region, and with some local and international NGOs, the MNCWA has organized a series of workshops on the subject; set up an inter-disciplinary mobile training team; and published a handbook on combating trafficking in persons which was translated into Myanmar language with the funding from the UN (Ted Turner) Foundation and AusAID.
A milestone in the advancement of women in the country was the formation of the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation (MWAF) in March 2004. The first Conference of the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation was held in Yangon on 28 and 29 March 2004. The Conference adopted specific recommendations, including measures to combat violence against women and trafficking in women and children.
Myanmar attaches great importance to the question of protection and promotion of the rights of the child. Myanmar is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It submitted the first national report on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1996. The second national report is under submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2004.
The draft resolution has accusatory paragraphs on the alleged use of child soldiers. As in the case of several other negative elements in the draft resolution, we have found inaccuracies in the references in L.34 to the alleged use of child soldiers.
These inaccuracies stem from inaccuracies in the biased reports. In the briefing paper by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers to the Security Council on 16 January 2004, it was alleged that there are 70,000 child soldiers in the Myanmar Government Army. That is incorrect and unsubstantiated by credible evidence. So is the allegation that children may account for 35 to 45 percent of new recruits into the Myanmar Armed Forces. In this context, it must be noted that even the United States Embassy in Yangon has recently reported to the State Department that statistics cited in those allegations were inaccurate.
In the meantime, we have taken effective measures to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers in the country. The Government has established the high-level Committee for the Preventing Recruitment of Child Soldiers in January 2004. The Committee is chaired by Lt. General Thein Sein, Secretary-2 of the State Peace and Development Council and includes the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Home Affairs, the Minister for Labour, the Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, the Judge-Advocate General, and two high ranking military officials from the Ministry of Defence. The Committee held its first meeting on 16 January 2004, and discussed ways and means to ensure strict observance of rules, regulations and directives concerning the prevention of the recruitment of children for military service. It has also set up a Task Force, comprising the representatives from relevant line Ministries such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.
As a matter of fact, in Myanmar there already exists a legal framework, prohibiting the recruitment of child soldier. Myanmar's Defence Service Act of 1959 explicitly states that only those between the age of 18 and 25 can be recruited into the Armed Forces. In addition, the Defence Council's Instruction No. 13/73 states that a person cannot be enlisted into the Armed Forces unless he was attained the age of 18. This regulation is strictly enforced. Action is taken against those who are found to be in violation of the regulation.
The Myanmar Armed Forces is an all volunteer army, and those entering the military services do so of their free will. There is neither a draft system, nor forced conscription by the Government.
In this context, I should like to inform that there is a standing invitation to Mr. Olara A. Otunnu, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflicts to pay a visit to Myanmar at a mutually convenient date to see the situation on the ground. We are awaiting reply from him.
The sweeping allegations of violations of human rights against the ethnic nationalities are not credible and unsubstantiated. These allegations emanate from the politically-motivated anti-Government elements.
May I point out here that no one can deny the fact that, for the first time in the modern history of Myanmar, almost all armed groups have concluded peace agreements with the Government, have returned to the legal fold, and have joined hands with the Government in the development of their respective regions.
In this context, the most recent significant development is the resumption of peace talks between the Government and the largest armed group, the Karen National Union. This process can significantly improve not only the human rights situation in ethnic nationalities areas, but also the entire political climate throughout Myanmar.
The draft resolution still carry sweeping generalizations such as "systematic violations of human rights" without any shred of evidence to substantiate those accusations. The term "systematic violations of human rights" occurs in o.p. 2(a), o.p. 4(a) and o.p. 4(i).
Definitely, there have been significant and substantial improvements in the situation in Myanmar. Such improvements and positive developments are, in fact, reflected in "welcoming paragraph" o.p. 1 and " takes note paragraph" o.p. 1 (bis) of the draft resolution.
I should also like to stress that the Government of the Union of Myanmar is sparing no efforts to further enhance political, economic and social conditions in the country, which will contribute to the greater enjoyment of their rights by the people of Myanmar, including their right to development. I wish to add that it has never been a policy of the Government to encourage or condone anyone to commit any violations of human rights.
The use of the term "systematic" underlines the inconsistency of the draft resolution. The word "systematic" ought to be deleted from the draft resolution.
All in all, L.34 still leaves much to be desired. We have tried, in cooperation with the representatives of the friendly countries, to work out a more balanced draft resolution.
Despite all these efforts by my delegation as well as the representatives of the friendly countries to make the draft resolution more balanced, more constructive, more positive, less accusatory and more forward-looking, the outcome has fallen far short of meeting these criteria.
For these reasons, my delegation rejects all the negative elements in the draft resolution as well as the draft resolution as a whole, and dissociates itself from the draft resolution L.34 on situation of human rights in Myanmar.
Nevertheless, Myanmar's stand is a principled stand. We stand firm on our principles. One of the principles we believe in is that of cooperation to the extent possible with the United Nations and the Commission on Human Rights and other international organizations.
We shall, therefore, continue to cooperate to the extent possible with the Commission on Human Rights in the spirit and tradition that we have carried forward to date.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman.