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Statement by Mr. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro,
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
60th Session of the Commission on Human Rights, Item 9
Geneva, 26 March 2004
Mr. Chairperson, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have the honour to introduce my report on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. As the report was based on information received up to 17 December 2003, I would like to present it now in the light of subsequent developments.
At the outset, I would like to inform the Commission that although I have not been able to visit Myanmar before this session, the Myanmar authorities have now agreed in principle to my next visit, and I am trying to work out with the Myanmar side mutually convenient dates.
I think that it is in the best interests of Member States to be open to fair, objective and independent assessments of the situation of human rights in their countries and to welcome recommendations for change. It is time that all Member States follow the example of those 49 States that have extended standing invitations to the special procedures of the Commission on Human Rights. A basic requirement for becoming a member of this Commission should be to extend such an invitation and it is regrettable that only 19 present members of the Commission have done so. I appeal to all other members of the Commission to follow their example.
I have had the honour to be the Special Rapporteur of this Commission on the situation of human rights in Myanmar for over three years now. During this period I have always been mindful of my main obligation never to forget the sufferings of the voiceless victims of human rights violations in that country. In discharging my mandate, I have always taken into account the situation of all human rights, economic, social and cultural, as well as civil and political, and have initiated consultation and dialogue and built principled partnerships with all those, both inside and outside Myanmar, who aspire to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights and the well-being of the people in the country.
In this report, I highlight civil and political rights in the context of the process of political transition and democratization. I reported that violations of human rights were carried out during the events in Depayin on 30 May 2003 and that this constituted a setback for the overall human rights situation in Myanmar. To reverse the situation resulting from the Depayin attack, I call again for the immediate and unconditional release of all those who have been detained or put under house arrest since 30 May 2003; compensation for the surviving victims and the families of those who lost their lives; and the reopening of the offices of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
To date, according to government figures, out of 153 people arrested in connection with the Depayin incident, 151 have been released. I welcome these releases. However, as I mentioned in my report, I received information from other sources according to which there have been over 250 arrests since 30 May 2003. I therefore appeal once again to the Government to free all those who remain in detention since their arrest after that date for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedoms of expression, movement, information, assembly and association. In particular, freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi and three members of the NLD Central Executive Committee, U Tin Oo, U Aung Shwe and U Lwin, must be restored with immediate effect.
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.
During my November 2003 mission, I was given to understand that the starting point of the National Convention would be the 104 Principles that had been developed by the previous National Convention and that all political parties, including the NLD, would be able to participate equally in the Convention as one of the eight eligible categories of participants in the earlier National Convention. Moreover, the Government had reconstituted three bodies charged with preparing the reconvening of the National Convention. The membership of these bodies did not, however, include any members of NLD or any other political party, or any representatives of ethnic nationalities, at the time of their establishment and I have received no information on any change in their membership.
I hope that the commitments made by the Myanmar Government in Bangkok last December at the Forum on International Support for National Reconciliation in Myanmar regarding a time frame for the National Convention and the details of who, other than some ethnic nationalities ceasefire groups, will be invited to attend will be made clear without further delay. I also hope that following my next visit I will be able to report fully on any new developments.
With regard to the National Convention process, it should be recalled that the historical records from the previous National Convention (1993-1996) were documented by my predecessors. A number of fundamental human rights requirements must be fulfilled in order to initiate a genuine process of political transition. Delegates to the Convention should be freely chosen and represent the full range of political parties and ethnic minority groups, and should proportionally reflect the results of the 1990 elections. Freedom of speech and to meet others without hindrance, and to bring in and distribute documents and other materials should be guaranteed. Delegates should also have freedom of movement and not be confined to their dormitories and be able to return to their constituencies to consult during the Convention. They should not be arrested for peaceful activities carried out in relation to the Convention. Political parties or other groupings should not be expelled from the Convention for what they say or advocate peacefully. Political parties should not be deregistered or otherwise disqualified.
I stated during my November 2003 mission - and my view remains the same today - that the implementation of the road map must also be accompanied by real and tangible changes on the ground towards a genuinely free, transparent and inclusive process involving all political parties, ethnic nationalities and members of civil society. Political rights and freedoms must be respected in order to create an enabling
environment conducive to a successful democratic transition. The implementation of human rights reforms proposed in my reports and letters to the Myanmar authorities would help create such an environment.
In this regard, I continue to believe that the most urgent requirements remain the lifting of all remaining restrictions on the freedoms of expression, movement, information, assembly and association; the repeal of the related "security" legislation; the reopening of NLD offices; and allowing other political parties to open their offices. Moreover, all political prisoners must be released immediately and unconditionally so that they can play a positive role in the future political process of transition; no one should be arrested or punished for engaging in peaceful political activities. In that connection, I am disturbed by reported arrests and sentences for such activities. For instance, since my visit last November, a group of students have reportedly received sentences ranging from 7 to 17 years of imprisonment for distributing leaflets criticizing the road map and the National Convention. Nine persons were sentenced to death for treason for allegedly conspiring to bomb government buildings, assassinate SPDC members, having contact with political groups in exile, and disseminating "false information" about the authorities overseas, allegedly including through contacts with the International Labour Organization.
I also remain concerned about continuing allegations of human rights violations in ethnic minority areas, including Shan State. Despite my efforts to pursue the implementation of my proposed independent assessment in Shan State, an agreement on its proposed modalities has not yet been reached.
I do welcome, however, the positive cooperation of the Myanmar authorities with the International Committee of the Red Cross in ethnic minority areas. I also welcome the recent agreement of the authorities to allow the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to border areas in the eastern part of the country, namely Karen and Mon States and Tenasserim Division. A UNHCR presence in these areas, and its efforts to create conditions conducive to the return of refugees, would contribute to the national reconciliation process. Among other related positive developments, the most notable is the resumption of peace talks between the Government and the largest armed opposition group, the Karen National Union. Were human rights commitments to be built into an agreement, this process could significantly improve not only the human rights situation in ethnic minority areas, but also the political climate throughout Myanmar. I take note of the ILO mission to Myanmar earned out earlier this month with a view to undertaking in the next phase a full evaluation of the situation in the country and determining whether the conditions for the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action initialled in May 2003 have been met.
I am convinced that this Commission must act fast to strengthen the credibility of its special procedures. What is the value of making recommendations if Member States neglect most of what we report or recommend? I must confess that I have made efforts always to include in my reports recommendations that are both concrete and realistic. I acknowledge the cooperation of the Government of Myanmar with my mandate, and particularly with my past six visits, during which I was granted full access to all persons and places I requested to see. I must nonetheless report that the implementation of my recommendations by the Government has been limited. My earlier remarks attest to this.
I cannot continue requesting indefinitely the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners. I have done so many times. Since my appointment to this mandate, about 460 common prisoners
have been released on humanitarian grounds, mostly pregnant women or mothers with young children, which I have welcomed. About 700 political prisoners have also been released. This number includes also those arrested in connection with the Depayin events. However, the number of remaining political prisoners continues to be estimated at about 1300, and arrests have continued in 2004. I am distressed that my numerous appeals for the release on humanitarian grounds of elderly political prisoners have had little impact. I renew my appeal for an immediate general amnesty for political prisoners as the best path to pursue in building national reconciliation.
As I stated on a number of occasions to my interlocutors in the Government of Myanmar, improving the human rights situation in Myanmar will be a gradual process, although, as I have outlined, there are immediate steps that can and must be taken which would dramatically improve respect for human rights and signal the future direction the Government is taking. I am also aware that transition from a long military regime to a democratic one is a difficult and painful process. But a political transition towards democracy that does not respect human rights principles risks failure.
I was encouraged to hear the observations made recently by the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Myanmar. He visited the country from 1 to 4 March 2004 and indicated that Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt is committed to implementing the road map and that he will try to make the process as inclusive and credible as possible. If this is the commitment of the Prime Minister, it must be welcomed. However, it is essential that human rights elements be firmly entrenched in the political process. Should the Government of Myanmar show more concrete signs of addressing the existing human rights concerns, it would minimize obstacles to the international community's engagement with the country.