Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Burmese activists urge UN rights Rapporteur to meet detainees

New Delhi (Mizzima-Relief Web)— The UN human rights Rapporteur, during his visit to Burma should meet political prisoners, independent organizations and listen to the people in order to understand the nature of the ongoing human rights violations, a Burmese human rights activist said.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the newly appointed UN special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Burma, is currently on a four-day visit to Burma.

The Thailand based Human Rights Education Institute of Burma's director Aung Myo Min said, Quintana's mission cannot be a success unless he is able to meet political prisoners, talk to political parties, leaders of ethnic nationalities and listen to the peoples' voices on the ongoing human rights violations in the country.

"If he cannot meet political prisoners then his mission will not be called a success," Aung Myo Min said.

Quintana, who took over from his predecessor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, on the first day of his mission on Sunday, met government officials including Burma's Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu, who also chairs the Tripartite Core Group formed with the UN, Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Burmese government to help Cyclone Nargis victims.

According to the UN, Quintana was briefed by Kyaw Thu on the progress made in terms of helping victims of Cyclone Nargis that lashed Burma's coastal divisions of Irrawaddy and Rangoon and left 138,000 killed or missing.

Attending meetings and following the junta's schedule would not help the Rapporteur to understand the nature of abuses that the people of Burma had faced since 1962, which significantly accelerated after the 1988 mass uprising that was brutally crushed, critics said.

Aung Myo Min said, the Rapporteur must insist on meeting political detainees including pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who have been arrested and kept in solitary confinement for the past 12 of 18 years.

"He should also raise the issue of the May referendum where there have been widespread allegations of vote rigging and intimidations," Aung Myo Min added.

Another Human Rights activist in Burma, Myint Aye, said Quintana needs to go beyond the government's schedule and look for people in the cyclone hit region, and conduct prison visits to see the real situation.

"Much will depend on whether he can insist on his own plans," Myint Aye, a member of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters Network in Burma, told Mizzima.

The HRDP, which has been actively taking initiatives to promote human rights awareness in Burma, has been on the government's targeted list with several of their members brutally beaten by government-backed thugs and detained.

"We, even human rights activists, are subject to harassment and attacks," said Myint Aye adding that they are willing to meet the visiting Rapporteur to explain the true situation that they are facing.

Meanwhile, Burma's main opposition party the National League for Democracy said it does not believe that Quintana will be able to bring about any kind of change in Burma but expects that the Rapporteur will at least discover the ongoing rights abuses.

"We hope he [Quintana] can reveal the human rights abuses in Burma as United Nation Special Rapporteur," Nyan Win, the NLD spokesperson said.

But in order to do so, he must not confine his meetings to the government's schedule but should meet civil organizations, and non-government groups.

According to the UN, while Quintana asked to meet State officials and Heads of State institutions, he had also requested that he wanted to meet representatives of ethnic groups, political parties, religious groups, civil society, NGOs and members of Human Rights Bodies.

He has also requested for a visit Yangon and areas affected by cyclone Nargis and travel to Kayin State and Rakhine State, the UN said.

Nyan Win said, he and his group are also waiting for invitations to meet the visiting Rapporteur and are willing to explain the situation of human rights as they see it on the ground.

"So far there is no invitation to us for meeting him," Nyan Win added.

It is the UN Rapporteur's first visit to Burma after his predecessor made his last visit in November 2007. He will conclude the trip on August 7.

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