Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Time for Stalling on Human Rights Over

The Irrawaddy News

The United Nations Human Rights Council sent a special rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana, to Burma this week to seek improvements on the human rights situation in Burma.

One might have expected that Than Shwe's junta would make some concessions on human rights prior to Quintana's trip—instead, the exact opposite has happened, as human rights abuses have increased.

The mission, only the latest in dozens of failed trips to Burma by UN envoys and rapporteurs, was off to a bad start even before it has begun.

Instead of making substantive moves on human rights, over the past two months the junta ramped up its repression of the Burmese people. Just days ago, Than Shwe's troops re-energized their scorched-earth campaign against ethnic minorities in eastern Burma, forcing hundreds of innocent villagers to flee their homes as refugees and internally displaced persons.

On July 31st, the junta announced its intention to sentence Burma's most famous comedian and social activist, Zarganar, along with the country's leading sports reporter.

About two months ago, the junta detained various members of the National League for Democracy, the political party of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi.

On July 21, student political activist Khin Maung Tint died in Burma's notorious prison gulag, in the midst of serving a 20-year sentence.

On July 25, the junta sentenced 10 Muslim student activists to prison with hard labor for participating in the September 2007 Buddhist-monk led pro-democracy uprising.

No doubt, Than Shwe's junta will try to obscure these moves during Quintana's visit. If previous behavior is any guidepost, the junta will make a series of promises to change that will subsequently be broken when Quintana leaves the country. The regime will hope for positive comments by Quintana after his trip—statements they will use to show they are making "progress" when in reality there are no lasting changes whatsoever.

If the junta is feeling generous, it may even release a few political prisoners whom they deem to be unthreatening to their grip on power.

Instead of looking toward genuine change, the junta sees visits by UN envoys as an exercise in public relations, hoping the envoys will publicly thank the regime for allowing them to visit and thereby diminishing hopes for actual change. That such trips happen at all is cited as "progress" by some countries in the UN who seek so preserve Burma’s status quo.

This pattern of obfuscation has been carried on successfully by the junta for many years. Sadly, it has enabled Than Shwe to commit massive, widespread, systematic atrocities that could someday land him in the International Criminal Court.

Among other abuses, Than Shwe has destroyed many villages like in Darfur, Sudan, forcing hundreds of thousands of innocent villagers to flee as refugees and internally displaced persons.

He has recruited more child soldiers than any other country in the world, also a crime against humanity.

His troops carry out a policy of using rape as a weapon of war against ethnic minority women.

His regime now has nearly 2,000 political prisoners in its jails.

Before more people are senselessly imprisoned or killed in Burma, we hope that Quintana delivers a strong message to Than Shwe, demanding the immediate release of all political prisoners. While in Burma, Quintana should meet with key imprisoned leaders, including Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Su Su Nway and Zarganar.

Quintana must call on the military regime to immediately end all attacks on ethnic minorities in the country. That Than Shwe has gotten away with such attacks for so many years is devastating to Burma’s ethnic groups, and it sets a terrible precedent for the rest of the world.

Finally, Quintana should make it clear to Than Shwe that change must come immediately—if the junta attempts to draw the envoy into a protracted game of cat and mouse on human rights implementation, the UN must seek stronger action from the Human Rights Council and UN Security Council.

The time for stalling on human rights is over.

Bo Kyi is a co-founder of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma). He was tortured and served more than 7 years as a political prisoner in Burma.

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