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Burma; United Nations: UN Officials Critical of Human Rights Record

(May 25, 2011) Vijay Nambiar, the United Nations envoy for Burma (also called Myanmar), spoke in closed session to the U.N. Security Council concerning recent developments in the country. He noted that although some political prisoners have been released recently and others have had their sentences reduced, the steps taken were insufficient. Nambiar also praised the government for recognizing Burma's serious problems, including the government's promise to keep a “peace door” open to internal political groups. (Myanmar's Release of Political Prisoners Insufficient, UN Envoy Says, UN NEWS CENTRE (May 20, 2011).)

Nambiar stated that all political prisoners should be released and also said, “[w]e continue to urge the Myanmar authorities to do more in order to be consistent both with their recent stated commitments and to meet the expectations of both its own people and the international community.” (Id.)

A few days after Nambiar's report, Tomás Ojea Quintana, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma, issued a statement on the treatment of ethnic minority groups in the country, especially in border regions. In particular, he pointed out that the government is not taking steps to prevent abuses committed by the military against rebellious minority groups seeking autonomy. (Daniel Schearf, UN Rights Envoy Says Little Progress in Burma Despite New Government, VOANEWS.COM (May 23, 2011).)

The Special Rapporteur said that “[v]iolence continues in many of these areas, while systematic militarization contributes to human rights abuses.” He added, “[t]hese abuses include land confiscation, forced labour, internal displacement, extrajudicial killings and sexual violence. They are widespread, they continue today, and they remain essentially unaddressed by the authorities.” (Treatment of Ethnic Minorities in Myanmar Limiting Path to Democracy – UN Expert, UN NEWS CENTRE (May 23, 2011).) The Special Rapporteur was not able to visit Burma; he made these remarks after traveling to neighboring Thailand. He echoed Nambiar's statements on political prisoners, saying, “I would like to see a concrete and time-bound plan announced by the Government for the systematic release of all prisoners of conscience.” (Id.)

Ojea Quintana found some developments in the country praiseworthy, noting discussions had begun on economic, social, and cultural rights and that ethnic minority parties have been participating in legislatures. He added that “[i]n the first and only sitting of the Parliament so far, MPs, despite limitations, were able to raise some important questions from the human rights perspective.” (Id.)