Myanmar: States question legitimacy of elections
Wednesday, 16 March 2011 16:48

The Human Rights Council convened on 14 March 2011 for an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Mr. Tomas Ojea Quintana. The primary issues covered during the dialogue included the failure of the September 2010 elections to conform to international standards and the continued detention of large numbers of prisoners of conscience. Hungary (on behalf of the EU) is presenting a draft resolution on the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for a further year. Although there continues to be opposition to the mandate, particularly by China opposing what it calls a ‘name and shame’ approach, it appears likely that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur will be renewed at the end of the 16th session.


In his presentation and report, the Special Rapporteur called for the release of all political prisoners in Myanmar, of which there are roughly 2,100. He recognised that the release of the high-profile pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi was a step in the right direction, but re-asserted that such progress would be insufficient so long as there were still thousands of detainees in custody. This recommendation was echoed by a large number of States during the process, including Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, the European Union, France, Maldives, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States of America. Other concerns voiced by the Special Rapporteur included the lack of impartiality of the judiciary and commonplace discrimination against minority groups in the State. It was estimated that the number of Myanmar citizens to have fled to neighbouring States as a consequence of human rights violations was in the millions. Finally, Mr Quintana expressed concerns over reports that severe limitations on freedom of expression had been placed on the members of Myanmar’s new parliament. Indeed, the recent elections were widely condemned by States as having been neither free nor fair.


The signals sent by the delegation of Myanmar in response to the Special Raporteur were not promising. The delegation rejected claims that the election had been fraudulent by noting that ‘7 different parties and 82 independent candidates’ had taken part. It claimed having fully cooperated with the Special Rapporteur and permitted him to visit on three different occasions. This was not denied by Mr Quintana, who nevertheless expressed disappointment, along with many States including Canada, European Union, New Zealand, Switzerland, UK and US, that he had not gained access to Myanmar since February 2010. Myanmar’s delegation also stated that it had cooperated fully with all United Nations mechanisms, including the universal periodic review. However, as noted by other States, including the EU, US and the Maldives, a large portion of the promising recommendations that had been made during the review were rejected. Japan specifically called upon Myanmar to accept as many the recommendations kept pending as possible.


A limited number of States expressed satisfaction at the progress made by Myanmar thus far. China claimed that the elections had been carried out in a ‘smooth and successful’ manner, while Cambodia signalled an approval at ‘attempts to improve human rights’ through the participation in the UPR – but these States represented a minority of those that spoke. Indeed, those to reflect such views were all neighbouring States within the region, including Cambodia, China, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Vietnam. Indonesia, speaking on behalf of ASEAN, issued a vague statement expressing the hope that Myanmar will become ‘a stable and democratic’ society.


Little was said on what the international community could do to address the situation in Myanmar, although suggestions to establish an independent commission of inquiry did receive some support. Nevertheless, the Special Rapporteur did express ‘cautious optimism’ in relation to the situation in Myanmar. He hoped that the first elections in 20 years, however flawed, would be followed by improvements in human rights standards and, possibly, a more open election in 2015. Mr Quintana reminded States that such progress could take time. The Special Rapporteur concluded by issuing a variety of recommendations to Myanmar, which included the integration of human rights teaching in the national education curricula, a number of legislative reforms, and a reform of the armed forces.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 March 2011 18:41
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