Special Rapporteur on Myanmar looks ahead to upcoming elections in his dialogue with the Council
Friday, 23 March 2012 15:50


In his dialogue with the Human Rights Council (the Council), on 12 March, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Mr Tomás Ojea Quintana, commended the newly formed Government for the number of reforms it has undertaken. Following his recent visit to the country in February 2012, he stated his belief that positive developments in the human rights situation have taken place. Nonetheless, he declared that there is also ‘a real risk of backtracking on the progress achieved’.


Mr Quintana, along with several States that took the floor, welcomed new legislation, including the new Labour Organisations Law;1 the upcoming by-elections on 1st April; the newly created National Human Rights Institution; and the release of prisoners of conscience. However, they underlined that there remain challenges if these developments are to be fully realised.


At the conclusion of its 19th session, the Council renewed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for a further year by consensus, with Thailand and Indonesia joining that consensus. Indonesia stated, however, that the draft did not sufficiently recognise the progress made in Myanmar. It also called for the situation in Myanmar to be considered under Item 10 (on technical assistance and cooperation, rather than the generally more politicised Item 4). China, Cuba, India, the Philippines, and the Russian Federation all dissociated from the consensus position, claiming that the resolution was not constructive and does not acknowledge the progress made in Myanmar. During the interactive dialogue several States including the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela voiced their opposition to the principle of country specific mandates and stressed that they believe that the UPR can achieve the same goals in a more objective and non-selective manner. 


The interactive dialogue saw concerns raised regarding remaining restrictive laws, insufficient implementation of new legislation as well as a lack of an independent and impartial judiciary. The Special Rapporteur drew attention to the apparent unwillingness of the judiciary to acknowledge gaps in the capacity or functioning of the system and to implement past recommendations from the Special Rapporteur. Several States, along with Mr Quintana, urged Myanmar to seek technical assistance on this matter.


Particular attention was given to the upcoming by-elections, repeatedly heralded by many States as a key test for the ongoing reform process. Hopes for fair, free, inclusive, and transparent elections were reiterated. The Special Rapporteur also stressed that allegations of campaign irregularities should be immediately addressed and that the credibility of the elections will be assessed on the basis of the entire election process. In the same vein, several States recommended the use of independent election monitors.


The creation of the new National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) this past September was welcomed by the Special Rapporteur. Germany, in particular, pointed out that the NHRI has a big role to play in the national reconciliation process. Nonetheless, its limitations were pointed out by several States, centrally its lack of independence. Myanmar was encouraged to seek assistance from the international community in enabling it to conform to the Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (the Paris Principles).2


The release of hundreds of prisoners of conscience was commended by the EU, Mexico, and Canada among others. However, concerns for the remaining prisoners and prison conditions in general were raised. Furthermore, it was pointed out that some released prisoners were subsequently monitored and followed. Myanmar was urged to immediately and unconditionally release the remaining prisoners and to ensure that no restrictions were placed on the released prisoners’ rights, including their right to participate in the upcoming elections.


Another pressing issue put forth by most States were the ongoing conflicts in the country, notably the worsening situation in the Kachin state. While the conclusion of peace agreements with nine ethnic armed groups was welcomed by the US, among others, Myanmar was repeatedly requested to allow humanitarian access to the conflict zones and to refrain from using anti-personnel mines. Attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, internal displacement, land confiscations, the recruitment of child soldiers, and forced labour and portering committed by both State and non-State actors were also condemned.


Myanmar, speaking as the concerned State, claimed that it is committed to the irreversibility of the current reform process. It highlighted positive developments taking place in the State. In addition to those listed by the speakers, Myanmar mentioned the restructuring of the administration, the introduction of universal health insurance, and an increase on health and education budgets. It also underlined the participation of civil service organisations, some newly created, in the current reforms.


Finally, Cambodia on behalf of the ASEAN group, called for the lift of economic sanctions placed on Myanmar. 


1 Effective from 9 March 2012.

2 The Paris Principles lists requirements that should be met by national human rights institutions to effectively fulfill their role. 


Last Updated on Friday, 23 March 2012 17:12
© by The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 2018