Myanmar: UN rights expert hails changes, but highlights remaining challenges

YANGON (19 February 2014) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Tomás Ojea  Quintana today welcomed important changes in Myanmar “that have brought  improvements to the human rights situation,” but raised alarm on a number  of challenges which, if left unaddressed, “could jeopardize the entire  reform process.”   “I believe there is limited space for backtracking, though -as a senior  Government official admitted to me in Nay Pyi Taw- the democratic  transition is still fragile,” he underscored.   Mr. Ojea Quintana’s comments come at the end of his last official mission*  to the country, after six years as the independent expert mandated by the  UN Human Rights Council to monitor, report and advise on the human rights  situation in Myanmar.   The Special Rapporteur praised key positive changes achieved in recent  years, like the release of prisoners of conscience, the opening up of space  for freedom of expression, the development of political freedoms, and  important progress in securing an end to fighting in the ethnic border  areas.   He warned, however, that “the military retains a prevailing role in the  life and institutions of Myanmar for the time being. State institutions in  general remain unaccountable and the judiciary is not yet functioning as an  independent branch of Government.”   “Moreover, the rule of law cannot yet be said to exist in Myanmar,” Mr.  Ojea Quintana stated, noting that the current situation in Rakhine State  still represents a particular obstacle and a threat to the reform process.   Regarding the recent police operation in Du Chee Yar Tan, northern Rakhine  State, he said that if an independent investigation does not take place, “I  will urge the UN Human Rights Council to work with the Government of  Myanmar to establish a credible investigation to uncover the truth…and to  hold anyone responsible for human rights violations to account.”   During his last mission to Myanmar, Mr. Ojea Quintana visited the capital  -Nay Pyi Taw-, Yangon, Rakhine State, Sagaing Region and Kachin State  including Laiza. This is the first time that a human rights rapporteur has  been able to visit Laiza.   “During my drive up from Myitkyina to Laiza, I saw villages that had been  abandoned over the previous years by those fleeing advancing military  troops,” he said. “The visit to Laiza brought home to me how closely  related the fighting is with serious human rights violations, and the  importance of securing a national ceasefire accord in the coming months.”

The Special Rapporteur commended progress towards this national ceasefire  accord, which could be signed by April.  “A critical challenge will be to  secure ceasefire and political agreements with ethnic minority groups, so  that Myanmar can finally transform into a peaceful multi-ethnic and  multi-religious society,” Mr. Ojea Quintana said. “Whatever the course of  these negotiations, military and non-state actors need to abide by  humanitarian and human rights law.”   On the Constitution, he said that reform was necessary to “embrace the  aspirations of the ethnic communities”, and to “address the undemocratic  powers granted to the military and further democratize parliament,  upholding the right of people to choose their own government and  president.”   The human rights expert called for a change of mind-set within all levels  of Government, to allow civil society, political parties and a free media  to flourish beyond the limited freedoms that have currently been granted.  “Detaining journalists for the coverage of sensitive stories is something  that belongs in Myanmar’s past,” he stressed.   He visited Thilawa Special Economic Zone, south of Yangon, and met with  communities who had been displaced by the development project and spoke  with members of the Thilawa management committee. The expert also visited  the copper mines in Monywa in Sagaing Region, and met with opponents of the  mine as well as the State Government and members of Wanbao, the Chinese  company active in developing the copper mine at Letpadaung.   “I am finishing my time on this mandate with a clear and visible human  rights agenda to be followed up on by the Government, civil society and the  international community,” the Special Rapporteur concluded.   His full report on the visit will be presented to the Human Rights Council  on 17 March 2014.   (*) Check the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur:

ENDS   Mr. Tomás Ojea Quintana (Argentina) was appointed by the United Nations  Human Rights Council in May 2008. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent  from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.  Learn more, log on to:

Read the Special Rapporteur’s latest report to the UN General Assembly  (October 2013):

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