Human rights report highlights government failings

UNITED Nations special rapporteur Tomás Quintana has slammed the government for failing to investigate allegations of the torture and mistreatment of prisoners, including by the Tatmadaw, in his latest report on the country’s human rights situation.
In a copy of his report dated March 12, Mr Quintana also focused on the continuing tensions between ethnic groups and called for the government to ensure its policies on policing and prisons meet international standards.
“[P]rompt, effective and impartial investigations into allegations of torture against police and military personnel do not take place in Myanmar,” Mr Quintana said in his report, which also highlighted a number of cases of torture and arbitrary detention that civil and military authorities have failed to address satisfactorily.
The report will be formally submitted to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 17.
During his fact-finding mission in February – his ninth trip to Myanmar since being appointed to the position in 2008 – Mr Quintana visited parts of the country controlled by ethnic armed groups in Kachin and Shan states and heard allegations implicating Myanmar’s military in gender-based violence and torture against ethnic minorities.
The Argentine lawyer also focused on the lack of legislation to support human rights in Myanmar. Uncertainties about rights were likened “to the absence of the rule of law in Myanmar, particularly in the sense that the law is not accessible, intelligible, clear and predictable”.
This absence of a stable legal framework is increasingly evident in the area of land rights, Mr Quintana said.
While the rapporteur called the release of political prisoners “one of the most significant achievements of the government”, he highlighted that around 33 political prisoners remain behind bars. The arrest and detention of prisoners of conscience continues and he called for the abolition of laws that jeopardise freedom of assembly.
As in previous reports, Mr Quintana urged the government to alleviate restrictions on former political prisoners that affect their ability to secure gainful employment or access a range of government- services, including education, healthcare and the issuing of passports.
The special rapporteur stressed that while there press freedom has improved there is “a long way to go before Myanmar has a free, uncensored and unhindered press”. Citing the imprisonment of Daily Eleven reporter Ma Khaing and five Unity journal employees, he noted that “imprisonment for defamation is disproportionate to the offence and is never an appropriate penalty”.
While championing the need to modernise laws to support freedom of expression, the rapporteur said a line also had to be drawn against hate speech.
“The special rapporteur is concerned that the government is not fulfilling its international human rights obligation to tackle incitement to violence based on national, racial or religious hatred,” the report said. “The government has a duty, under international human rights law, to investigate the nature and extent of the harm caused to persons and groups as a result of hostility and violence incited on the basis of racial and religious hatred.”
The report is Mr Quintana’s last before the end of his six-year term in May.