Myanmar’s political situation has little possibility of regressing, but its democratic process is still in an immature state and requires special care, United Nations Human Rights Special Rapporteur for Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana says in a report that was released on Wednesday (March 12).
During his six-year tenure as the UN’s human rights expert on Myanmar, Quintana said, he has seen important changes including the release of 1,100 political prisoners or prisoners of conscience, more freedom of expression, evidence of political reform, free and fair by-elections, and serious attempts to achieve a ceasefire in ethnic regions.
These positive developments, however, are countered by the fact that the army still controls organizations and many aspects of daily life in Myanmar. The authorities take too little responsibility and the judicial pillar is not fully functional, he warned in the report.
Although 1,100 prisoners of conscience were released under a pardon granted by the president, the acts for which they were arrested—such as the peaceful assembly and procession law, the state security act, and Section 505—still exist, and the possibility of being arrested under those laws and sent to prison is still a reality. Those laws should be amended or revoked, the UN expert advised.
“Myanmar still uses torture on prisoners. When action is taken against authorities guilty of torture, their only punishment is to be transferred to another department or have their rank reduced. The government needs to take serious action against them,” said Quintana.
The media are still afraid of reporting real news, particularly if the story involves someone who has a good relationship with the authorities and army affairs. Eleven Media reporter Ma Khine’s prison sentence, and the detention of the Unity Journal’s CEO and four reporters are just two examples. Laws related to the state security act must fall in line with international standards, his report states.
“There should be better protection of citizens. The public must not become vulnerable to the law if their actions do not directly impact state security. And reporters who write about such things for the public good should not fall victim to the authorities either,” says the report.
Moreover, the people continue to be affected by Myanmar’s development plans. The worst problem is forced eviction from their homes, the report says.
“There have many human rights violations in these evictions. The rights to shelter, access to health and education services, and the pursuit of life in personal safety have been violated,” Quintana wrote.
In addition, he said, the government needs to take better care not to damage the daily life of locals by destroying land, the fishing industry and forests for the sake of state megaprojects.
The government needs to hold political discussions in addition to ceasefire talks with ethnic armed groups, Quintana said. The government and ethnic groups need to build mutual trust. All armed groups need to stop recruiting child soldiers, the report said.
On the Rakhine State issue, said Quintana, both sides need to build mutual trust. Authorities must be able to establish rule of law, but lawyers working on important political cases should not be subjected to additional pressures. Finally, the army should be kept under the hand of the people and overseen by the people, rather than the reverse.