FIDH written intervention on Burma-Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

13/03/2007
Press release

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) [Altsean Burma and The Burma Lawyer’s Council (BLC)] maintain their serious concerns regarding the institutionally entrenched, systematic and widespread violations of human rights occurring in Burma.

Despite more than 28 resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights, calling for national reconciliation and democratization in Burma, as well as the actions undertaken by the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and his office over the past ten years, and the four envoys to Burma mandated by the UN Commission on Human Rights, the State Peace and Development Council’s (SPDC) unlawful methods of political and ethnic repression have intensified and consolidated.

Since the UN Under-Secretary for Political Affairs, Mr. Ibrahim Gambari’s last visit to Burma in May 2006, the Burmese military junta has not undertaken any action in favour of national reconciliation. Indeed, in September 2006, the regime publicly declared that it will never engage in discussions with the NLD and ethnic minorities. Instead, NLD leaders and democracy activists have increasingly been subjected to harassment including arbitrary arrests and restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.

The reform process proposed in the road map and the work of the National Convention have produced absolutely no concrete results and the military campaign in the ethnic areas of eastern Burma is having a terrific effect on human rights with, according to Altsean Burma, 27 000 internally displaced people in 2006 alone in the region.

Repression of diverging opinion

Throughout 2006, democracy activists in Burma have been subjected to severe repression. They are still arbitrarily arrested by the military junta. In September 2006, the three most prominent student leaders of Burma, Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi and Htay Kywe were arrested by the Burmese military regime; they have been released on 11 January 2007. All had already served over 15 years in prison. They have been released in 2004 and 2005 and since then, they have been working tirelessly to bring about democratic changes in the country by peaceful means.

Only days after the most recent visit to Burma by UN Under-Secretary for Political Affairs, Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, in May 2006, during which he was allowed to meet briefly with Aung San Suu Kyi and called for her release, her detention was once again arbitrarily prolonged for yet another year.

The effective laws and judicial system do not facilitate the emergence and strengthening of the civil society in Burma. The 1988 Association Law enacted by the regime prohibits formation and function of independent organizations. The judiciary is not able to provide protection for civil society activists given that it is subservient to the ruling military regime.

The dire humanitarian crisis is worsened by the increasingly strict conditions imposed by the Burmese regime on humanitarian organizations, in some cases amounting to a complete denial of access, so that they are unable to carry out their missions to help the thousands of displaced facing the greatest needs. Recently, ICRC, which is mainly contributing to protect and promote the rights of prisoners in Burma, was forced to shut down its offices and leave the country.

Repression of Ethnic minorities

The Burmese regime’s attacks on ethnic minorities and its intensification of political repression in Rangoon and elsewhere represent a growing risk of an outburst of civil war which would inevitably cause further instability in the region, and an even greater human exodus to neighboring countries.

Attacks on villages in ethnic areas by the army since late 2005 have led to extensive forced displacements. There is reportedly a total of 540,000 internally displaced persons in eastern Myanmar with minimum prospects of return and resettlement. The Government does not recognize the existence of internally displaced persons within its borders and severely restrict access to them by United Nations agencies and other humanitarian actors.

In western Myanmar, the Rohingya Muslim minority has long been discriminated against, and is denied citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Law. Rohingya asylum-seekers continue to flee to Bangladesh and Malaysia. In Burma, Rohingyas are subject to serious abuses, notably forced labour (brick-baking, construction of roads, bridges, model villages and military facilities, camp maintenance, portering), arbitrary taxation, extortion and land confiscation, restrictions on freedom of movement, persecution of political and community leaders, torture, and destruction of mosques and madrassa.

Forced Labour

Forced labour involving portering, sentry/patrol duty, military and SPDC infrastructure projects, and commerical agriculture activities is still prevalent throughout Burma. Burma has acceded to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 29 that prohibits forced labour, and in 2000 it issued an Order outlawing the practice. However, there have been serious shortcomings when it comes to effective implementation. In 2005, the Government announced a policy of prosecuting people who lodged what it considered to be “false complaints” of forced labour, leading to a situation where the victims rather than the perpetrators are punished. The State-controlled press has also published articles attacking ILO. The effect of this has been to strengthen the sense of impunity felt by those who benefit from forced labour.

In June 2006, the ILO Conference of States parties required from Burma concrete results in two areas: releasing any person who had been imprisoned following contacts with the ILO and achieving an agreement with ILO on a credible mechanism for dealing with complaints of forced labour with all necessary guarantees for the protection of complainants. However, in November 2006, because of the lack of progress on those points, the ILO governing body asked the ILO Director-General to bring the relevant documentation to the UN Security Council when it considers the situation in Myanmar and to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for any action that may be considered appropriate.

The hydropower project planned on the Salween River with joint venture between the Burmese government and Chinese and Thai state companies is particularly worrying. Such projects already led to the forced eviction of their lands of many villagers belonging to ethnic minorities; there are concerns that the Burmese regime will rely on forced labour to build the necessary infrastructure for such project.

Recommendations:

The FIDH, [Atsean Burma and the BLC] call upon the Human Rights Council (HRC) to convene a special session on the human rights situation in Burma. In that framework, the HRC should urge the Burmese authorities to:

- Put an end to the harassment, arrest and detention of members of the opposition, to allow political parties to operate freely, and to release all political prisoners
- Fully cooperate with humanitarian organizations, and allow them to carry out their mission
- Take immediate steps to eradicate repression on ethnic minorities and to conclude cease-fire and peace agreements with the ethnic minorities’ armed groups
- Stop the use of forced labour, duly protect victims bringing legal suits in forced labour cases against any retaliation and fully cooperate with the ILO

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