Burma: Political parties neglect human rights priorities

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AFP PHOTO / Soe Than Win

(Rangoon) Political parties contesting the 8 November election have failed to prioritize or commit to core human rights issues, a new report released by FIDH today shows. The report, titled “Half Empty: Burma’s political parties and their human rights commitments,” is the first-ever survey of the country’s political parties’ attitudes toward human rights issues.

“Burma’s political parties will have to significantly change their policies and institutional prejudices to improve the human rights climate in the country. Unless they place human rights front and center on their agenda, Burma will remain mired in old challenges – no matter which party wins the election.”

FIDH President Karim Lahidji

Foremost among the negative trends, the survey found that 42% of the political parties refused to make any commitments on ways to address discrimination against Muslim Rohingya. More troubling is the fact that several parties aligned themselves with the government’s official position that denies the existence of Rohingya as one of Burma’s ethnic groups. In addition, almost three quarters of the political parties refused to support the amendment of the 1982 Citizenship Law to give Rohingya equal access to citizenship rights.

Responses in favor of the repeal of recently enacted legislation, misleadingly labeled ‘Race and Religion Protection Laws,’ and other laws that contradict international human rights standards also garnered limited support among the parties.

Finally, there was also a surprising reluctance by the political parties to address the role of the military in parliamentary affairs and to rein in a bloated military budget.

Among the report’s encouraging findings, 58% of the political parties said they would establish a truth and reconciliation commission to address the issue of accountability for past crimes. Also positive were responses concerning media freedom, the abolition of the death penalty, and the ratification of international human rights instruments.

The report also documents the outgoing Parliament’s unwillingness to recognize the existing deficiencies in upholding core human rights issues. Dominated by Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and military-appointed MPs, Parliament has failed to amend or repeal many of Burma’s oppressive laws. MPs have also blocked key constitutional amendments and rejected numerous proposals aimed at addressing important human rights issues. In many cases, newly enacted legislation contained provisions that ran counter to international human rights standards. Other new laws prioritized political and economic interests over human rights.

“The new Parliament must make a clean break from the old regime and lead a genuine reform agenda. The first step forward should be the repeal of laws that perpetuate discrimination and impunity. Legislative and institutional reforms consistent with international human rights standards is the key to ensuring human security and sustainable socio-economic development.”

Debbie Stothard, FIDH Secretary-General and ALTSEAN-Burma Coordinator

The numerous recommendations to MPs contained in the report provide a clear agenda for parliamentary action to concretely address Burma’s key human rights issues.

Read the FIDH report Half Empty: Burma’s political parties and their human rights commitments

Press contacts :
Mr. Andrea Giorgetta (English) - Tel: +95 9795422286 (in Rangoon)
Mr. Arthur Manet (French, English, Spanish) - Tel: +33 672284294 (in Paris)
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