Human Rights: Deep-rooted human rights challenges must be tackled in Myanmar’s new political era – UN expert

Myanmar is a very different country from just a few short years ago, said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, warning however of the urgent need to tackle deeply entrenched human rights issues.

Geneve, March 18, 2016.- The November 2015 elections were a “watershed moment”, Ms. Lee said during the presentation of her second report* to the UN Human Rights Council. “I urge the new Government to capitalise on the strong mandate it received from the people of Myanmar to address ongoing human rights concerns,” she said.

The expert recognized this would be a difficult task, considering remaining structural constraints. She highlighted that 25% of the seats in Parliament are still reserved for the military, giving them a de facto veto on Constitutional changes. Ms. Lee added that three important ministerial posts – Home Affairs, Border Affairs and Defense – all of which are “key to progress in the area of human rights” will still be nominated by the Commander-in-Chief.

The Special Rapporteur urged outgoing President Thein Sein to use his remaining two weeks in office to unconditionally release all remaining political prisoners, including students, land activists, and human rights defenders, and to drop all charges against them.

She also called for an extensive programme of legislative reform and highlighted the important role of civil society and human rights defenders. She cautioned that “until legislation used to suppress critics is addressed, there will remain a risk of perpetuating political imprisonment.”

Regarding the situation in Rakhine State, Ms. Lee said the new Government had “an opportunity to break from the tragic status quo,” recalling that more than a million Rohingya Muslims are deprived of basic fundamental rights. The human rights expert called for the removal of restrictions on freedom of movement and increased support for groups working to build bridges between communities.

The expert also deplored the fact that civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in several states in Myanmar, highlighting a long list of alleged human rights violations in conflict areas, including sexual and gender based violence.

“Durable voluntary solutions must be found for the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons across the country, some of whom have been living in camps for nearly three decades,” she stressed.

“My report includes recommended steps for the first 100 days and first year of the new Government”, the Special Rapporteur concluded. “I hope to be able to work closely with the new administration, parliament, civil society and others to ensure these are achieved.”

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