Activists stress need for free access for rights envoy

Aug 5, 2008 (DVB), Rights activists have stressed the need for the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Burma to be given the freedom to work independently during his visit to the country.

Tomas Ojea Quintana is visiting Burma between 3 and 7 August for the first time since taking up his post on the invitation of the military regime.

He has so far met members of the State Sangha Organisation, which supervises monks and monasteries in the country, a government-sponsored women's organisation and visited the cyclone-struck Irrawaddy delta region, Associated Press reports.

According to the UN, Quintana has also asked to meet senior government officials and representatives of ethnic groups, political parties, NGOs and the state human rights body.

U Myint Aye of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters network said it was vital for Quintana to be able to work independently during his trip to Burma.

"He needs to have his own freedom first when he’s here , and that depends on the conditions of his visit. If he’s only here on the government's invitation, then he’ll only see what they show him," U Myint Aye said.

"Or if he’s here to learn about the real situation of human rights in Burma, then he should be given more independence to do it , and he should explore more widely."

U Myint Aye said he hoped the UN would use its influence to improve human rights protection in the country.

"UN is the biggest organisation in human society and we wish an organisation like that would come meet us and learn properly about human right violations here," he said.

"We also want them to remind our government of the existence of human rights and the need to respect them."

The families of political prisoners held in Burma said they did not expect much to come out of the special rapporteur's visit.

Dr Than Nyein’s wife Daw Khin Aye said she did not think Quintana would be able to meet prisoners or their families.

"[Quintana] is not going to have a chance to meet us as the government won’t let that happen. All the political inmates in prisons across Burma have been put there without having committed any crime , the government should release them and have a dialogue with them," Daw Khin Aye said.

"At the very least they should grant medical assistance to the inmates who have not been well. It’s their basic right to life," she went on.

"There have been a lot of UN and human rights officials visiting Burma recently, including the UN secretary general, and none of them has been able to make any improvements."

U Win Maung, the father of Ko Pyone Cho, said he was disappointed with the lack of progress the UN had made on Burma.

"It is so frustrating to see that the UN, the main international body, has not been able to do anything about Burma," U Win Maung said.

"All of these people were detained without breaking any law. My son was in prison for over a decade and now he is in again , that is very painful for us."

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet and Yee May Aung

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