Burma cornered at UN rights debate

Delegates from 12 countries delivered a scathing denunciation of the human rights situation in Burma late last week at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Burma’s delegate at the conference, Maung Lwin, faced bruising remarks from diplomats from the EU, US, Australia, Japan and Norway, with the looming elections and a possible UN inquiry into war crimes in the pariah taking centre-stage at the 17 September debate.

“Japan continued to have serious concerns regarding the democratisation process in Myanmar [Burma],” a summary of the proceedings said. “The current situation in which prisoners of conscience, including Aung San Suu Kyi, could not stand for political office in the forthcoming general elections was regrettable.”

The sentiment was echoed elsewhere: Norway made reference to “gross and systematic violations of human rights” in Burma, while Washington urged “an international commission of inquiry…to examine allegations of serious violations of international law”.

The debate on Burma formed part of a wider discussion on global situations that “require the Human Rights Council’s attention”. A statement on the Council’s website said that while some delegates denounced rights abuses around the world, “other speakers said this exercise was counter productive and reflected the prevailing double standards in dealing with human rights which only targeted countries of the south”.

This certainly appeared to be the position taken by Maung Lwin, who reacted to the condemnation by saying that the Burmese junta argued that issues surrounding human rights should “only be resolved in a cooperative, non-politicized and non-selective manner”.

He also defended the junta’s “every effort to hold free and fair elections in a peaceful and stable manner”, following attacks from Belgium, Norway, UK, Denmark and others on the 7 November polls, Burma’s first in 20 years. 

“Myanmar was transforming toward democratic society and the destiny of Myanmar should be decided by its own people,” Maung Lwin continued. “It was not fair to make prejudgements and set preconditions on the upcoming elections from outside with the intention of interfering in internal affairs.”

The build-up to the vote has been shrouded in controversy – international monitors are banned, and a number of clauses in the 2008 constitution, such as the awarding of a quarter of parliamentary seats to the military prior to voting day, appear to be an obstacle to any democratic reform in the military-ruled country.

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