Burma rights body lays into HRW report

Burma’s government-formed rights commission says a recent report spotlighting ongoing abuses by the Burmese army is “unreasonable” and fails to acknowledge progress in the country over the past nine months.

Human Rights Watch said in its annual global report yesterday that troops “[continue] to violate international humanitarian law through the use of anti-personnel landmines, extrajudicial killings, forced labor, torture, beatings, and pillaging of property”. The group said it stands in sharp contrast to various political and media reforms enacted by the government.

The report however homed in on human rights violations without emphasising the fact that the Thein Sein administration has radically broke with the policies of the former ruling junta, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said.

“I think it’s unreasonable to make a broad report on the whole of 2011 – you have to look at the year as it progressed from March [when the government came to power],” said Sitt Myaing, secretary of the NHRC.

The body, which consists of 15 former ambassadors, government officials and academics, dispatched survey teams to Kachin state last year to study the needs of civilians displaced by heavy fighting.

“We don’t want to deny the mental, physical and economic suffering of civilians – there is always a collateral damage in armed conflicts – and that people had been killed or injured,” Sitt Myaing said. “But we will only know the truth behind this if we observe carefully which group caused this.”

He claims one clear sign of improvement was the formation of the NHRC last year, which is tasked with handling complaints from Burmese of rights abuses committed by government authorities.

While Human Rights Watch’s Burma researcher, David Mathieson, conceded that positive steps had been taken by the government recently, he warned that glaring problems are not being adequately addressed.

“One of the most important things the government can do – and there have been signals from President Thein Sein that he will do this – is to rein in the military. The culture of abuse against civilians has to end,” he told DVB.

Similar caution surrounds the release of high-profile political prisoners earlier this month. Mathieson said that a monitoring mechanism led by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights should be introduced to allow inspectors to visit Burmese prisoners “and determine once and for all which prisoners are political prisoners that were sentenced under very politicised laws”.

According to Sitt Myaing, however, the NHRC has visited a number of prisons and found that conditions in at least two, Insein in Rangoon and Myitkyina prison in Kachin state, “have improved”.

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