Govt-backed rights body begins work

A nominally independent human rights body has begun accepting complaints of alleged rights abuses in Burma, although it says it leave existing cases to the fate of the country’s derided judicial system.

Fifteen former ambassadors, government officials and academics make up the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which claims independence from Naypyidaw but whose inclusion of ex-government officials has concerned Burma observers. Moreover, a number of those included, such as Chairman Win Mra, a former ambassador to the UN, are known to be staunch defenders of the Burmese government.

The government has accused of sanctioning war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the military, including use of child soldiers, forced labour, convict portering and systematic rape.

Former university law professor Than New, one of the NHRC members, said the commission would seek to educate people about “what human rights are and what rights they have”.

The formation of the body was announced following a visit to Burma in August by UN special rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana, who has consistently called for a UN probe in rights abuses in the country.

A government official said following Quintana’s visit that the commission was formed in response to a report written by Quintana to the UN in which he detailed ongoing concerns about state-sanctioned human rights violations.

Little is known about the workings of the body, although those sending complaints are required to provide their name, address, complete information about the violation, and a signature certifying that the complaint is real.

Aung Myo Min, director of Thailand-based Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, said the NHRC’s decision not to address complaints currently being dealt with by the courts is a worry.

“Although there are laws in Burma, the laws themselves do not meet human rights standards,” he told DVB, adding that corruption and capitulation to the government by judges and lawyers meant that a legitimate outcome was unlikely.

There are also concerns about the lack of detail surrounding its operations, particularly how it will go about taking action against those accused of violations of law.

The government has been accused in the past of retribution against those who complain of rights abuses, particularly the hundreds who have taken their case to the International Labour Organisation. A number of lawyers are also among the nearly 2000 political prisoners behind bars.

Than Nwe said however that once a complaint was filed, the NHRC “would contact [the accused] department or organisation to find out if it’s true. We would look into the matter and have them keep us informed and we will keep those who made the complaints informed”.

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