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Oct 9, 2009 (DVB), Burma's redrafted 2008 constitution provides impunity for human rights abuses and should not be the bedrock for elections next year, a damning report has claimed.
Many of the provisions of the constitution suggest that "instead of being a true catalyst for lasting change, it further entrenches the military within the government and the associated culture of impunity," the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) said.
Its report, Impunity Prolonged: Burma and its Constitution, says that within the constitution, the regime has granted itself impunity for sexual violence, forced labor and the recruitment of child soldiers.
Burma, it says, is "one of the most difficult challenges in the world in relation to making progress toward combating impunity."
Khin Omar, coordinator of the Thailand-based Burma Partnership, said the constitution will "force military rule on Burma forever".
"[It is] the most problematic element as to whether we move further toward being a failed state or whether we move towards national reconciliation," she said.
The report says that "officers and troops systematically use rape and other forms of sexual abuse as a strategy of war."
It then cites a clause within the constitution stating that: "No proceeding shall be instituted against the said Councils (the military) or any member thereof or any member of the Government, in respect to any act done in the execution of their respective duties."
Burma expert Robert H Taylor told DVB however that "No one has proven that [rape] is public policy," adding that "we don't know how the military deals with instances of rape".
He cited anonymous sources that claim the government has action against people accused of assault and rape, but added that the constitution "has its problems, but which doesn't?"
In a sign that the regime responds to international pressure, the report cited an agreement between the junta and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to address forced labour and child soldiers.
The 2008 constitution was ratified in the weeks following cyclone Nargis last May, in which 140,000 people were killed and millions of acres of land destroyed. Despite the cyclone, the government claimed a 99 percent turnout, with 92.4 percent voting in favour.
A report released last year by Hong Kong-based constitutional expert, Professor Yash Ghai, said that "the cynicism with which the regime held the referendum and manipulated the results was on a par with the cynicism and coercion by which the draft was prepared".
The ICTJ have called on the international community to withhold support for elections in Burma next year. Khin Omar echoed the calls, and said that a constitutional review must take place before the elections do.
Reporting by Joseph Allchin