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United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for Human Rights for Burma Tomas Ojea Quintana met with activist groups yesterday in Rangoon including 88 Generation Students, the All-Burma Federation of Student Unions and Generation Wave and death row inmate Phyo Wai Aung.
“We discussed the current environment and our analysis of it,” said Ko Ko Gyi of 88 Generation Students. “We recognise and welcome the reforms in political, social and economic sectors and [said] that we will work to bring about reforms in other sectors. Regarding the remaining political prisoners, we have compiled a list and presented it to concerned authorities… there are over 300 left.
“Also regarding the Kachin issue, we informed him about the current situation where an effort is being made for a ceasefire and a requirement to facilitate political dialogues to bring about nationwide ethnic equality.”
Ko Ko Gyi said he told Quintana the Arakan issue is a complicated in the wake of the sectarian violence that ripped through western Burma in June.
“We told him it is a very complicated issue to solve. We mainly explained to him about the illegal border crossing Bengalis and the situation with the refugees.”
The prominent democracy activist infamously blamed the rioting in Arakan state on “illegal immigrants from Bangladesh” and stated: “Such interfering efforts of powerful nations on this issue without fully understanding the ethnic groups of Burma, will be viewed as offending the sovereignty of our nation.”
Lin Htet Naing, a leading member of the ABFSU, spoke with Quintana during a separate meeting and told the rapporteur that the group’s members have been pressured to quit the organisation in some cities and have been subjected to harassments from local authorities who prevented them from holding events.
“We are facing obstacles and it is necessary that the international community, the UN and international organisations are aware of this,” said Lin Htet Naing.
The ABFSU leader acknowledged that the government had been making steps in the reform process by releasing political prisoners and allowing opposition groups to demonstrate, but the efforts lacked teeth in the absence of new laws.
“We want the changes to be [consistent] in accordance with a law,” said Lin Htet Naing. “Not just allowing one event here but then banning another one there. Rather, we want regulations for these and decisions to be made according to the law – we told Mr Quintana that rule of law is important to making these changes substantial.”
Quintana also met with Phyo Wai Aung, who was sentenced to death for his alleged role in the new year bombings in Rangoon in April 2010. Several international rights’ groups along with his family claim Phyo Wai Aung’s confession was forced after he was tortured.
Htay Htay, Phyo Wai Aung’s wife, said Quintana told her husband that he and other international organisations have been urging the government to release him.
Phyo Wai Aung is said to be in the final stages of liver cancer.
“Mr Quintana said he would include [Phyo Wai Aung]’s situation in his report,” said Htay Htay. “We are happy with that… we thank him very much for giving us the strength we need.”
The UN envoy then travelled to Arakan state yesterday where a crowd, including Buddhist monks, protested against the UNHCR and demanded that the agency not discriminate when providing aid to the tens of thousands of displaced people in the area, according to Voice of America.
According to a Human Rights Watch report published today, many Arakanese in the area resent the UN and humanitarian agencies presence in the state.
“[Arakanese] interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they were angry that the agencies have worked primarily with Rohingya populations in northern Arakan State for many years, with less focus on the better off, but still largely impoverished, Arakan populations,” reported HRW.
Quintana is set to meet with government officials in Naypyidaw on 3 August before leaving the country the following day.
In an interview with DVB in June, Quintana said he hoped to address the “the problem of accountability and justice” during this trip.
“The rule of law for any system is crucial. It is a human right,” Quintana told DVB.
-Nay Thwin and Naw Noreen contributed reporting.