Rights group warns on UN ‘courtesy’

The top UN envoy now in Burma should use his meetings with government officials to register disquiet about the absence of any change since elections last year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged.

Vijay Nambiar, the chief of staff to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, is expected to meet government figures and opposition figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi in the three-day visit, which began yesterday. It is the first visit by a UN official since the appointment of a nominally civilian government in March.

“The UN and Nambiar should not allow his visit to be misused by the government to shore up its credibility on human rights in the absence of meaningful progress,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement yesterday.

“Should Nambiar fail to speak clearly about the need for meaningful reforms, the government will simply spin his visit to justify their abusive practices.”

That sentiment mirror similar concerns voiced by Suu Kyi when she told German broadcaster DW-TV that she hadn’t seen “any meaningful change” in the country since the November 2010 polls.

“I know there have been elections but the government that has taken over since the elections are the same as those who were in place before the elections … We are still waiting to see whether there has been real change,” she said.

She added that the mooted prospect of ASEAN giving the 2014 chair to Burma would also reward the government whilst doing little to aid progress in the country.

Pearson said that the new leaders were “on a desperate charm offensive to convince the world [that Burma is] a rights-respecting democracy, despite all evidence to the contrary”. Nambiar should therefore use his time in the country to “set the record straight”.

Despite various visits from top officials in recent years, including Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the UN appears to hold little sway with the regime. Critics have claimed that Ban has been too soft in his approach to human rights abuses in the country, while a leaked internal memo last year questioned the relevance of the world body in pariah states like Burma.

According to reports, the UN’s special rapporteur for Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, has again been denied a visa to visit the country. Quintana is a chief proponent of a UN probe into whether war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed in Burma, a stance that HRW has urged Nambiar to adopt.

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