UN expert slams Burma impunity

Oct 23, 2009 (DVB), Widespread government impunity in Burma has allowed the country's "alarming" human rights situation to continue unabated, the United Nations special rapporteur for Burma said yesterday.

Little progress has been made to correct "a pattern of widespread and systematic violations" in the military-ruled country, according to Tomas Ojea Quintana, who was speaking at a press conference.

He also called for special attention to be paid to the plight of Muslim communities in Burma, who face frequent religious persecution.

Member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are meeting in Thailand today for the start of the 15th ASEAN summit, where controversial elections in Burma scheduled for next year, are high on the agenda for discussion.

Burma's presence in the bloc has become increasingly thorny since the imprisonment in August of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose detention was widely seen as a ploy by the government to keep her away from the elections.

An appeal drafted by ASEAN leaders that called for her release was scrapped earlier this week after critics accused it of breaching ASEAN's non-interference policy.

Quintana said that he had urged the Burmese junta on a number of occasions to ensure that the elections are fair and transparent.

"I told the Government that, freedom of speech, movement and association should be guaranteed in the country, and of course that all prisoners of conscience should be released before those elections," he said.

He also called on the government to "take prompt measures to establish accountability and responsibility" with regard to human rights violations.

The issue of food security in Burma has made headlines in recent weeks, with a human rights group warning that Karen state in the east of the country was facing its worst food crisis in over a decade.

Quintana referred to the "starvation situation" in many regions of the country, including the Arakan, Chin, and Shan states. He also voiced concern over the "dire" social and economic conditions within the country.

Included in a four-point plan outlined by Quintana was the installation of an independent judiciary in Burma, and the reform of the military, "which needs to respect international humanitarian law in conflict areas, as well as the rights of civilians."

Reporting by Matthew Cunningham

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