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Int’l rights framework ‘meaningless’ for Burma

Calls from international rights groups and monitors for a response to abuses in Burma are “meaningless” because there is no framework within the country to listen to these, an Asian legal group warns.

The international community has been “unwilling” and incapable of promoting change in military-ruled Burma, the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) said in a far-reaching report that documents the “absence of minimum conditions” for torture, corruption and elections this year, as well as the country’s “injustice system” of police, prosecutors and courts under military guidance.

Earlier this month the US gave its backing to a UN commission of enquiry to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma, a call that has been echoed by a number of governments and senior UN officials.

Basil Fernando, executive director of ALRC, said that while “there is no domestic mechanism for any kind of inquiry,” it is precisely this absence – “more than any other reason” – that justifies such an inquiry.

“When you don’t have these mechanisms, you are living in a kind of zoo – it’s not a human place, the state cannot do any kind of investigation,” he told DVB.

“So the only option left is to ensure that some kind of process begins from outside, and to bring some people to justice outside. What you need in a country like that is an opening for the future; otherwise it’ll stay closed forever.”

Burma’s military dictatorship has ruled the country in various guises since a coup in 1962 that toppled the government of U Nu, Burma’s first civilian prime minister since British rule ended in 1948. Little appears to move the current junta chief, Than Shwe, although he is said to be fearful of an International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment that the UN investigation could bring.

But Burma’s placement on the international community’s priority list has long been questionable, with the domestic crises apparently paling in significance to alleged international threats posed by North Korea, Iran, and so on.

The ALRC report criticised the international community for being “unwilling and therefore unable to address the true extent and nature of these problems” in Burma.

“In order to do anything, you must first of all begin at least to admit the problems: openly say that there is nothing inside [Burma]. If you say otherwise, you are making and wrong and misleading statement…which will never transform into action,” Fernando said.

The constant mouthing of human rights rhetoric that is devoid of substantial action “is a source of immense frustration that should provoke exploration of new avenues for effecting change in very serious human rights situations of the sort found in Myanmar [Burma]”, the report continued.

Critics of the UN commission of inquiry argue however that any sort of investigation now would be premature, given the elections due to be held on 7 November that the current junta claims will mark the transition to civilian rule.

But with a quarter of parliamentary seats already awarded to military officials, and apparent favouring of the main junta-backed party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the run-up to elections, the chances of any real civilian government coming to power appear slim.


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