UN Envoy Urges Burma to Do More Improve Human Rights

Posted October 19th, 2011 at 9:55 pm (UTC-5)
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The United Nations special envoy on Burma says recent steps by Burma's new government could improve the country's transition to democracy, but that many serious human rights issues remain.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, said Wednesday he is encouraged by the government's commitment to reform.

But he said that discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities is still rampant and that the country's judiciary system is neither independent nor impartial. He noted that authorities continue to hold a large number of political prisoners.

Quintana spoke on the situation to the U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee following a recent visit to Burma.

He said the new, nominally civilian government that took over in March faces a wide range of challenges, including the need to improve the socio-economic situation and end armed

conflict with ethnic groups in the country's north.

The U.N. envoy called on the international community to help Burma's government meet these challenges.

He said human rights violations are egregious in border areas where the government is fighting armed ethnic groups. He said the conflict has led to serious human rights violations against civilians, including rape, arbitrary arrest, extrajudicial killings, recruitment of child soldiers and forced labor.

Burma's government released 200 political prisoners last week as part of President Thein Sein's amnesty. But human rights groups say more than 2,000 prisoners of conscience remain in jails, which are notorious for torture and abuse of prisoners.

Quintana said it is imperative that the government completes the liberation of all prisoners of conscience without delay. He echoed a similar call by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, who has urged Burmese leaders to work toward national reconciliation.