Burma’s Parliament Rejects Funding for Human Rights Commission

Posted March 28th, 2012 at 5:50 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

The future of Burma's new human-rights commission is uncertain after parliament cut off funding for the organization, which was established last year amid a wave of democratic reforms.

The Burmese parliament refused this month to approve a budget for the government-appointed National Commission for Human Rights, saying its creation by presidential decree did not conform with the constitution.

But the commission said in a formal statement Tuesday it will continue to promote the fundamental rights of Burmese citizens “with added momentum,” with or without government funding. It also defended its creation by the decree of President Thein Sein.

Benjamin Zawacki, a Burma researcher at Amnesty International, said the commission would probably not be able to survive very long without funding. But he told VOA from Bangkok the impasse appears to be procedural in nature and will likely be resolved.

“One way or another, I would expect that funding will eventually be granted. I think the commission is probably too politically useful, frankly, to both the executive and parliamentary branches of government to have it simply fall by the wayside as a result of lack of funding.”

Zawacki says the incident raises a more important question of whether the organization is independent from President Thein Sein.

“While it is not illegal to have such a commission appointed by a president, it does raise fundamental questions of the commission's level of independence … Each and every one of the members of the commission was handpicked by the president, and some have gone on record defending the country's rather abysmal human rights record.”

He said the organization may be able to be more independent if it receives the support of both the parliament and the president.

Thein Sein established the commission in September as part of a series of democratic reforms that followed decades of military rule.

The panel is charged with promoting and safeguarding fundamental rights of citizens under the country's 2008 constitution. It is made up of diplomats, academics and former officials in Burma's military government.

The impasse over funding comes just days before Burma's crucial April 1 by-elections. Western countries are watching the election closely to see if Burma follows through on its commitment to democratic reforms before lifting longstanding sanctions against the country.