Amnesty Says Rights Abuses Continue in Burma, Despite Reforms

Posted May 24th, 2012 at 1:50 am (UTC-5)
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Amnesty International says human rights abuses in Burma's ethnic minority areas have increased in the past year, despite recent political and economic reform in the Southeast Asian nation.

In an annual report released Thursday, the Britain-based rights watchdog documented cases of extra-judicial executions, torture, and forced labor by Burma's military in the country's ethnic conflict zones.

Benjamin Zawacki, an Asia researcher at Amnesty International, told VOA that the abuses stand in contrast to the political reforms undertaken in the past year by Burma's President Thein Sein.

“Certainly in Kachin state, where an internal armed conflict was renewed last June for the first time in 17 years, the human rights situation has deteriorated significantly. But elsewhere in the country, specifically in the political and economic centers, the human rights situation has largely improved.”

But Zawacki said government and military officials who have committed human rights violations remain free from prosecution, despite the formation last year of a National Human Rights Commission.

Burma's oppressive military leadership allowed a new nominally civilian government government to take power last year. It has since released some political prisoners, relaxed media censorship, and permitted democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to successfully run for parliament.

In response, Western governments have begun relaxing sanctions against the once-isolated country. Earlier this month, the U.S. nominated an ambassador to the country and suspended some economic sanctions, allowing new U.S. investment in Burma for the first time in 15 years.

But some rights groups caution against moving too fast in relaxing sanctions, pointing out that the reforms are reversible and that Burma's military has not taken steps to end abuses against ethnic minorities.

President Thein Sein's government has reached ceasefires with several armed minority groups in recent months. But talks with rebels fighting in Kachin have failed to end the violence there.