Wednesday, 20 February 2013

UN Expert Visits Refugee Camps

The special rapporteur on human rights travels to Burma to investigate camps for the displaced in Rakhine and Kachin states.
U.N. Human Rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana talks to journalists at the Rangoon international airport, Aug. 4, 2012
A U.N. human rights envoy on Monday visited refugee camps in Burma’s restive Rakhine state, where nearly 200 people were killed in communal violence last year, as part of a fact-finding mission on ethnic conflict in the country.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, who is on his seventh trip to Burma as the U.N. Special Rapporteur monitoring the rights situation in Burma, spent time speaking with refugees at camps in Myay Pone township near the state capital Sittwe.

He was accompanied by U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Burma Ashok Nigam.

Thousands remain homeless in the region following clashes between ethnic Buddhist Rakhines and Rohingya communities in June and October last year which left 180 people dead. Refugees are now living in makeshift camps, many of which lack access to adequate health care, clean water, and basic provisions.

Quintana and Nigam held talks with Rakhine State Chief Minister Maung Tin early on Monday before meeting with several families in camps occupied by both Rakhine and Rohingya refugees.

Aung Win, a member of parliament from Myay Pone township, said Quintana interviewed the refugees about their situation in the camps and whether they felt that the two ethnic groups could live together peacefully as they had done before last year’s violence.

“He questioned three to four refugee families about whether they believed refugees from both sides could coexist peacefully if the government arranged for them to live together in the same area,” the Rakhine lawmaker told RFA’s Burmese Service.

“We ethnic Rakhines replied, ‘We don’t want to live together with [the Rohingyas]. If we lived together in the same area, we would constantly worry about the possibility of another conflict’,” he said.

“We don’t think they want to live together either.”

Quintana and Nigam later traveled to Pauktaw township to meet with additional refugees there.

They also planned to meet with Tun Aung, a former U.N. staffer who was imprisoned in Sittwe for his alleged involvement in the ethnic conflict last year.

Fact-finding mission

Quintana’s six-day trip to Burma is his first visit since August last year, when he highlighted June violence in Rakhine state and called on the Burmese government to review its 1982 Citizenship Law, which limits citizenship to those who can prove their ancestors lived in the country.

The law bars citizenship rights to many of Burma’s 800,000 Rohingyas, who have been long viewed by the authorities and by many Burmese as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh even though many have lived in the country for generations.

The U.N. considers the Rohingyas to be one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.

Ahead of a landmark visit by U.S. President to Burma at the end of last year, Burmese President Thein Sein assured the international community that his government will consider resolving contentious rights issues facing the Rohingya, including the possibility of providing them citizenship.

During his visit, Quintana will also gather data on the conflicts in northern Burma’s Kachin state, where tens of thousands of people have fled fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burmese military since June 2011 when a 17-year cease-fire agreement was shattered.

Last week, after more than a month of particularly fierce fighting, officials from the Burmese government and the KIA met for talks brokered by Beijing and agreed to hold another round of talks by the third week of February with the aim of reaching a "strong cease-fire."

Shortly after last week’s talks, the U.N.’s special adviser on Burma Vijay Nambiar visited refugee camps in Kachin state that had previously been closed to international aid groups, pledging to work with the Burmese government to deliver aid to those displaced by the recent clashes.

In addition to investigating Burma’s ongoing ethnic conflicts, Quintana will meet with government officials to discuss the release of the country’s remaining political prisoners, estimated to number in the hundreds.

Burma announced last week that it would establish a presidential steering committee to “grant liberty” to those imprisoned for voicing political dissent, in the government’s first public acknowledgement that it is holding political prisoners in the country’s jails.

Quintana is expected to meet with members of parliament, the judiciary, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission and civil society organizations in Naypyitaw and Rangoon.

The special rapporteur will present his report on the human rights situation in Burma to the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council on March 11.

Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes. 

Govt Forces Detain, Torture Kachin Civilians: Rights Group

Ethnic Kachin sit in the doorways of shelters at a temporary camp for people displaced outside the Kachin State capital Myitkyina, which is under government control. (Photo: Reuters)

Burma’s military and police are using a repressive colonial-era law to arbitrarily detain civilians in Kachin State and torture them into confessing to membership of the Kachin rebels, a human rights group alleged on Tuesday.
The Asian Legal Resource Center (ALRC) said it examined 36 cases in 2012, in which police and military detained civilians under the 1908 Unlawful Associations Act on accusations of having contact with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

ALRC said authorities were aware that most of the accused in the cases were not in contact with the rebels, but they use the draconian law to arrest and interrogate them. “The system is organized to deliberately capture, torture and imprison innocent persons,” the researchers said.
“Sometimes they detain them because the accused have failed to pay money; sometimes on orders from above; sometimes it is because an incident has occurred and they need to act to hold someone to account,” the group said.

ALRC said Burmese police and military in government-controlled parts of Kachin State were using the colonial-era law to detain Kachin civilians, as the act allows for accusing people of being “politically dangerous to the state by virtue of their identities.”
Burma’s central government and the KIA have been involved in an ongoing, bloody conflict since June 2011, as ethnic rebels demand greater political autonomy for their state.
Once people are accused of being enemies of the state there is a rationale for using violence against detainees, ALRC said. “Torture here is the extension of the violence of warfare into the internal space of the interrogation,” it added.

The report uses the testimony of the Kachin wives or mothers of the victims to highlight examples of torture by police and the military.
Burmese police came to Bawk La’s house on Nov. 15, 2011 and said they needed to bring her son to the station “to ask him something.” After numerous visits and requests, she was finally able to see him again on Nov. 27.
“As soon as I met him, I was shocked and I cried,” Bawk La told ALRC. “He lost his hearing after his temple had been struck for three days… I felt like my heart and my bones had been taken out and crushed.”

ALRC said President Thein Sein’s reformist government should revoke the repressive Unlawful Associations Act and review all current pending cases under the act.
It noted that attempts by lawmakers in 2012 to revoke the law “failed due to the heavy concentration of army personnel, former army personnel and people connected with the army in the Parliament.”
President Thein Sein’s spokesman Ye Htut said in a reaction thatALRC’s allegations against Burmese government security forces in Kachin State were unfounded. “The Tatmadaw [army] does not practice the arbitrary arrest of the local civilians,” he wrote in an email. “If the ground forces commit such crimes, the civilians can complain to the local commander together with the evidence. They can also submit a complaint to the military commander-in-chief and the Myanmar Human Rights Commission,” he added.

Asked whether the government would revoke the colonial-era law that is being used to detain Kachin villagers, Ye Htut said, “I do not want to comment on the lifting or amending of the Act including the Unlawful Association Act because this falls under the authority of the Union Parliament.”
In a separate statement released on Monday, ALRC also stressed the need to reform of Burma police force, as it relies on the “systemic” practice of “extreme” torture of people held on criminal charges.
ALRC said confessions gained through torture were commonly used by police so that they could present offenders in their criminal investigations. It added that senior police officers, the courts and administrative officials are all “aware of its occurrence, are involved actively or are complicit.”
ALRC said in order to eliminate torture in criminal cases in the long term, Burma’s police force should undergo drastic reforms, while the judiciary should be independent and strengthened.
In an example of 2010 torture case that ALRC documented, two men, San Win and a monk U Thubodha, were framed for the murder and rape of a village girl—a crime they did not commit.
“One of the accused the police hung by his tip-toes with a noose, and they forced needles through his tongue, causing him to swallow blood and have a sensation of death,” ALRC researchers said, adding that the victim could not tolerate the pain and confessed.

At the trial, the accused complained of being torture and retracted their confessions. Despite their pleas and lack of conclusive evidence, the judge sentenced the men for rape and murder. They are currently held in Mandalay Central Prison.
This story was updated on 20 Feb, 2013

Speech of General Aung San