Tag Archives: Human Rights Council

Pinning hope on a hopeless constitution

constitution

Last year, amid the death and debris in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, Burma got a new Constitution. Now people inside and outside the country are readying themselves for a general election of some sort, followed by the opening of a new Parliament, which is when the charter will take effect.

The ballot is expected in 2010, although so far no details have emerged of how it will be run. The regime could yet give any number of excuses to postpone it if Senior General Than Shwe or his astrologers decide the time is not right.

Some analysts – including former diplomats and others who move in their circles – see hope for change in the 2008 Constitution and the anticipated elections. Their argument is that even though the parliamentary system will be under military control, it will still provide space for people that have not had a chance to participate in government for the last few decades.

One way or another, they say, power will be more diffused and that will create opportunities. And like it or not, they figure, the junta’s electoral circus is the only one in town.

But, in a statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council this month, the Asian Legal Resource Center has given a starkly different opinion. The Hong Kong-based group has argued that in its current form the 2008 charter cannot be called a constitution at all, let alone one that will permit people in Burma to shape their future. Continue reading

Thailand’s “unsubstantiated” police abuses

red faces

Thailand’s representatives to the United Nations still cling to the outdated idea that if they turn up at a big get-together and make nice comments about how they cherish human rights, then everyone will think things are fine in the land of smiles.

Not surprisingly, they are unhappy when other people tell a different story. So last March, when the Asian Legal Resource Centre addressed the U.N. Human Rights Council concerning Thailand, they weren’t at all pleased.

The Hong Kong-based group told the council that the police are the top abusers of human rights in Thailand, for which they enjoy impunity. The center did not make this statement frivolously. It has for years worked closely with people in the country on dozens of cases that speak to this fact, and it is aware of and has documented hundreds more. Many cases it cannot publicize because to do so would put lives at risk.

Notwithstanding, the government representative, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, claimed that the center’s remarks were “unsubstantiated.” Although his defense of his country’s record was not in itself surprising, the vehemence of his response was remarkable given the piles of evidence to the contrary which groups have accumulated and presented to international bodies over the last decade.

This week the center had a chance to rebut his claim. Continue reading

Cyber-thought crime in Bangkok and Rangoon

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A court in Rangoon on March 5 sentenced three men who didn’t know each other to a decade’s imprisonment for a crime that they never committed – or rather, for a crime so nebulous that if any of them had ever used a computer he wouldn’t know if he had committed it or not.

The three, Win Maw, Zaw Min and Aung Zaw Myo, were accused of sending news about the September 2007 protests in Burma through the Internet. All were already in jail for other purported crimes.

The next day, police in Bangkok came to one of Thailand’s few outspoken and credible media outlets, Prachatai, searched the premises and arrested its director, Chiranuch Premchaiporn. She is accused of having failed to patrol, censor and delete the comments that readers left on a news website.

The police have charged Chiranuch under the Computer Crime Act 2007, which is only an “act” to the extent that the assembly of handpicked military stooges that passed it could be considered a legislature. According to this law, the importing of “false computer data, in a manner that is likely to cause damage” to a third party or the public or “is likely to damage the country’s security or cause a public panic” can land the accused a five-year jail term.

Now let’s compare that with Burma’s Electronic Transactions Law 2004, Continue reading

Rights envoy takes new approach on Burma

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A week or so from now the representative of the United Nations to Burma on human rights will present his annual report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. It should make interesting reading.

[Update, March 17: Advance copy of report available here]

The report follows Tomas Ojea Quintana’s second visit to the country since he came into the job last year, at the end of which the regime even allowed him a press conference inside the Rangoon airport, rather than back in Bangkok.

His careful remarks on the “challenging” rights situation were quoted in the state media, which also gave what by its standards was an unusually detailed account of his meetings and travels in February.

In the following days it also made out that the release of thousands of prisoners, timed to coincide with Quintana’s departure, had something to do with his visit rather than overcrowded jails.

Contrary to official news reports, the rights representative did not get everything he wanted. The government declined to let him meet with political party leaders. Because of this, U Win Tin, former long-term prisoner and National League for Democracy executive council member, refused to meet with Quintana individually.

And the rebel Karen National Union was irked that Quintana went to see leaders of splinter units that have gone over to the government side but didn’t call on it. As the envoy’s remit is to study and report on human rights abuse perhaps it should be relieved that he did not pay a call.

Ironically, the people whom Quintana could not or did not see got more press outside the country than those whom he did. Among the latter were the chief justice, attorney general, bar council members, home affairs minister and police chief.

These meetings are important because they speak to the new approach that Quintana has taken to the mandate, which distinguishes him from his predecessors. Continue reading

Thailand’s rights reputation in the sewer

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(ชื่อเสียงของไทยด้านสิทธิเปรียบเสมือนอยู่ในท่อน้ำเสียแล้ว)

Not so long ago, Thailand’s representatives at United Nations meetings sat quietly while counterparts from nearby countries like Burma and Cambodia were grilled on their human rights records.

Around the world, Thailand’s legal, political and social developments in the 1990s were greeted with applause, and its people in Geneva could sit comfortably, confident that their country would be held up as an example of somewhere with an improved record, even as their neighbors were being singled out for the opposite reason.

How times have changed. This week, the Asian Legal Resource Center submitted a statement to the Human Rights Council (above) that has painted the bleakest picture yet of denied rights and declining rule of law in Thailand during the past few years. [การเติบโตขึ้นของรัฐแห่งความมั่นคงภายในและการเสื่อมถอยของสิทธิมนุษยชนในประเทศไทย]

According to the Hong Kong-based group, Thailand is now in real danger of turning back into an internal-security state. The center’s indicators include the repeated overthrow of elected governments by antidemocratic forces, large-scale public criminal activity with impunity, Internet censorship and the lese-majesty witch-hunt, threats to human rights defenders, and forced repatriation and murder on the high seas. Continue reading

Rocky roads

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The latest report of a United Nations independent expert has rightly inferred that the deepening poverty of millions is the most endemic human rights abuse in Burma today.

The report, by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, notes that even government figures reveal that citizens spend around 73 percent of their disposable incomes on food alone, while international agencies estimate that one child in three aged under five is malnourished.

The preponderant cause of this misery is the government itself. Pinheiro observes that, for instance, the confiscating of land is often followed by new big projects which in turn bring more suffering. He points to seven new hydroelectric schemes in the north that have been accompanied by military demands for labor, money and goods from people living in their vicinity, to say nothing of the environmental damage caused.

All of this is very far removed from the unceasing images in state-run media of generals standing resolutely above new dams, cutting ribbons at the entrances of schools, and strolling over carpets of petals strewn by maidens across big bridges. In their world, national development is measured in terms of cubic meters of concrete poured and machines itemized. What can be seen to have been done is what matters.

The propaganda is striking because it is in these fields that the regime is failing spectacularly. The new bridges span rivers which are reached by roads of such poor condition that hire vehicles refuse to travel them. Schools have classrooms and chairs but lack teachers, and for that matter, students. Power lines run to houses without metering devices, and the dams anyhow are not supplying those with them: households boil rice with charcoal because constant outages mean that an electric cooker switched on for dinner may not be ready until breakfast.

Moreover, as Burma’s people have been forced to continue treading rocky roads, so too has the U.N.’s expert. Continue reading

Tall tales at the Human Rights Council

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Tourist brochures portray Burma as a mystical land full of unseen wonders and tall tales about amazing imaginary creatures, from giant serpents to magical birds. But it was a different sort of fantasy that the government spun stories about in Geneva this week: a far more modern, albeit no less implausible entity.

In response to the U.N. Human Rights Council‘s scrutiny of its violent crackdown on protests during August and September, the Burmese government suddenly claimed to have already set up an investigating body into alleged killings, abductions and disappearances at the time.

The body, under the home affairs minister, had begun its work at the end of October, the country’s ambassador said, and so there would be no need for any international inquiry of the sort proposed by the special human rights expert on the country.

This was news to informed observers. No such body has ever been reported in the state media, or heard about in other quarters. Nor does it seem that anyone representing it has met with persons from outside the regime.

It seems reasonable to ask if the inquiry body really exists at all. Yet, this question did not once come up in the Human Rights Council. Although the ambassador described nothing of what the body has done or will do, nor anything of its powers, many delegates seemed to take it seriously. How come?

Continue reading