Tag Archives: Pinheiro

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

“I can’t read the thoughts of the government”

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“I don’t know. I can’t read the thoughts of the government. The only thing that they did is that they have not invited me as the council has proposed.”

– Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, outgoing UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, on not getting offered a follow-up visit to Burma after that of last November (above) (BBC)

Read his latest report. (See also: Tall tales at the Human Rights Council)

“Only for questioning” and the disavowal of law

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At a meeting in Singapore last week, Burma’s deputy defense minister iterated that persons taken into custody over the protests in his country of recent months had not been arrested but held “only for questioning.”

Perhaps because it was intended to deflect censure, this audacious remark didn’t get much notice. That’s unfortunate, because it implies a great deal both about how the junta thinks and how it operates.

Where does “only for questioning” fall under the law? If people are arrested, then criminal procedure applies. Police must lay charges and bring the accused before courts. But if someone has not been arrested, nor held according to established practice, then what is there?

If the military regime had even pretended to play by its own rules, then lawyers and relatives could have sought access to detainees according to those. If it had declared an emergency or otherwise sought to bypass ordinary law through formal announcement, then this could have been critiqued and campaigned against.

But dragging people from streets and houses with the help of assorted thugs and unidentified officers denies all recourse. “Only for questioning” is a blank wall, a legal void, a disavowal of everything.

Among those taken “only for questioning” was comedian Par Par Lay. Unlike some, he was released at the end of October, although being famous didn’t spare him from torture, as he told the Burmese service of the Voice of America: Continue reading