Tag Archives: Win Tin

Rights envoy takes new approach on Burma

quintana

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

Prison doors open, court doors close

Whether the release of some nine thousand prisoners from Burma’s jails last week was an act of self-described goodwill or a strategic manoeuvre by a government preparing the latest phase in its program for continued political control is of little significance when seen against the country’s unchanging legal codes, courts and policing agencies. The excitement over the discharge of star political prisoner U Win Tin, who is a former senior journalist and veteran activist, has not been matched by scrutiny of the laws and institutions that made his long imprisonment possible.

How Burma’s criminal justice agencies have over the last half-century been turned into agencies for injustice is the subject of recent research by the Asian Legal Resource Centre. The Hong Kong-based group has marked the one-year anniversary of the protests last September with a study that links ten cases against alleged protestors and their ringleaders to phased decades-long attacks on a legal system that was once ranked highly in Asia but is now among its worst.

The study, “Saffron Revolution imprisoned, law demented“, reveals the integral yet deeply flawed role that the courts in Burma have played in both guaranteeing and exacerbating nationwide systemic abuse of fundamental human rights. Continue reading