As Myanmar reaches the final stage of its seven-step roadmap to democracy, the system of democratic governance taking shape remains severely limited and is failing to uphold human rights. UN Special Rapporteur and human rights lawyer Tomas Ojea Quintana yesterday completed a fact-finding mission which aimed at providing an assessment of any progress made by Myanmar in its transition to democracy. “My findings… are that the situation of ethnic minority groups in border areas presents serious limitations to the government’s intention to transition to democracy. Violence continues in many of these areas. Systematic militarization contributes to human rights abuses. These abuses include land confiscation, forced labor, internal displacement, extrajudicial killings and sexual violence. They are widespread… and they remain essentially unaddressed by the authorities.” According to the Special Rapporteur, Myanmar is the only country where the government is directly responsible for forced labor and many other rights violations. New conscription laws have triggered another wave of refugees to Thailand as ethnic groups flee the draft. Karenni groups in Mae Hong Son report that village headmen must provide the names of people to serve. As many have no form of identification, it makes young men particularly vulnerable and “could exacerbate Myanmar’s critical problem of child soldiers.” Internal displacement is also occurring as a result of infrastructure projects which are leading to rights abuses throughout Myanmar. With more in the pipeline, Quintana calls for strong rule of law to guarantee the rights of people. “Communities need to be consulted in a meaningful way, which does not appear to have been done in most cases,” he said. Quintana expressed disappointment at the recent amnesty which saw authorities release prisoners of conscience. Thousands remain in prison and the political maneuver “did not provide a strong signal for national reconciliation… [which] requires full participation of all key stakeholders, including prisoners of conscience, some of whom are ethnic minority leaders.” However any change must come from the government which is closely restricted by laws designed to sustain the military’s grip on power. Should it fail in this task, Quintana implores the international community to take action through a UN commission of inquiry. Quintana said; “The idea of a commission of inquiry is that it would be an instrument to bring about transition to democracy, national reconciliation and the establishment of accountability. It should pursue the truth and facilitate reparations. It should also end and prevent on-going human rights abuses.”
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