Envoy Seeks War Crimes Probe

A special U.N. rapporteur wants Burma called to account.
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Tomas Ojea Quintana briefs journalists at the Rangoon International Airport in Rangoon, Feb. 19, 2009.
Tomas Ojea Quintana briefs journalists at the Rangoon International Airport in Rangoon, Feb. 19, 2009.
BANGKOK—A United Nations special envoy has called for a probe into whether Burma’s ruling junta is guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, in a report to be addressed Monday by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Tomas Ojea Quintana cited “systematic violation of human rights” when he visited the country in February, fueling an international outcry against repression and abuses against the Burmese people.

The regime this week issued new laws for elections set for later this year that bar detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from taking part.

“According to consistent reports, the possibility exists that some of these human rights violations may entail categories of crimes against humanity or war crimes under the terms of the statute of the International Criminal Court,” said the report.

Quintana said the “mere existence of this possibility” requires Burma to investigate the allegations.

The junta has failed to remedy abuses such as the recruitment of child soldiers, discrimination against the Muslim minority in northern Arakan [Rakhine] state, and the deprivation of basic rights to food, shelter, health, and education.

“Given this lack of accountability, U.N. institutions may consider the possibility to establish a commission of inquiry with a specific fact-finding mandate to address the question of international crimes,” he said.

Rights violations “are the result of a state policy that originates from decisions by authorities in the executive, military, and judiciary at all levels,” he said.

Quintana also renewed a call for Burma to free more than 2,100 political prisoners, as well Aung San Suu Kyi, ahead of this year's elections.

Aung San Suu Kyi has called on followers to respond to Burma’s “unjust” new election laws, which officially annul the result of the country’s last elections in 1990, which the NLD won by a landslide. The junta never allowed the party to take power.

Rohingya cited

Burma’s “severe human rights abuses”—such as deaths in custody, rape, and torture—were also highlighted this week in the U.S. State Department’s annual report on human rights worldwide.

With a mounting international outcry over abuses suffered by the minority Rohingya people, the rapporteur notably said he was “deeply concerned about the systematic and endemic discrimination faced by the Muslim community.”

“This discrimination, which is framed as an immigration problem, leads to basic and fundamental human rights being denied to this population. Measures taken against this population include restriction of movement, limitations on permission to marry, and forced labor.

“The Special Rapporteur urges the government to end the unacceptable discrimination, human rights abuses and resulting severe economic deprivation they face. This ethnic minority continues to be denied citizenship, under the 1982 Citizenship Act …”

Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) this week called on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to “assert its mandate to protect and assist” Muslim Rohingya who are languishing in an unregistered refugee camp in Bangladesh.

The report also called on the UNHCR “to press the government of Bangladesh to allow humanitarian aid to flow unhindered to the Rohingya and to launch a coordinated appeal to donor nations for humanitarian relief and protection for this neglected population.”

“Thousands of Rohingya who fled intolerable persecution in Burma now face equally bleak conditions in Bangladesh, because the government there has refused to recognize their status as refugees,” said Richard Sollom, director of research and investigations at PHR.

PHR said the Bangladesh government must end its arrest and forced repatriation of Rohingya into Burma and end a campaign of ethnic incitement against the group within its borders.

It condemned the Bangladesh government’s failure to protect the refugees, as well as human rights violations in Burma that have caused an estimated 300,000 Rohingya to cross the border to the north.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told reporters in Bangkok Friday that Washington's new policy of engagement with Burma appeared to be failing.

“The U.S. approach was to try to encourage domestic dialogue between the key stakeholders, and the recent promulgation of the election criteria doesn't leave much room for such a dialogue,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.

Campbell said the United States will keep talking with all parties inside Burma, including the government. But it won’t lift sanctions without concrete progress toward democratic reform — notably freeing Aung San Suu Kyi and letting her party participate in elections.

Original reporting by RFA's Burmese service. Burmese service director: Nyein Shwe. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.





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