(Hong Kong, December 9, 2011) Despite signs of political change and the easing of restrictions on freedom of expression in Burma, rights abuses remain “systemic, deeply entrenched and vast in scale”, the Asian Human Rights Commission said today in its annual State of Human Rights in Asia report.
The 17-page Burma report, entitled “From blinkered to market-oriented despotism” synthesizes and analyses a number of key human rights issues from throughout the year, including civil war, land confiscations, the passing of anti-poor and anti-democratic laws in the new semi-civilian parliament, the absence of a judiciary capable of protecting human rights, and ongoing detention of political prisoners.
“It is obvious that none of the instruments and institutions available for the making of complaint of rights abuses in Burma come remotely close to what under international standards would satisfy the requirements for remedies for human rights violations,” the AHRC said.
“Despite the political changes of the year and associated fanfare, the judiciary in Burma remains inert, tied to the executive, and incapable of performing even basic functions for the defence of human rights,” it added.
Wong Kai Shing, director of the Hong Kong-based regional rights group, said that it was good that rule-of-law issues in Burma are starting to get attention, but that it would be a long time before judicial institutions could work to protect human rights, even if the political will exists.
“The beginning of a discussion on rule of law in Burma is enormously important, but the amount of work that will have to be put into giving meaning to rule of law there is enormous,” Wong said.
“In the meantime, economic and social conditions are changing quickly, and will change even more quickly in the next few years, and our concern is that this change will fast outpace any equivalent change for the better in institutions for the rule of law,” he added.
The AHRC in its report highlighted the increasing incidence of land grabbing in Burma by companies linked to the army.
“This is an emerging phenomenon in Burma and one that we have to document and research carefully to understand its characteristics and implications,” Wong said.
In the past, land grabbing in Burma was conducted mainly by the armed forces and other state agencies directly, but increasingly in the last few years it has been linked to private economic interests.
“Our concern is that within a few years Burma could go the way of Cambodia, where land grabbing is massive and practically no legal or institutional arrangements exist to do anything about it,” he added.
The report also includes details of a number of cases of illegally or unjustly imprisoned people on whose cases the AHRC is working, including those of Htun Oo and 13 other persons charged over a bombing in Pegu during 2010; 22-year-old Kaung Myat Hlaing, sentenced to 10 years in jail for allegedly sending some politically oriented photographs through the Internet; six men in 2010 were accused of having contact with an insurgent group in the east of Burma, one of whom was tortured to death during interrogation; and, the case of U Gambhira, a monk who was at the forefront of the 2007 protest movement.