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Oral statement to the GA by the Spe

Check Against Delivery

Statement by Mr. Paolo Sergio Pinheiro, Special Rapporteur on the Situation 
of Human Rights in Myanmar

56th Session of the General Assembly
Third Committee, Item 119

New York, 9 November 2001

Mr. President,

I have the honour to present my first report which refers to my activities 
and developments relating to the situation of human rights in Myanmar 
between 1 January and 14 August 2001.  I would also like to share a few 
preliminary observations from my first fact-finding mission to Myanmar from 
9 to 17 October 2001.

At the invitation of the Government, I arrived in Yangon on 9 October after 
a stopover in Singapore where I had consultations with officials.  In 
Yangon, where I stayed for four days, I met with Lieutenant-General Khin 
Nyunt, Secretary (1) of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).  He 
assured me of the full cooperation of the SPDC and invited me to go to any 
place I wanted and meet anyone I wished, which I did.  He stated that he 
wanted to make my mission a success and stressed that the SPDC was 
genuinely committed to improving the well-being of the population.  He said 
that this included the need to improve human rights and engage in political 
transition now that peace had been achieved in several parts of the country 
and development was taking place.  He expressed concern at the lack of 
understanding outside the country about the progress achieved in these areas.

I also met other Government officials, representatives of political 
parties, ethnic minority leaders, journalists and businessmen.  I visited 
educational, religious, academic and other institutions.  Finally, I met 
with the UN Country Team, members of the diplomatic community, and 
international civil society organisations.

On 13 October I went with my team to Lashio (Shan State), where we were 
received by local authorities.  The mission visited a Wa cease-fire area, 
the new border town of Muse, and the Lashio prison.  The following day, I 
travelled with my team to Mandalay and had meetings with local authorities; 
my team visited the office of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the 
Mandalay central prison, Hton-Bo labour camp, and a University in Sagaing 

On 17 October, the mission, originally scheduled to last until 20 October, 
had to be suspended due to an ailment which obliged me to return home to 
Brazil.  As a consequence, visits to Kachin State, Insein prison, a labour 
camp near Yangon and further higher educational institutions, were 
cancelled as well some interviews with recently released political 
prisoners. I was, however, able to meet the Foreign Minister, Deputy 
Foreign Minister, as well as the NLD top leadership, including the 
Secretary General Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Chairman, Vice-Chairman and the 
party secretary and spokesperson.  My team further met the NLD Central 
Executive Committee at their headquarters.

I received full and unhindered cooperation on the part of the Myanmar 
Government during my mission.  I wish to express my sincere gratitude for 
this gesture.  I would like also to thank very warmly the medical staff of 
the Mandalay General Hospital for their competent care and kind 
attention.  I hope to be able to return to Myanmar in the beginning of next 
year to pursue my fact-finding mission and efforts to develop partnership 
with all parties interested in improving the human rights situation there.

I am sure, Mr. President, that you will understand that it would be 
impossible to tackle all human rights issues and problems in Myanmar at the 
same time.  In consequence, I preferred to select for this first visit 
issues and priorities which concern the majority of the population and are 
in the nature of long term structural problems.  I thus focused on 
establishing an initial framework of cooperation and operating principles, 
visiting prisons and labour camps, interviewing political and other 
detainees confidentially, beginning to assess basic security conditions, 
the exercise of fundamental civil and political rights, and starting to 
look into basic rights to food, health, and education.  My preliminary 
observations presented in this statement will be developed in my report to 
58th session of the Commission on Human Rights.

I recognise the urgency in improving the situation of human rights on many 
fronts.  However, it is my view that given the limited resources of a 
Special Rapporteur, to have a positive impact my mandate requires a long 
term-approach, each mission focusing on selected issues to be investigated 
and documented.  Each new visit will update issues looked at previously and 
address new ones.  A basic requirement for this mandate is consultation and 
dialogue with the Government, political parties, including from ethnic 
minorities, and the society at large.  This is what I have initiated in 
order to build a broad understanding towards a constructive partnership 
with all those, both inside and outside Myanmar, who aspire to contribute 
toward promoting and protecting human rights and the well-being of the 
people in the country.

My activities are developed in the framework of the Commission on Human 
Rights resolution 1992/58 of 3 March 1992, which established the mandate of 
the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, with 
the duty "to establish direct contacts with the Government and with the 
people of Myanmar, including political leaders deprived of their liberty, 
their families and lawyers, with a view to examining the situation of human 
rights in Myanmar and following any progress made towards the transfer of 
power to a civilian government and the drafting of a new constitution, the 
lifting of restrictions on personal freedoms and the restoration of human 
rights in Myanmar".  My mandate is thus one of fact-finding and 
complementary to that of the good offices of the Special Envoy of the 
Secretary General to Myanmar, Ambassador Razali Ismail.  I need not to 
stress the importance that the United Nations, its Secretary General, and 
the successive resolutions attach to the result of the free and fair 
elections in 1990 and its necessary translation into appropriate political 
expression in the context of political transition.

Since the ongoing confidence-building contacts between the SPDC and the NLD 
leader during the past twelve months the Government of Myanmar has been 
addressing some of the human rights concerns of the Commission on Human 
Rights and supporting several positive initiatives.  Those include the 
dissemination of human rights standards for the police and public officials 
through a series of training workshops with the support of the Australian 
Government and corporate funding; the establishment of the governmental 
Committee on Human Rights to pave a way (as I was told) for the 
establishment of a human rights institution based on the Paris Principles; 
the releases of political detainees; the end of criticism of the NLD in 
official media; the political consultation with the NLD and permission 
given to legal parties to open or re-open offices; the continued 
international monitoring of prison conditions; and the dialogue with the 
United Nations, inter alia, with the Special Envoy of the UN 
Secretary-General to Myanmar, the ILO and through my mandate.  During my 
recent visit to Myanmar I witnessed progress in several areas: among 
others, cease-fire agreements reached with several armed groups, the 
opening of offices of the NLD, attention to conditions in prisons, the 
release of nearly 200 political prisoners including MPs.  In my next report 
I intend to assess, with objectivity and transparency, what has been 
achieved and remains to be accomplished in all these areas.

I am encouraged by the fact that the NLD has been allowed to reopen 
24-township offices in Yangon division (16 are already opened) and is 
gradually reopening offices elsewhere.  In Yangon, my delegation spent two 
and half-hours discussing with the NLD leadership basic conditions for the 
operation of political parties in the country.  The Mandalay NLD 
headquarters and two other township offices are operating.  I understand 
that four other parties (the Shan-NLD, the Kokang Democracy and Unity Party 
(KDUP), the National Unity Party (NUP), and Lahu National Development Party 
(LNDP)) have so far opened party offices in Yangon, Lashio and Kentung.  I 
presume that the five other legal parties are also allowed to do so.

These developments are welcome.  I am concerned, however, that unnecessary 
and discriminatory stringent restrictions continue to hamper the exercise 
by political parties of the fundamental human rights to freedom of 
assembly, association, expression, information and movement: 
legally-registered parties need prior permission from the SPDC to open 
party offices; whereas the NUP (widely regarded as close to the SPDC) is 
allowed to publish party materials, the NLD and other parties still cannot 
and do not have permission to operate photocopiers, mimeographs or fax 
machines, which require SPDC licences; their office telephone lines are 
disconnected; they can hold monthly meetings in office premises but public 
gatherings require prior permission. I have been told also of official 
pressures against party members and organisers to resign from their 
membership and against landlords to refuse to rent office premises to 
political parties.

I also understand that the top NLD officials are subject to systematic 
surveillance by police and military intelligence personnel, with their 
movements, contacts and communications closely monitored.  Lower party 
members are also closely watched, but apparently less systematically.  I 
have received information that NLD members going to the NLD office to meet 
with their colleagues may be in danger of being taken away for 
interrogation without any valid reason.  Female NLD members may be 
especially at risk and feel that they could be subject to harassment.  Such 
restrictions, if confirmed, are not conducive, in my view, to the 
atmosphere of trust and confidence that is necessary to pave the way for 
effective and mutually respectful political dialogue and cooperation.  It 
is essential that all political parties and ethnic minority groups enjoy 
the basic political freedoms.

Freedom of expression is tightly controlled by more than half a dozen laws, 
the violation of which, may be, and in fact is widely, sanctioned by 3 to 
20 years in prison.  There are numbers of people in prison for having 
peacefully expressed their views, verbally, through participation in 
peaceful demonstrations, or activities in political parties, for having 
written about human rights or political issues in the country, or for 
possessing prohibited writings.  All print and electronic media are 
State-controlled, except the recently established bi-monthly 
English-language "Myanmar Times". However, like the 21 foreign news 
agencies in Yangon, I understand that it is subject to censorship, formal 
or self-inflicted, as correspondents are taught by military intelligence 
personnel to understand the extent to which subjects can be covered.  I 
believe that the release of all persons detained for the peaceful 
expression of their views should be considered by the SPDC among its 
priorities, if it is to pursue its confidence-building efforts in a 
convincing manner.

Prior to and during my mission, I have received  reports of 
gross  violations of human rights of civilians living in areas of conflict 
between the army and armed groups, particularly in eastern Kayin and Kayah 
States, Southern Shan State, northern Sagaing Division, Rakhine and Chin 
States.  These reports, many of which are substantiated by reliable 
evidence, are of course a matter of serious concern to my mandate.  As 
usual in this type of conflict, it is the poor and defenceless population 
which is intimidated and victimised by different combatants crossing their 
communities.  Such violence is largely arbitrary and indiscriminate.  Not 
only combatants are killed, injured and maimed, but also, and in greater 
numbers, ordinary people, farmers, the elderly, women and children who have 
little, or nothing, to do with the conflict.

My mandate requires that I examine the subject of these reports in an 
impartial and objective manner, and I have started doing so.  This is a 
meticulous process, which I intend to pursue during my next missions in 
order to establish gradually a credible factual account of the human rights 
situation in these areas.  In the meanwhile, I am calling on all parties in 
conflict - the SPDC, the Tatmadaw (the army), and the armed opposition 
groups in these areas - to use maximum restraint in their armed activities, 
to observe fundamental principles of international humanitarian law 
relating to the protection of civilians and prisoners, to stop using 
civilians as pawns of war, and consider alternative avenues to sort their 
differences through political dialogue in the mutual respect for their 
rights, in a peaceful manner.

These conflicts have devastated life in many communities. There are 
hundreds of thousands refugees living in neighbouring countries. I believe 
that both Myanmar and Thailand have an obvious interest in solving the 
matter of the ongoing insecurity along their common borders, with the 
related transnational issues of refugees, displaced persons, trafficking, 
and exploitation of natural resources.  A peaceful settlement of these 
matters is also in the interest of ASEAN and the region as a whole.

In the Shan State my delegation, because of the urgent need of my 
evacuation from Lashio to the Mandalay General Hospital, quickly visited 
Namtit in the Wa cease-fire area, which enjoys a great autonomy, and the 
border town of Muse.  My team was able to observe positive achievements in 
these areas regarding roads, electricity, schools and medical facilities, 
trade and large-scale agricultural production.  A regular, substantive and 
transparent access to those areas to conduct factual research is required 
before I can speak fairly and authoritatively about the multiple factors 
which contributed to these developments. We would have visited another 
important cease-fire area in Kachin State if my health had allowed it.  The 
rights to peace and security are fundamental human rights.  Their enjoyment 
may contribute to laying the foundations of economic development, but the 
effective social benefits of such development need to be assessed and there 
remains to formulate the political and institutional expression of what 
appears to be semi-or largely autonomous areas within the Union of Myanmar.

Visits to prisons, labour camps and other detention facilities are central 
to my mandate.   Thus it is indispensable to examine, based on 
international standards,  their actual conditions both from the perspective 
of authorities and prisoners, but also as a part of my assessment of the 
judicial system and work with concerned authorities and partners on ways to 
improve those areas.

In order to do so, I obtained from the Home Minister open permission to 
select detention facilities for visit and to identify prisoners for 
confidential interview, thus applying standard operating procedures for 
prison visits enabling independent assessment of prison conditions. It is 
my duty to report here that I received full cooperation in this regard from 
prison authorities. I visited the Lashio and Mandalay Central prisons and 
Hton-Bo labour camp (near Mandalay) and interviewed privately a dozen 
detainees with complete freedom.  If it had not been for my health, I would 
have visited the Myitkyina prison (Kachin State), Insein central prison and 
a second labour camp and continued to interview detainees there.

Prison conditions had been reported to be very poor for many years.  My 
initial impression based on in-situ visits and discussions with prison 
authorities and private interviews of detainees is that there have been 
incremental improvements in the areas of sanitation, food quality, access 
to basic medicine and medical treatment, and family visits in recent 
years.  These can be linked to, at least, two factors: the introduction in 
1997 by the SPDC Secretary (1) of a new set of 11 instructions to prison 
authorities and access granted to the ICRC to conduct its protection 
mandate in all prisons and labour camps since May 1999.  The cooperation 
between the SPDC and the ICRC, based on fair and constructive working 
relations, appears to be exemplary and it is my strong hope that it will 
continue and develop further.

Most reports I have received indicate that prison conditions as a whole are 
still inadequate, but the prisons visited by my team looked clean and 
tidy.  Political detainees appeared to be separated from common criminals, 
men from women, and juveniles from adults.  I received allegations that 
corruption is frequent and physical abuse of prisoners occurs but I was not 
in a position to assess to what extent. I have been told also of a high 
rate of mortality among labour camps inmates, mainly due to physical 
exhaustion and inadequate medical care. I have also received a list of 
about 60 political prisoners who are reported to have died in prison since 
1988.  The incidence of death in detention is a complex area which I intend 
to examine closely during my next missions.

The issue of political prisoners has been at the top of my agenda since my 
first contact with the SPDC.  I have urged the release of all political 
prisoners in my successive meetings with the Government.  In pursuance of 
the understanding I had reached with the Government during my April visit, 
I submitted for the consideration of the SPDC a list of 49 prisoners for 
release, including all remaining imprisoned elected MPs, humanitarian cases 
of whose who are either old, sick, or detained beyond the term of their 
sentence, and 13 persons whose continued detention is related to an alleged 
attempt to communicate human rights information to the United Nations.  I 
believe that it is essential that the Government guarantees the safety of 
persons contacted and interviewed by the Special Rapporteur.

I find very encouraging the fact that political arrests seem to have 
declined dramatically. I know of one, possibly another three, political 
arrests since the beginning of contacts between the SPDC and the NLD in 
October 2000.   Ms. Gracy, an ethnic Chin Baptist pastor, accused of 
supporting the armed Chin National Front, was reportedly sentenced to 2 
years in prison with hard labour in April and taken to Kalaywa camp near 
Sagaing where her brother is also detained.  The three others, members of 
the Arakan League for Democracy, were reportedly arrested in March this 
year and are currently detained in Sittwe prison awaiting trial. The last 
known political arrest was that of five members of the NLD in mid-September 
2000 for having issued a statement calling for the release from house 
arrest of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders.  Some cases of 
detention of youth because of their activities in the NLD had been reported 
to me but it seems that they were released two weeks later.

I am pleased to acknowledge that since the beginning of this year, 198 
political detainees have been released, many of them from the NLD.  I 
understand that most of them had never been charged or tried. They include 
39 NLD elected MPs who had been detained for 2 years and 8 months without 
charge or trial in government "guest houses" (mostly military barracks) and 
other elected MPs sentenced to various prison terms.  I had the pleasure of 
meeting with Dr. Saw Mra Aung, aged 83, senior member of the Committee 
Representing the People's Parliament, who described conditions of detention 
in his "guest house" as good in contrast with those of the other 
MPs,  which were more rudimentary and the cost of which had, in many cases, 
to be supported by their families.  I note with satisfaction that five 
releases coincided with my visit, which was followed by another eight.  As 
of 5 November to my knowledge, 19 elected MPs, arrested in 1990 or in the 
mid- to late 90s, remained in prison. As a university professor, I deplore 
the fact that the released appear to contain no student leader or activist.

These releases are very welcome. They represent however a small percentage 
of the estimated total and there is a long way to go if releases continue 
at the present rate.  While I understand that the SPDC, the NLD and other 
political parties may have different understandings of what constitutes a 
political prisoner, I regard as such anyone who is held in connection with 
real or suspected political opinions, affiliation or activities.  Under 
this definition, there remain an estimated 1500-1600 political detainees in 
Myanmar. They include, at least, 827 NLD members, an estimated 300 members 
of other political parties, as well as other political prisoners with no 
known political affiliation or held in connection with armed opposition 
groups.  Among them there are, at least, 100 women. I have received 
consistent testimonies that following their release elected-MPs and other 
senior political detainees are under close surveillance and must report any 
travel outside their home village or town to military intelligence personnel.

I take this opportunity, Mr. President, to stress once more that I 
sincerely believe that only the full release of all political prisoners in 
Myanmar can effectively pave a way to a dialogue, national reconciliation 
and democratisation process based on the rule of law.

I note with appreciation that the ILO high-level team was able to visit 
Myanmar from 17 September to 6 October 2001 to carry out an objective 
assessment of the implementation of legislative, executive and 
administrative measures announced in Myanmar to eliminate forced labour.  I 
am aware that it enjoyed the full cooperation of the Government.

Inter-ethnic/ religious tensions are a matter of prime concern to me in a 
country where extremely rich humane, historical, political, linguistic and 
cultural diversity poses the constant political challenge of making these 
differences co-exist in a peaceful, dynamic and constructive manner. 
Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism are the four recognised 
religions in Myanmar, while numerous other religious beliefs and practices 
exist, often closely intermingled with them, especially among ethnic 

In this respect, I am particularly worried at the reported violence against 
Muslim communities.  Muslim individuals, houses, shops and mosques were 
allegedly attacked, resulting in an unknown number of deaths and injuries, 
and widespread looting, destruction of property and religious buildings, 
for instance, during May in Toungoo, Kywebwe, and in October in Pyi, 
Pakkoku, Bago and Inthada.  In response to the mounting violence between 
ethnic and religious communities, and as an illustration of the seriousness 
attached to them by the SPDC, a national state of emergency of 45 days was 
decreed at the end of October.  These are complex and sensitive issues 
which require attention and which I will look into at an appropriate future 

Mr. President, I would like to refer now to a topic that I think is 
extremely important, namely higher education, which I intend to develop in 
my next report.  After 1988 all universities and many high schools had been 
closed down for 7-8 years up to mid-2000, except several medical schools 
which reopened in 1999.  The reopening of universities since last year, 
recent efforts to upgrade some educational resources, and the rate of 
female enrolment at post-graduate level are remarkable.  I heard of a brain 
drain from the public system to the growing private sector (for the 
minority which can afford it) and of children of political detainees being 
denied access to higher education despite brilliant results.  I hope to be 
able to look into these questions in a constructive manner.

In the background of all the questions I addressed in my report, there 
exists a complex humanitarian situation in Myanmar, which threatens to 
worsen unless it is promptly and properly addressed by all 
concerned.  Among the areas in most need of significant improvement is the 
situation of vulnerable groups, inter alia, the poor, children, women and 
ethnic minorities and, in particular, those among them who have become 
internally displaced in zones of military operations.

The UN country team stated recently that Myanmar is on the eve of a serious 
humanitarian situation. The humane, technical and financial means to 
prevent it exist, domestically and/or internationally.  I am aware that 
addressing more adequately the humanitarian situation requires, besides the 
commitment of the Government, the involvement of the NLD in the planning 
and managing of international humanitarian assistance.

I am concerned by the speed of the HIV/AIDS spread in Myanmar. UNAIDs 
estimates that up to 500,000 people may already be infected - almost one in 
every 100. The next five years are critical in determining the future 
trajectory of the epidemic.  Unless it is addressed now, and in a 
determined and concerted manner, it will become a major problem in the 
country.  It is primarily the young generation which will bear the brunt of 
the epidemic.  Broad-based social mobilisation and advocacy are key for 
preventive and curative action.

I would like to praise here the valuable assistance efforts of 
international NGOs which operate among the most vulnerable groups in 
Myanmar with complete control and monitoring of their assistance.  In fact, 
at present their capacity for operation is much greater than the current 
level of aid channelled through them.  I am convinced the humanitarian 
situation requires that they must be encouraged to develop their 
activities.  For this, it is essential that the relationship between the 
Government of Myanmar and the international NGOs operating in the country 
continue to improve.  I sincerely hope that the recent restrictive measures 
affecting the operation of these NGOs may soon be rescinded.  It is in the 
best interest of the SPDC to demonstrate to the international community 
that these organisations do operate freely, within the laws of the country, 
thus facilitating their access to funding.

Mr. President, I do not underestimate the fact that progress is fragile and 
sometimes may be complicated by the fact that so many factors are involved 
simultaneously in the present juncture.  While I recognise that the 
complexity of the situation in Myanmar requires some patience, the 
confidence building process is already one year old and in the opinion of 
many interlocutors is going rather slowly.  Progress has been achieved in 
terms of confidence building between the Government and the 
NLD.  Undeniably the political atmosphere in the country is gradually 
improving and some basis of mutual understanding has begun to emerge.

Precisely because of these positive developments, one would hope that the 
confidence building would be followed by bolder moves that may contribute 
for the political initiatives engaged a year ago to maintain their 
credibility.  It is important that the SPDC will carry forward the present 
process towards democratisation.  Proceeding more rapidly with the release 
of political prisoners will contribute to building a path towards a 
democratic power structure.

Nothing can help better Myanmar than the building of an all-inclusive, 
accountable and transparent democratic process, which would be able to 
preserve and consolidate peace, national reconciliation and national 
unity.  My genuine hope is that the Government of Myanmar will not let pass 
this golden opportunity.

Thank you.

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