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Human Rights in Burma: Encouraging Progress, but Considerable Challenges Remain
March 11, 2013

Item 4:  Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma
Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America

Delivered by Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe

Human Rights Council 22nd Session

Geneva, March 11, 2013

Mr. President,

The United States welcomes the report of Special Rapporteur Ojea Quintana and thanks him for all of his work.  We welcome his visit to Burma in February 2013 and the full cooperation he received from the government.  We hope that authorities will continue to cooperate with Mr. Quintana, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other thematic special rapporteurs.

The Special Rapporteur’s report describes an improving human rights situation while noting that considerable challenges remain, including continuing serious human rights abuses, particularly in Kachin State and Rakhine State.  The US is concerned about endemic discrimination against the Rohingya community. The lack of legal status of the Rohingya effectively give state sanction to discrimination, denying them access to many of their basic human rights.  In light of these concerns, we support the government’s outreach to ethnic and religious minority groups and encourage the government to deepen political dialogue with these groups with the goal of national reconciliation. International humanitarian organizations, such as ICRC and OCHA, have recently regained access to deliver aid in previously restricted areas, including KIA/KIO-held territory in Kachin State.  We are hopeful that this expansion will produce the long-term sustained access these organizations need.

Like the Special Rapporteur, we are encouraged by the government’s progress on releasing political prisoners but share his concern that prisoners of conscience be released unconditionally. Since taking office the government has released nearly 800 political prisoners and most recently established a Committee to Review Political Prisoners. We support the recommendation that the Committee be given broad terms of reference such that, as it reviews and releases all remaining  prisoners, it can also propose necessary legislative reforms and advance efforts to provide care for and facilitate the reintegration of released individuals.

We are also encouraged that the government has passed progressive legislation and has begun to repeal several outdated laws highlighted in previous reports. We strongly support the recommendation to undertake comprehensive legal reform to bring all laws, including the 2008 Constitution, into conformity with Burma’s international human rights obligations and commitments, and for new legislation to be made public and widely disseminated to allow for meaningful consultation with relevant stakeholders, including civil society.

We commend progress on allowing greater freedom of assembly and association, and support the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation that shortfalls in the Law on Peaceful Assembly be remedied. We note with concern several incidents of security forces using excessive force to disband peaceful protestors, and urge the government to hold these, and all, security forces that use excessive force accountable.

In addition, we share the Special Rapporteur’s concerns regarding the independence of the judiciary and rule of law.  We support his calls for the government to seek and accept technical assistance from OHCHR and other human rights organizations.

Finally, we welcome the government’s November invitation to OHCHR to open an office in-country. We encourage the government to expedite the process of establishing an OHCHR Country Office with a full mandate so progress made on human rights and democratic reforms can continue to broaden and deepen over the coming years.

The United States will continue to support the people and government of Burma in its aspirations for democratic reform. The road to reform will be long, challenging, and bumpy. But the United States remains committed to serving as a long-term partner in the reform process as long as it continues to move forward.

Thank you, Mr. President.