By Francis Wade
The UN’s special rapporteur for Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, will arrive in Rangoon this afternoon to assess claims made by the government that it has embarked on a reform programme to bring to an end decades of human rights abuses against Burmese.
Exactly who he will meet has not been confirmed, according to the UN’s information officer in Rangoon, Aye Win. He is due to travel to the capital, Naypyidaw, tomorrow and hopes to meet top-level government officials, whilst holding talks with in-country UN teams.
Quintana said in a statement prior to the trip that “significant developments” have occurred in Burma in recent months, and that the country was witnessing an “important moment in [its] history”.
But the envoy has been among the more vocal critics of the government within the UN, and has consistently pushed for the release of all political prisoners and an end to protracted civil wars in the country’s border regions.
Jong-Gil Woo, from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bangkok, who will also be travelling to Burma today, told DVB that Quintana will raise concerns about ongoing fighting in Kachin state in the north, which has forced up to 70,000 people from their homes. The UN was granted access to a number of refugees in areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) late last year, but permission has not been given since.
Woo said there had been “no information on further access” to the refugees, but that Quintana would seek to convince the government to drop its guard on international assistance to those displaced since June last year.
Aye Win corroborated that UN teams in the country had been working on additional aid distribution since the December 2011 visit to the KIA’s headquarters in Laiza on the China border, but were “not at a stage when we can deliver another aid convoy”.
Also subject to speculation is the fate of a potential UN Commission of Inquiry into past crimes committed by the former junta, many of whose senior members, including President Thein Sein, are now in the government.
A number of countries, including the US and Britain, who had supported the creation of a probe appear to have retreated in the wake of reforms enacted by the government.
Quintana, who first raised the prospect of an inquiry by the UN last year, has not made any recent statements on the matter, although there is a feeling among the UN and former backers of a probe that it should be put on hold while the world gauges developments in Burma.
Woo said that Quintana has “not thrown that idea into the gutter, but his line is fundamentally that it is important to establish justice and accountability measures,” and that the “primary responsibility for accountability rests with the government”.
That sentiment was echoed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said during her December visit to Burma that “it’s important to try to give the new government and the opposition a chance to demonstrate they have their own approach toward achieving [accountability for past state crimes]”.