Many people have welcomed the new civilian government’s introduction this week of a national human rights commission but are questioning its role considering the country’s poor history on rights issues, according to several sources.
“It is a good sign but things like ethnic unrest and censorship of the media will continue. I hope it’ll be a step in the right direction,” said one Catholic priest who wished to remain anonymous.
Something is better than nothing and we didn’t see any changes while the military were running things, he said yesterday.
“I want to see an independent commission upholding the rights of each citizen without being manipulated behind the scenes that will receive good recognition from around the world,” he added.
The government-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper announced the setting up of the commission on Tuesday, saying it will comprise 15 retired civil servants whose aim will be “promoting and safeguarding fundamental rights of citizens according to the 2008 constitution.”
The move comes in the wake of a visit to Myanmar by UN rights envoy Tomás Ojea Quintana last month.
A lawyer from Yangon who also wished to remain anonymous questioned the government’s sincerity.
“I’m not sure whether this is what they really want or whether it’s a result of arm-twisting due to international pressure,” he said.
People have their doubts because the authorities have many tricks to gain favors from the international community despite their misdeeds, he added.
A journalist from Yangon also said it is too early to judge what impact the commission will have.
“Whether it will be independent remains to be seen. It will have its work cut out dealing with issues regarding rights for children, workers, women, and religions,” he said.
We know nothing yet about how the commission will handle its work and the specific duties and responsibilities of its members. But we have to be grateful to the government for at least attempting to address the rights of citizens, he added.
A similar commission set up in 2000 and led by government officials did little to improve the human rights situation, which is generally described as appalling.
There are believed to be more than 2,000 political prisoners in jail, freedom of speech is severely limited and arbitrary arrests are routine.