Obama asked to collar Burmese President on human rights promises

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MANILA–The New York-based Human Rights Watch is calling on US President Barack Obama to collar visiting Burmese President Thein Sein over his past commitments on human rights reforms in his country.

Thein Sein and Obama are set to meet next week in Washington, DC–a meeting that has attracted criticisms as the Burmese government remains a failure in addressing the ethnic violence between Rohingya Muslims, Buddhists and other minority groups.

Before his trip to the US, Thein Sein also pardoned 23 political prisoners. HRW suspects the release was a public relations tool.

John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said Obama must ask Thein Sein “tough questions about the slowing pace of human rights reforms and insist on implementation of past commitments.”

HRW said the Burmese government’s “key pledges remain unimplemented or unmet.” Six months ago, Obama and Thein Sein met in Burma.

“With large numbers of political prisoners still not released, a May 17 release of about 19 political prisoners appeared to be more politically calculated than a genuine commitment to reform,” HRW said.

“The last year has seen devastating violence against minorities and a stalled reform process. President Obama should insist on steps to prevent further outbreaks of violence. He must also make it clear that there are consequences if the Burmese government fails to implement its previous human rights pledges,” said Sifton.

Before Obama visited Rangoon in November last year, Thein Sein committed to the creation of a commission to review political prisoner cases, invite the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to open offices in Burma, and “expedite its negotiations” with humanitarian organizations for access to conflict-affected areas.

On ethnic violence, the Burmese leader also said the government would take “decisive action to prevent violent attacks against civilians,” hold perpetrators of abuses accountable, and “address contentious political dimensions, ranging from resettlement of displaced populations to granting of citizenship.”

But HRW noted that Burmese government’s implementation of most of these “pledges has faltered.”

HRW said the Burmese government did not invite the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and negotiations for an agreement to set up an office have made no significant progress.

The group also said that “humanitarian aid organizations remain without full access to conflict areas in Kachin State, where a nearly two-year armed conflict between the Burmese army and Kachin rebels has displaced over 80,000 people, and in eastern Burma, where over 400,000 people are displaced from decades of civil war.”

HRW also said the Thein Sein’s order to release the 23 political prisoners was even done unilaterally–without the involvement of the Political Prisoner Verification Committee, a group formed in February and is comprised of officials, members of Burmese civil society, and former political prisoners.

“Burma’s government still appears to be using political prisoner releases as a public relations tool, rather than to bring an end to politically motivated imprisonment,” Sifton said.

HRW said Obama must “comment publicly on the Burmese government’s lack of progress on the November pledges, and to press Thein Sein to ensure their implementation.”

The group also said that “Obama and US officials should also make it clear that support for the Burmese military is contingent on Burma meeting strict criteria of human rights improvement, including accountability for past abuses, and constitutional reforms to fully restore civilian rule.”

“The reform process in Burma will ultimately require the military coming under civilian rule and formally and legally stepping aside from politics,” Sifton said.

“The reform process by necessity involves the military relinquishing its powers, and both presidents should acknowledge this,” he added. | NewsDesk

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