Myanmar establishes human rights commission

AP News
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Posted: Sep 06, 2011 5:26 AM
Myanmar establishes human rights commission

Myanmar's nominally civilian government has formed a National Human Rights Commission to investigate reported abuses, state-run media reported Tuesday, although a similar body in 2000 failed to have any impact.

The 15-member commission of retired civil servants will "safeguard fundamental rights of citizens" as described in the country's 2008 constitution, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

A similar commission in 2000 led by government officials did little to improve the human rights situation, which have generally been described as appalling. There are more than 2,000 political prisoners in Myanmar's jails, and people in this country of 59 million have little freedom of speech. Arbitrary arrests are routine.

The military _ in power since 1962 _ continues to wield control. The president and most of the cabinet are officers who retired from the military to join the civilian government that took over nominal power six months ago following elections in November. The polls were dismissed by independent observers as a sham.

The best known victim of the former junta's authoritarianism is pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent a total of 15 years in house arrest. She was released in November last year and has experienced some degree of political freedom.

The latest human rights committee was formed on the heels of a visit last month by the United Nations Human Rights Envoy to Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana, although the government said it had already started to set it up before he arrived.

Political analysts said the commission will need independence to be effective.

It will work "if the commission members can independently, courageously and objectively report the human rights violations according to international human rights norms," Aung Thein, a prominent activist and former lawyer told The Associated Press.

Known for defending political activists, Aung Thein himself spent four months in jail for contempt of court after which the Bar Council revoked his law license in 2009.

Suu Kyi's spokesman Nyan Win said their party will not rush to judgment.

"The capability of the new Commission depends on how independent and how much authority the body will be given," he told the AP.

Myanmar's new president has said his government is trying to ease tensions in the country and increase understanding.

President Thein Sein, who served as prime minister under the previous military junta, is considered a moderate compared to previous leaders. He took power in March following November elections.

Critics have accused Thein Sein of creating a facade of liberalization to prompt Western nations to lift sanctions imposed over the country's political and human rights record.