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Rights abuses continue unabated, activists say

Khin Myint* was 14 when he was drafted as a child soldier. His mother contacted ILO to help him get discharged. She now volunteers as a facilitator and connects other parents of child soldiers with ILO Contributor/IRIN
More than six months since Myanmar held its first general elections in 20 years, human rights abuses continue unabated, say activists.

"There has been no appreciable change in the human rights situation in Myanmar since the elections," Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International's Myanmar researcher, told IRIN in Bangkok.

According to the rights group, some of the worst abuses include the imprisonment of thousands of political opposition members and the military's active targeting of civilians in ethnic areas, particularly in the eastern Shan, Karen and Kayah states.

"Despite verbal promises of improvement, the government is doing as little as possible, and only in an attempt to appease the international community," David Scott Matheison, Human Rights Watch senior researcher on Myanmar, added.

While 65 prisoners of conscience were released on 17 May, more than 2,000 political activists remain in prison. The steps taken by the Myanmar government are insufficient to aid the transition towards democracy, says Vijay Nambiar, special adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Myanmar. 

Fifty-one of the prisoners released had less than one year to go to finish their sentences, said Zawacki.

The UN Special Rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana, recently spent a week assessing the human rights situation in Myanmar from Thailand.

The militarization and targeting of unarmed civilians in ethnic areas continues to foster violence and human rights abuses, including forced labour, conscription, extrajudicial killings and sexual violence, Quintana told reporters in Bangkok on 23 May.

"The situation of ethnic minority groups in the border areas presents serious limitations to the government's intention to transition to democracy," Quintana maintained.

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The government is increasingly targeting unarmed civilians as part of its counter-insurgency tactic.

"There is an escalation not only in the conflict itself between the military and armed groups, but the military is actively targeting civilians," Zawacki said.

Impunity issues

Rights activists and the UN envoy are calling for an investigation into the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

"One of the biggest problems in Myanmar is the impunity of the government," said Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the Bangkok-based advocacy group, Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma). "A commission of inquiry has deterrent and preventive value to force the government to be accountable."

Officials who have committed human rights violations in the past are granted immunity by the constitution in Article 445, according to Amnesty International.

"A commission of inquiry would send messages to all parties that the UN is serious about supporting a process of investigation into breaches of humanitarian and human rights law," said Matheison. "It signals to the most abusive commanders to end the abuses."

Myanmar held a general election on 7 November 2010, and the military-dominated parliament convened on 31 January 2011.

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