The good news is that representatives from the United States, the UK, France, and Germany all spoke out against the detention of nearly 2,200 political prisoners in Burma. The bad news is that the Burmese delegation denied that there were any political prisoners in jail, and maintained that the conditions in the jails were acceptable and prisoners had access to proper medical care.
Western nations also urged swifter action in the country’s shift towards real democratic reform after the widely condemned November elections, and called on the Burmese government to address the human rights abuses taking place within its borders. However, Burma denied that any human rights abuses were taking place in their state, despite staggering evidence to the contrary. Civilians are typically on the receiving end of the abuse, with the junta instigating the aggression. Rape, forced labor, arbitrary murder, and a shoot-on-sight policy against ethnic civilians are among the multitude of charges brought against the Burmese junta.
Porters are a common victim. Captured and press-ganged into laboring for the army, these men are treated like cattle and overloaded with supplies and weapons. It is not uncommon for them to be executed for requesting a break or tiring and falling behind. Porters are also used to detect mines, forced to walk in front of the army through open fields where mines are often buried.
With only surface gestures made on both sides, there is little hope for genuine democratic transition. Western countries make grand statements condemning the junta’s behavior and demanding the release of political prisoners, but do not follow through with any action that might help the people suffering in Burma. The junta, likewise, is putting on a show of elections and a democratic parliament while maintaining an iron-fist on the nation and doubling the number of political prisoners held in jail since 2007. Parliamentary members in opposition to the state party are finding the going difficult as they arrive in Naypyidaw. Poor accommodations and concerns over lack of media access to parliament are beginning to dampen the spirits of newly elected officials.
According to The Irrawaddy, “Burma’s delegation, headed by Dr. Tun Shin, the country’s Deputy Attorney General, said that Burma enjoys a free press, has committed no human rights violations, and has cooperated with UN Human Rights Special Envoy to Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana.”
On Monday, January 31, the UN will release a statement decreeing whether or not they will accept the Burma delegation’s word on the state of human rights in their country.