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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2959

Myanmar: Constitutional referendum flouts human rights, says Amnesty International

By A Special Correspondent for Asian Tribune

London, U.K. 09 May ( “Amnesty International is gravely concerned by the deeply inadequate or total absence of provisions for the protection of many human rights within the (Myanmar/Burmese) draft constitution and by numerous provisions which may facilitate impunity for violations of human rights. In light of the fact that the Burmese army has been responsible for widespread and systematic human rights violations spanning decades, some of which amount to crimes against humanity, Amnesty International is particularly concerned by the powers granted to the army in the draft constitution, which may prolong impunity for human rights violations.”

AI issuing a statement in London condemning the Myanmar (Burmese) military junta’s decision to hold the national referendum on May 10 despite the devastating consequences of Cyclone Nargis which, according to international estimates, has killed more than 100,000 people. It appeals that they need to coordinate with the international community to alleviate the suffering of the Burmese people in allowing aid workers and supplies to enter the country.

The Amnesty International statement further states:

”Despite the devastating consequences Of Cyclone Nargis, which killed tens of thousands of people and displaced nearly a million more, Myanmar’s government, has announced that it will proceed with its plans for holding a national referendum regarding a new constitution on May 10. Even as hundreds of thousands of its citizens struggle for basic shelter, food and health care, Myanmar’s government has prioritized acceptance of the new constitution, a document that Amnesty International views as an effort to undermine respect for human rights and to entrench military rule and impunity. The government has announced that it has rescheduled elections for May 24 in the areas most affected by the storm, including in Yangon (Rangoon), the former capital and the country’s most populous city.

”Amnesty International has called on Myanmar’s government to cooperate with the international community in providing immediate relief to the neediest populations without regard for political considerations. In this context, Amnesty International urges the international community, and particularly Myanmar’s neighbors, to keep their focus on assisting Myanmar’s beleaguered population and view the constitutional referendum process as another sign of the government’s disregard for the well-being of its own people.

“Amnesty International urges the international community not to endorse in any way the draft constitution, which flouts international human rights standards. As such, it must be radically reformed or replaced, through a transparent, intimidation-free and truly inclusive process, with a draft constitution that fully protects international human rights. Unless and until this is done, the draft constitution and the process accompanying it will be instruments that perpetuate human rights violations and should not be recognized by the international community as a positive step.

“Myanmar’s government announced in February 2008 that it had completed the drafting of a new constitution, and has scheduled a referendum on 10 May 2008 for it to be accepted. Amnesty International is deeply concerned that, rather than attempting to introduce the rule of law and respect for human rights to Myanmar, this constitutional process seeks to perpetuate and legitimize the government’s continuing human rights abuses and ensure impunity for both past and future violations. The organization is further concerned that, notwithstanding the obvious flaws in the drafting process and the proposed constitution, it has nevertheless been described as a positive or meaningful process on several occasions, both regionally and within the wider international community.

”The draft constitution is the product of a flawed drafting process that lasted no less than 16 years and was reflective of the severe restrictions on human rights which the people of Myanmar have been subjected to for decades. Consultations leading to the draft constitution were limited to parties and groups supporting the government and were largely symbolic, as the current draft is substantively identical to drafts presented in the mid-1990s.

"Opposition parties, including the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and parties representing ethnic minorities, were effectively sidelined during the drafting process. In 1996 the government passed Law 5/96, allowing for up to 20 years imprisonment for actions deemed to “undermine, belittle, or make people misunderstand the functions being carried out by the National Convention” established to draft the constitution. Many of the approximately 1,850 political prisoners in Myanmar today were sentenced under that law. The announcement on 9 February 2008 that the constitution would soon be finalized (as it was ten days later) and voted upon, was widely believed to be in response to international concern at the government’s violent crackdown in September 2007 on the largest mass peaceful political demonstrations in nearly two decades.

“Since then, the Government of Myanmar has continued to suppress the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly in order to ensure that the draft constitution is passed. On 26 February, it proclaimed the Referendum Law for the Approval of the Draft Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, 2008, which provides for a prison term of up to three years and/or a substantial fine for anyone caught “lecturing, distributing papers, using posters or disturbing voting in any other manner at the polling booth or near the premises of the polling booth or at a public or private place to destroy the referendum” (Art. 25). This law has been used as grounds for the arrest or threat thereof of many activists peacefully campaigning for a “No” vote—including by wearing t-shirts with “No” printed on them—on the draft constitution. Over 70 such persons were arrested in late April for trying to stage a peaceful “Vote No” demonstration.

“It is already clear that the Myanmar government is conducting the referendum in a manner that denies individuals the right to freely express their opinions and to take part in the conduct of public affairs in accordance with international law and standards.

”Myanmar’s draft constitution and the process leading to it reflect and are products of the continuing human rights violations in Myanmar. The draft constitution not only fails to protect human rights and address human rights violations, it may also perpetuate impunity for such violations.”

- Asian Tribune -

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