The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]

Where’s the Timeframe?
By PAULO SERGIO PINHEIRO Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Pinheiro’s plea to the Burmese regime


Effectively barred from carrying out his responsibilities in Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights, says the UN could nevertheless work with the Rangoon regime if the junta clarified its aims. Brazilian-born Pinheiro spoke to The Irrawaddy during a visit to Bangkok.



Question: Having not been able to visit Burma since November 2003, how do you feel about your role as UN special rapporteur on human rights?


Answer: When countries don’t let a special rapporteur come into the country, I think that this decision doesn’t serve the interests of the government, because in fact this mandate of special rapporteur is an interesting role—I am not an NGO, I am not a UN employee, I am not an employee of any regional bloc. Then this hinders the work of the Commission on Human Rights, because it’s the Commission that decides to appoint a special rapporteur and member states are supposed to cooperate. So this hampers my efficiency and hampers also the best interests, not only of the people, but of the government.


Q: What reason has the Burmese government given for not now allowing you into the country?


A: I cannot interpret the thoughts of the Myanmar [Burma] government. But they never refused my visit, they answered that the government is trying to find mutually convenient dates, but I expressed to them that I am ready to go to Myanmar any time. They just have to call me and I will take a plane.


Q: In the last 18 months, during which time you haven’t been able to make a visit to Burma, have you reconsidered your position as special rapporteur on human rights?


A: Well, I have said this in the past because I have been so angry about not being able to visit.


Q: Do you have a timetable agreed with the Burmese government concerning a visit to the country?


A: No. I always need to return to the country, as in the past, before my report. I present two reports, the Commission’s and the General Assembly. So the idea is to go to the country before so that I can have material and interviews.


Q: There is a sense among Burmese people that the UN has essentially failed to prompt reforms in the country. What do you think?


A: It’s unfair to say this because it is not the responsibility of the UN. What the resolution of the General Assembly gives to the Secretary General is to facilitate precisely the role of the national actors to make these reforms. It is not the UN, the UN is not the government of the world. The responsibility is first of all the government and also of all the political forces and I must say that the UN doesn’t fail because you have to consider that all the agencies are doing extraordinary work. But what is not functioning at the moment is not the responsibility of the Secretary General, it’s the responsibility of the government because the government refuses the presence of the special envoy [Razali Ismail] and does not accept my visit. Then it is not the fault of the UN. Only when you have a mandate for other countries that is very specific, for instance the transition in East Timor, my fellow Brazilian was there, Sergio Vieira de Mello, but this is not the case with Myanmar. The case of Myanmar is a resolution to facilitate the political process and I think Ambassador Razali has been successful. I disagree with people saying that Razali was not able to perform. Today he is the best person in the world that knows all the players, the actual leaders and Aung San Suu Kyi.


What I am asking of the Myanmar authorities is a clarification about what they propose, that they reveal what they can do.
— Paulo Sergio Pinherio


Q: What is the time frame for the national reconciliation process? When will a national referendum and subsequent election happen?


A: Who can answer this? Only the government of Myanmar, I don’t have the answer. We just know the succession of steps of the roadmap but the timeframe—never. The previous administration and the present administration—they never were very clear about that. But I can say that yes, a timeframe is important. The political transition process cannot go on forever, it is not healthy. From my own experience, Brazil has one of the longest—10 years of political transition. I can assure you it was very boring and unbearable to have a political transition over 10 years, 10 years of my life. I spent one third of my life under a military dictatorship and 10 years in political transition. What I want to say is that if this process is postponed the political situation will be more complicated. For the benefit of the government of Myanmar, its society and the international community, it is better to have a timeframe and more clarification. What I am asking of the Myanmar authorities is a clarification about what they propose, that they reveal what they can do. If the Myanmar government can specify what they can do to the UN and the international community we can work with them so that this process towards democratisation will continue. I am not an advisor of governments, I do not have anything to say about that, my only question is first, I’d like to know about the plans of the present administration and second, what is very important in any political transition—procedure specifications about the several steps.


Q: How much faith do you have in the National Convention process that is taking place at the moment?


A: ‘Faith’ is not in political or human rights term—I don’t use ‘faith’. We just deal with facts. In the past I have expressed my opinion that I thought it would be better and a more inclusive National Convention with the participation of political parties, but at this very moment that National Convention is almost finishing. I am worried about the drafting of the constitution, what this constitution will be. I think it is a fact of reality that there is this National Convention, that it was organised with its limitations and constraints. You know the crises with some political leaders that were expelled, that were put in detention like someone that I have met over six times, Hkun Htun Oo, the chairperson of the Shan NLD. I must confess that I am very uncomfortable seeing people that I have met in prison. This for me is really very disagreeable.


Then we need to discuss the future, because if you don’t discuss the future we don’t ask the present administration—it will repeat this sort of violation.


Q: How would you assess the four years you have spent as special rapporteur on human rights to Burma?


A: I think I have been able to implement an incremental approach. I was able to visit several provinces; I was able to have productive meetings with human rights people, visit prisons. I think it is very important to have contact with political prisoners, they were very happy about my visits. That is my test—if the victims like it, I am doing a good job. If the victims don’t like… the only reputation I am worried about is my reputation vis-?-vis the victims of violations and again I think that I help to draw attention to problems.

Copyright © 2008 Irrawaddy Publishing Group |