The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]

Burma, North Korea Defend their Human Rights Records
By WAI MOE Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Burma and North Korea joined in defending each other's human rights records before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva on Monday.

The UNHRC session heard presentations by special UN rapporteurs on Burma and North Korea, according to the UN Web site.

An activist holds a portrait of Burma's detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi during a rally in front of the Burmese embassy in Seoul on March 14. (Photo: Reuters)

The UN special rapporteur on Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, said the country is at a critical moment in its history as the first elections in 20 years are scheduled for this year. He suggested the junta has an opportunity to resolve Burma’s human rights issues and to initiate “much-needed reforms”.

The opportunity was not being taken, however, because dissidents were still being arrested and imprisoned and large numbers of political prisoners remained incarcerated.

More than 2,100 political prisoners, including Burma’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, were disenfranchised by the regime's election law, barred from joining political parties or from participating in the planned 2010 poll, Ojea Quintana said.

The regime's position was presented by Burma's representative on the UNHRC, Wunna Maung Lwin, who said his government strongly condemned and rejected certain unfounded allegations. Wunna Maung Lwin denied that Burma had any prisoners of conscience.

The official Burmese stance was supported by North Korea's UNHRC representative, Choe Myong Nam, who said Pyongyang rejected what he described as the unjust politicization and double standards applied to Burma and manifested in country mandates. The mandates should be abolished, the North Korean envoy said.

Choe Myong Nam defended his country's own human rights record, saying it was unfortunate to witness politically motivated approaches and measures from some quarters of the UNHRC since its establishment in 2006.

The human rights records of Burma and North Korea were also defended by China's UNHRC representative, Luo Cheng. He said that China, as a friendly neighbor, respected Burma’s choice of its own road to development and appreciated the Burmese regime's efforts to achieve political reconciliation.

On North Korea, he said: “China urges members of the council to avoid double standards and to respect the road of development the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had chosen.” 

In recent years, security analysts and diplomats have been studying the development of closer military ties between Burma and North Korea. For years, North Korea has reportedly provided Burma with conventional arms, including sophisticated missiles, and is reported to be involved in Burma's nuclear program.

Officials of the US State Department, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have said they are closely watching the development of military ties between two countries.

“Reports filtering out of Washington suggest that there have already been a number of confidential briefings to senior officials on this subject,” wrote Andrew Selth, a Burma military expert, in a recent issue of the Australian Journal of International Affairs.

“However, the world is still waiting for a comprehensive official statement which will put all the rumors, blogs and newspaper stories into their proper perspective,” he added.

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