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Burma: Struggling for human rights

December 10, 2008

From Mizzima News

December 10th marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations, to which military-ruled Burma is party.

While the world marks the occasion, Burmese continue to live without their basic rights, denied by their military rulers, says David Scott Mathieson, Burma consultant for the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), who has closely monitored human rights developments in Burma for years.

Mathieson, during a brief interview with Mizzima’s Salai Pi Pi, said the United Nations as well as the world community faces a huge task in assisting Burmese in achieving their basic rights.

Q: What is the picture of human rights in Burma today?

Mathieson: Unfortunately, there is little to celebrate in Burma with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, because of the human rights condition that has come to depict Burma. In almost every aspect of Universal Human Rights, the situation in Burma is quite grave.

Q: Has there been any progress in the human rights situation in Burma?

Mathieson: There has been very little progress in the past 60 years on human rights in Burma. We can say, especially in the past 20 years, that there has actually been more deterioration [in the human rights situation in Burma]. There is still a long way to go.

Q: From a human rights aspect, how do you view the recent sentencing of several political prisoners in Burma?

Mathieson: The recent sentencing of political activists, artists like Zarganar, journalists, Buddhist monks, Internet activists and poets, demonstrates very clearly to the United Nations and the world that the military government is not serious about respecting human rights. All these people, around 200, are people who should be involved in the country’s politic on a daily basis and especially on the day to mark the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Q: What do you think should be done to promote human rights in Burma?

Mathieson: Basic freedoms need to be respected. The first thing that the international community has to do is not to simply criticize the SPDC [Burma’s military government]. They must also put pressure on human rights bodies within the international community. And they need to put more pressure on China, India, Russia and the countries of Southeast Asia to be more proactive on human rights in Burma.

Secondly, I think Burmese society has to be supported by the international community. We must support civil society in the country in helping to end military rule and in achieving the basic freedoms they have long been denied.

Q: Anything else that you would like to add on the human rights situation in Burma?

Mathieson: As the situation is getting worse, international attention must increase. It is not enough for the international community to express their frustration with the SPDC. They must find a way to make the situation better. And I think the international community owes the people in Burma that much. We witnessed in the past year the crackdown [of the September 2007 monk-led protests] and the response to the cyclone [Nargis] – the people inside Burma are suffering. These are but two more reminders on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration that more needs to be done.

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