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Widespread condemnation of government at human rights review

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - Geneva, 27 January 2011 - The Burmese government was today urged by countries around the world, during the tenth session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group, to end violations of the right to freedom of expression and other human rights, prosecute perpetrators of human rights abuses, and begin a process of real reform in the country.

"Burma sent a large delegation to the review, who claimed to have achieved a number of human rights successes," says Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. "But the presence of an even larger group of Burmese civil society representatives, coupled with widespread condemnation of the country's human rights violations, conveyed the severity of the human rights situation."

Countries including the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Maldives, Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland and the United States of America raised concerns about the systematic violation of a number of basic human rights, including freedom of expression, freedom of information and freedom of assembly and association. Norway specifically called for the abolition of the Press Scrutiny Board and the Broadcasting Censorship Board, both of which are mandated to approve all media content. ARTICLE 19 echoed these concerns in its submission to the UN UPR of Burma in August 2010.

UN Human Rights Council country delegations - apart from India and China, who remained silent throughout the review - called on the Burmese government to immediately ratify and implement the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, as well as other international human rights instruments relating to refugees, racial discrimination, enforced disappearances, child labour and child soldiers. Although the release of Aung San Suu Kyi was welcomed, many countries called for the release of all 2,100 political prisoners.

The Czech Republic delegation was the first to highlight the Burmese government's lack of engagement in the UPR process. Several other delegations also expressed disappointment that the government failed to answer any questions previously submitted by member states.

During the review, the Burmese government stated that it undertook its own investigation into alleged human rights violations raised by the UN Special Rapporteurs and other international actors, and found that they were "unverifiable and turned out to be false." They added that "in practice, we have very well trained judges and the media is allowed to sit in the court. Judges are trained to be fair and impartial . . . it is little known to the world that many of our laws are the same as international human rights instruments."

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was established in 2006 as a way for the UN Human Rights Council, a set of country delegations elected to represent each region worldwide, to review the human rights situation in every state that is a member of the UN.

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