Thursday, September 29, 2016
The Myanmar Times
The Myanmar Times

Parties rate poorly on human rights commitments

The outgoing parliament has had a disappointing human rights record, but the incoming one may not prove much better, according to the results of a new policy survey.

Rights group FIDH anonymously polled 19 of the 91 parties contesting the November 8 election on 13 agenda points and found that commitment to revising legislation in favour of bolstering human rights was lacklustre, at best.

“Unless [MPs] place human rights front and centre on their agenda, Burma will remain mired in old challenges – no matter which party wins the election,” FIDH president Karim Lahidji said in a statement.

While the outgoing parliament is largely comprised of military personnel and MPs from the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, the next cast appears loath to reform and repeal the old laws.

The outgoing parliamentarians have in their term failed to amend the constitution, upheld laws deemed by UN representatives to violate international law and prioritised economic interests over social welfare.

“Outgoing MPs … have been conspicuous for their unwillingness to exercise legislative power to address key human rights issues,” the report said.

For their part, the 19 polled parties – who were not identified to avoid any potential retaliation – mostly agreed on setting up a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate past crimes committed by the former military regime (58 percent were in favour) and also establishing a committee to investigate rape and sexual violence committed by the military (52pc).

Research team members said they attempted to get all parties involved in the survey but encountered logistical issues and ambivalent responses. “We contacted more than 70 political parties and followed up with most of them but it was quite challenging to get them to participate in the survey,” said Andrea Giogetta, lead author and director of FIDH’s Asia desk.

Parties that did participate did not aim to reduce military spending – only 21pc supported such a move – and barely one-third were interested in limiting or abolishing the 25pc of seats in parliament that the constitution guarantees for appointed military personnel.

By a large margin, the largest consensus centred around amending section 271 of the constitution, which grants the president the power to select the chief ministers rather than holding a vote in regional parliaments for the positions.

About 58pc of those who filled in the survey also supported idea of having a quota of female candidates to contest parliament. Myanmar has among the lowest rates of women parliamentarians in the world, with only 4.7pc of parliamentary seats held by women, compared to the world average of 25pc.

Asked how they would “address discrimination against Muslim Ro-hingya”, 42pc declined to provide an answer, while only 21pc identified discrimination against religious minorities as a top priority for the next government to tackle.

Of the given priority options, parties rated land confiscation (67pc), release of political prisoners (43pc), voluntary return of refugees (37pc) and independent judiciary (32pc) as top concerns.

The FIDH survey bills itself as the first policy poll of parties’ attitudes toward human rights. Myanmar’s political parties are not known for putting forward strong and individuated policy agendas, however. The National League for Democracy’s manifesto, released in September, contained vaguely worded priorities that were thin on legislative specifics. Several political analysts have suggested that voters will cast ballots based on charismatic individual leaders or ethnic affiliations rather than fleshed-out political goals and the steps that will be taken to achieve them.

“Myanmar’s political parties tend not to be differentiated by their platforms. As in other Southeast Asian countries, politics is personalised and voters differentiate between parties based on their leaders,” Vikram Nehru, Asia program director for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote in an analysis of the political parties.