There was debate today in wake of yesterday’s presentation by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who reported to the Human Rights Council on his recent visit to Burma. After expressing gratitude to the Burmese government for allowing his visit, Pinheiro painted a nightmarish picture of life in Burma during and after the wave of peaceful protests, including “excessive [and] lethal force,” arbitrary arrest, “appalling detention conditions,” and “persecution of political parties.” He found no signs that Myanmar was implementing the Human Rights Council’s October resolution, S-5/1, which called for easing of the repression. Today countries and NGOs debated the report.

UN Watch spoke out on behalf of Burma’s victims, calling on the Council not to let the “brutal repression…crush the spirit of the Burmese people.” (Click for video.)

Reaction to the report was divided. Portugal on behalf of the EU, the United States, and a few other democracies voiced serious concern with the situation in Burma and the lack of progress since protests ended, and supported continued attention by the Council and other UN mechanisms. The U.S. called the Burmese junta “callous.” Other countries expressed horror and shock at recent reports of ongoing human rights violations. To support the victims, the EU announced that it would present a new resolution to ensure that the UN human rights machinery remains actively involved in the situation in Burma. Canada discussed the idea of new sanctions against Burma.

On the other side stood Pakistan on behalf of the Islamic states, as well as Thailand, China, and Laos, who welcomed Burma’s cooperation, stressed the important role that the regional group ASEAN was playing, and encouraged “social harmony.” These countries objected to an additional Council resolution on Burma. Behind-the-scene negotiations are underway before the voting on Friday.

Two additional reports were presented – one by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous People, and the other by Martin Scheinin, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in counterterrorism. Scheinin discussed his recent visits to South Africa, the United States, and the Palestinian territories. He expressed serious concerns about the US detainment of suspects at Guantanamo Bay, as well as interrogation techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Scheinin’s report on his recent trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories gave a mixed review of Israel’s anti-terrorism policies and practices. He acknowledged Israel’s extraordinarily complex security situation and welcomed the Jewish state’s cooperation as it drafts a constitution and more formal anti-terrorism legislation. Nevertheless, he found “serious incompatibility between Israel’s counterterrorism practices and laws” with human rights and international humanitarian law principles.

The US criticized Scheinin’s report for “unfairly oversimplifying” the complexities faced by the United States. Israel said that it struggles on a daily basis between security and respect for human rights. Israeli Ambassador Levanon said that it would be unjust to ignore the humanitarian concerns of the residents of Sderot, an Israeli city that often finds itself the target of indiscriminate Palestinian Qassam rocket fire.

Egypt and Pakistan slammed Israel’s security barrier, and Algeria called for a global convention on the fight against terrorism that also takes into account people under foreign occupation who are striving for self-determination — i.e, so that Palestinian terrorism would still be allowed.

“We Palestinians [are] like our brethren in South Africa – we will overcome – like those in Soweto,” said Palestinian representative Mohammad Abu-Koash, in a Human Rights Council debate concerning Israel. “The victims of Arian purity have been transformed into the proponents of Jewish purity…Those who suffered in Europe, those who came from concentration camps, those who came from the ghettos, they should not act as our masters, they should know the meaning of suffering.” Abu-Koash also denied any historical Jewish claim to Jerusalem, saying that the existence of the Dome of the Rock and the Holy Sepulchre “negate the Israeli claim to the holy town of Jerusalem.” The Israeli ambassador declined to reply, saying, “I will not denigrate myself to that level.”



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