“To sign UNCAT depends on who holds the real power”

Dr.Aung Moe Nyo, Member of Parliament (Pyithu Hluttaw), National League for Democracy, Burma

In this interview, Dr. Aung Moe Nyo, of the National League for Democracy, and Member of Parliament (Pyithu Hluttaw), representing Pwintphyu Township Constituency, talks about the discussion within the Parliament of his proposal for Burma to sign the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT), and the challenges his proposal faces.

He tells Noreen, an intern for the AHRC, that none of the members of the Parliament, even the military representatives, opposed his proposal; however, the agreements they had during the discussions are yet to transform into action by signing the Convention. He notes that to sign or not to sign the Conventiondepends on who still holds the real power: is it the civilians or the military?

article2: Burma has not signed the UN Convention against Torture yet. During the 6th regular session of the Parliament in 2013, your proposed bill for Burma to sign the Convention was discussed. Can you tell us more about it?

Dr. Aung Moe Nyo: There are lots of things that have happened and are happening in Burma. It reached to the lowest level where it lost its respect from other countries. If we want to move forward, we must change in a democratic way. Social and political science scholars inside and outside our country pointed out the importance of rule of law in democratic change. We discussed this in every seminar and workshop, and the need to start from a human rights point of view in upholding the rule of law. Burma must sign and ratify the Convention in order to respect human rights and dignity. For that reason, I submitted the bill in parliament.

article2: What is the response of the Parliament members and the Speaker of the House, Thura Shwe Mann?

Dr. Aung Moe Nyo: Respective Ministries of the Government and members of Parliament discussed my proposed bill.  In their response, some mentioned that since members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have signed the UNCAT, we must sign and ratify as well. U Soe Nyunt, a judge of the Supreme Court said the courts do not prescribe inhuman punishments or judgments not in accordance with law; he also agreed to sign. All the persons part of the discussion agreed to sign, with not a single person opposed to it.

During his conclusion, the Speaker of the House, Thura Shwe Mann, said most of the human rights conventions contradict the principle of “territorial integrity”, “sovereignty”, and “national interest” of each country in the world. So as legislators, we also have to admit that we cannot and must not ignore the national interest of our country. But why, I wonder, did Thura Shwe Mann think torture is necessary for our national interest? However, we may not know without asking him directly.

After all, the Speaker of the House asked all the members of the Parliament whether they agreed or not. All agreed, including military representatives of the Parliament; the Parliament therefore recorded the hansard (minutes of the meeting) and gave an order to implement it by respective Ministries and the Government. Almost two years have passed now, but nothing has happened.

article2: The Parliament accepted it, and recommended for the Convention to be signed, but nothing has happened until now. What is your response to that?

Dr. Aung Moe Nyo: As I received no further information to implement this, during the 9th regular session of the Parliament in 2014, I asked again whether they will sign or not. The new Deputy Minister responded that they will target to sign the Convention in September 2014 during the 69th session of the UN General Assembly in New York City. No further progress has happened though, so I will keep on asking.

article2: Do you have any idea if the ministries involved conducted public discussions, workshops or seminars about signing the Convention? Or are there any meetings with UN agencies and civil society organizations?

Dr. Aung Moe Nyo: There is no such discussion as far as I know. In order to make it happen, the most important factor is the Government. If they think civilians are important, the Government must represent them. But if they still think that the citizens have to listen to them and have to accept them as the ruler of the country, the authorities will neglect the abuse of rights; ignore the torture and extrajudicial killings. This can still happen.

article2: U Zin Yaw, Deputy Minister for the Foreign Ministry said in the discussion that there must be a meeting, learning process and preparations conducted before Burma joins the countries that signed the Convention against Torture. However, in reality there aren’t such things happening so far. So what do you think about that?

Dr. Aung Moe Nyo: We can say that it ended up only with words. It is only for the sake of hearing, but no real hard work on it. We have to prove our commitment with work, not by words.

article2: Additionally, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, Home Ministry and Ministry of Foreign Affairs would have to be in leading roles in arranging such discussions. What is your comment on that?

Dr. Aung Moe Nyo: U Win Mra submitted the 2014 Myanmar National Human Rights Report to the Parliament, and the members deliberated on the report. In their report, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs conducted workshops and seminars about the Convention. They are trying to translate the Convention into Burmese language. That is all the discussions about UNCAT.  I said I and fellow members of Parliament are not satisfied with this answer. There are lots of torture cases happening all over the country. Some torture victims have died, and some were permanently disabled. These were also pointed out by human rights groups in advocating the cases of these victims. So I wanted to know (from the MNHRC) about the situation on my proposal to sign the Convention, and what is the progress, but he didn’t answer my question.

article2: There are 6 out of 10 member countries of ASEAN that have already signed the Convention. As a member of ASEAN, can Burma follow the other countries?

Dr. Aung Moe Nyo: If the new government that represents the civilians will be in power in 2016, it certainly can. If a dictator still holds power, we can’t hope that Burma will sign the Convention. If all the ASEAN countries respect international treaties, the countries can become civilized, more human and mature. We can’t say that until torture stops.

article2: In your submission, you gave examples of torture cases where victims die. In response to your argument, the Speaker of the House instructed the Ministry of Home Affairs to make public all these cases to have transparency. You brought up the cases in 2013, but up to now the Government has not made torture cases public. Why did it not happen?

Dr. Aung Moe Nyo: Police have to see the problem from the rule of law perspective. I am not saying only Myanmar police. The nature of police all over the world must be the same. They have to investigate whether the accused has broken the law or not. If the accused has broken the law, he must be prosecuted. If not, he must be set free. The police have to approach it in that way.

Military personnel obey the orders of their superiors. If the (superiors) command them to move forward, even if they know they could be killed or they could become disabled, they still have to follow their commander’s order. They can’t refuse by any means. That is the nature of the military. But, the police are different. They have to promote the rule of law and to make sure that they enforce the law.

Although these two are different, the Minister for Home Affairs is appointed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services. The Myanmar Police Force is under Ministry of Home Affairs which means it is (still) under the military. The President can’t appoint the Ministers for Home Affairs, Defence and Border Affairs. There are 60 thousand villages, 330 townships and 60 districts which are governed by Lt-Gen Ko Ko, Minister for Home Affairs, and in ways of the military, not by the law enforcement agencies. Some police are also from the military. So they will follow orders from their commanders from above.

article2: Do you think that the Home Affairs Ministry is transparent?

Dr. Aung Moe Nyo: There is no transparency at all. But we are trying. We are trying to bring the Director General of the Police Force to the Parliament once in six months to give a report. He has to answer in the Parliament when the Parliamentarians ask questions about the police, their activities, and cases about violations of rights. In order to achieve these things, the real power must come from the citizens themselves. The citizens must have the real power, so when the authority abuses their power, as they are elected by the people, they can bring them down.

However, in our country, if the members of Parliaments, who are elected by the citizens, want to amend the 2008 Constitution, they also need the vote from the military representatives sitting in the Parliament. They are not elected by the citizens, but are appointed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services. Twenty five percent of the members of the Parliament are military representatives. The Constitution is the mother law of the country. If the mother law has to rely on the military, you can imagine how difficult the situation in the country is.

article2: Should Burma sign the UNCAT, will there be conditions? In some countries, they signed but they have some reservations to the Convention. What do you think about that?

Dr. Aung Moe Nyo: I have no idea about it. I can’t guess only by listening to their limited response in the Parliament.

In my personal point of view, I don’t want any torture case to happen. The accused have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law. So they should not be treated as criminals nor subjected to torture. The persons who are detained in police custody must not be tortured. Those who commit torture and other inhuman practices must be prosecuted. There should be no excuse whether they are police, military personnel, judges or someone else. To do that, we must have a law against torture, so we must sign and ratify the UN Convention against Torture.

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