March 14, 2008 / 4:43 PM / 12 years ago

UN rights envoy sees 'elfin' democracy in Myanmar

(Adds Pinheiro not being granted Myanmar visa)

By Robert Evans

GENEVA, March 14 (Reuters) - A U.N. rights envoy said on Friday he could believe in "gnomes, trolls and elves" as readily as he could credit the Myanmar military’s democratic reforms.

The United Nations said Myanmar denied a visa to investigator for human rights in Myanmar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, whose report to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday cited growing repression following September’s crushing of monk-led protests.

"If you believe in gnomes, trolls and elves, you can believe in this democratic process in Myanmar," Pinheiro told a Friday news briefing at the U.N.’s European headquarters in Geneva.

Pinheiro told that briefing he had been granted a visa for the former Burma after two months delay, calling the development auspicious. But the Brazilian jurist had apparently erred.

"He had received the information that his passport was ready to be picked up," a subsequent U.N. statement said. "Later in the afternoon, he learned no visa had been issued."

Pinheiro’s report said while the government had announced it would hold a referendum in May on a constitution setting the nation on a path to democracy with elections in 2010, this was difficult to reconcile with wide restrictions on free speech.

The secretive administration in Myanmar was barring outdoor meetings of more than 5 people, had continued targeting opponents, and held some 1,850 political prisoners.

Myanmar ambassador Wunna Maung Lwin told the 47-member Human Rights Council on Thursday that Pinheiro’s report "completely lacks .... objectivity and impartiality."


In December, the Council told Myanmar it should prosecute those responsible for the September crackdown, end the house arrest of Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and free all political detainees.

Pinheiro said on Friday that the military junta — which insists all human rights are observed in the country and that all those jailed have violated laws — had ignored resolutions by the Council and the U.N. General Assembly.

"The trouble with this country is that it makes no concessions," he said.

"No referendum or elections can be fair, no transition to democracy can be effective, without the release of political prisoners, the authorisation for all political parties to operate, and the protection of the basic civil and political freedoms, all non-existent in Myanmar." (Editing by Laura MacInnis and Ralph Boulton)

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