UN Special Rapporteur Report
In his October 24th report to the United Nations General Assembly, Tomas Quintana, Special Rapporteur for Myanmar, urged that “investors and businesses carry out human rights impact assessments before the start of projects” in Burma.
He stressed the responsibility of all investors and businesses in Burma to follow the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The 2011 resolution sets out the three pillars of doing business internationally: the duty of a state to protect against human rights abuses, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and the victims’ access to effective judicial and non-judicial remedies.
Mr. Quintana’s report focused on the ongoing communal unrest in Rakhine State, and the government’s failure to address the violence that has left more than 100 dead and another 140,000 people displaced. He also highlighted the prevalence of child labour, forced evictions and arbitrary arrests in the country and called for more due diligence on the part of investors. His report is based on a 10-day fact-finding mission to Burma from August 11-21.
Now that Burma has emerged from sanctions, Mr. Quintana stresses that “the challenge from the outset has been to achieve a transition form the military mindset that prevails within the Government to a democratic mindset that upholds human rights.”
The Burmese government has long rejected reports from UN Special Rapporteurs to Myanmar. U Kyat Tin, Burma’s permanent representative to the United Nations formally responded, “even highly commended positive developments in the country were dwarfed by heaps of negative remarks.” He countered that the communal violence in Rakhine State is not rooted in religion, but in its long history. U Kyaw Tin called for the end of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.
The Special Rapporteur Report especially applies to Burma’s burgeoning tourism industry. We strongly encourage potential investors and visitors to exercise due diligence when investing and traveling in Burma.
A Thriving Art Scene
Tourists with a keen interest in art will find that the long-suppressed Burmese art scene is slowly beginning to thrive. Most notably, female nude paintings were on display last October 27-30 at an art exhibit entitled “S+Z II” held at the Lokanat art gallery in Rangoon. This was a landmark exhibit, as female nudes were not permitted in the past due to censorship, and parts of the naked body had to be obscured with cloth. Although there are no longer any art censors at exhibits, majority of the Burmese population are still uneasy with nude paintings.
Meanwhile, in the Mandalay Marionettes theatre, the dying art of traditional Burmese puppetry, known as yoke thé, is being revived. During the uprising in 1988 and the unrest that followed, puppeteers were pushed away, there were no puppet shows in the Mandalay region, and interest in puppet shows declined. Now, during peak tourist season, the show is booked in advance and foreigners pay 10,000 kyat or US$10. Sadly, Burmese rarely come to the show although entrance is free for locals. Pan Aye, a veteran puppeteer in Mandalay states, puppetry is dying “not because of the lack of professional puppeteers, but because of the lack of audience.”
The Immense Spectrum Myanmar Arts Festival also took place last October 17-19. The three-day festival showcased 263 artists with physical disabilities and included music, drama, dance, arts, and literature. A Japanese drumming group came from Japan, and braved a flight through a typhoon to perform.
Apart from featuring local artists, works from foreign artists are being showcased in Burma as well. From October 22-27, the Lokanat Art Gallery presented the Ground Zero art exhibit featuring the work of Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei, a critic of China’s record on democracy and human rights. The Ground Zero exhibition was small, only five paintings and two installations, due to customs and insurance issues. Nevertheless, it is a clear sign that Burma is slowly opening up to the international art world.
Miss Myanmar 2013
Burma is emerging from decades of isolation; and for the first time in 50 years, has crowned a representative to the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. American-educated Moe Set Wine bested 20 other hopefuls, and will be competing for the title on November 9th in Moscow, Russia. The pageant has received criticism from a generally conservative country, where the demure longyi, a sheet of cotton or silk tied at the waist and often reaching the ankles, remains the customary attire for women. Nevertheless, Moe Set Wine remains optimistic, saying “I feel like I now am part of the history and I feel like a soldier that is doing something for the country and my people”.