Myanmar's government on Monday formed the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) to promote and safeguard the country's constitutional rights. Members of the commission include former government officials, diplomats, academics, doctors and lawyers, some of whom have made statements in the past defending the country's human rights record. The commission has been met with skepticism [Irrawaddy report] regarding the potential veracity of the group's findings and whether it will have the authority and independence from the Myanmar government [JURIST news archive] to be effective. Myanmar's President Thein Stein [BBC profile] appears willing to ease international tensions and improve the regime's image [AFP report]. This will be the second attempt to create a human rights commission as the first failed in 2000 to have any impact.
The newly formed commission comes on the heels of a visit by UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana [official profile], who urged the government [JURIST report] to improve its rights record [press release]. Quintana said that continued ethnic violence [JURIST report] in Myanmar presents "serious limitations" to the government's transition to democracy. In May, Myanmar began releasing close to 15,000 prisoners, but many human rights groups claim the government is still holding many more political prisoners. Quintana urged Myanmar's military government to release 2,202 political prisoners [JURIST report] last December. He called for the release of the "prisoners of conscience," many of whom, he says, suffer from health problems as a result of the harsh detention conditions. Quintana claims the release is necessary to promote democracy. In March, Myanmar underwent a transfer of power [BBC report] from a military regime to a civil system after holding its first elections in 20 years. However, critics argue that the new regime is merely a sham since it is made up of military generals and with the military party winning 80 percent of the vote.