Rangoon, Burma (BBN) – While the new Government of Myanmar has taken steps to improve the human rights situation in the country, it needs to deploy greater efforts to address serious concerns such as the continuing detention of a large number of political prisoners, a United Nations expert said on Thursday.

“This is a key moment in Myanmar’s history and there are real opportunities for positive and meaningful developments to improve the human rights situation and bring about a genuine transition to democracy,” Tomás Ojea Quintana said at the end of his five-day mission to the South-East Asian nation.

“The new Government has taken a number of steps towards these ends. Yet, many serious human rights issues remain and they need to be addressed,” added Mr. Quintana, who has served since 2008 as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

“Of key concern to me and to the international community is the continuing detention of a large number of prisoners of conscience,” he stated in a news release issued in Rangoon.

The expert said that in his meetings with the Government, he conveyed his belief that their release is a “central and necessary” step towards national reconciliation and would bring more benefit to Myanmar’s efforts towards democracy.

In his end-of-mission statement, the Special Rapporteur voiced concern about the continuing allegations of torture and ill-treatment during interrogation, the use of prisoners as porters for the military, and the transfers of prisoners to prisons in remote areas where they are unable to receive family visits or packages of essential medicine and supplemental food.

Other concerns highlighted include tensions in ethnic border areas and armed conflict with some armed ethnic groups, which engender serious human rights violations, including attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, internal displacement, land confiscations, the recruitment of child soldiers, as well as forced labour and portering.

Among his recommendations, Mr. Quintana encouraged the Government to take the necessary measures for investigations of human rights violations to be conducted in an independent, impartial and credible manner.

UN independent experts, including Mr. Quintana, report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council. They work in an independent and unpaid capacity.

BBN/SSR/AD-26Aug11-2:49 pm (BST)