Monday, January 16, 2012

Myanmar (Burma): Largest Release of Political Prisoners in Asia

The United Nations independent expert on the human rights situation in Myanmar today welcomed the recent decision by President Thein Sein to grant another amnesty and set free a significant number of prisoners of conscience.  “I welcome the release of many prisoners of conscience, individuals who have been imprisoned for exercising their fundamental human rights or whose fair trial or due process rights have been denied,” said Special Rapporteur Tomás Ojea Quintana.  “This is an important and necessary development to advance national reconciliation and deepen Myanmar’s transition to democracy,” he added in a press release.

While the exact number of prisoners of conscience released has yet to be confirmed, among those released last Friday were prominent figures whose cases have been previously addressed by Mr. Ojea Quintana, as well as individuals he visited in jail.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday also commended the authorities in Myanmar on the long-awaited release of the political prisoners, as well as other important efforts being made to advance democracy and national reconciliation. He described the release – reportedly of 651 prisoners – as “the most significant release to date.”

Mr. Ojea Quintana termed the developments in Myanmar, coming in the lead-up to by-elections slated for April, as “critical.”  “It is fundamental that all citizens, including those just released from prison, are allowed to play an active and constructive role in political and public life,” he said.  The Special Rapporteur also voiced concern that a number of prisoners of conscience remain in detention and urged the Government to immediately release all of them without conditions.

Separately, Mr. Ojea Quintana took note of preliminary agreements that have been reached between the Government and the Karen National Union, and with other ethnic groups. He expressed hope that there would be further progress in resolving conflicts with armed ethnic groups throughout Myanmar and called on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and respect for international human rights and humanitarian law.  “I renew my call on the Government to develop a comprehensive plan to officially engage ethnic minority groups in an inclusive dialogue to resolve long-standing grievances and deep-rooted concerns,” he added. “All parties to this dialogue must ensure that investigations and accountability for past gross and systematic human rights violations are on the agenda.  “Ending discrimination and ensuring fundamental rights for Myanmar’s ethnic minorities is essential for national reconciliation and will contribute to Myanmar’s long-term political and social stability,” he said.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/international_law/2012/01/prisoners.html

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