Rights expert calls for release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners in Myanmar

News and Press Release
Originally published
The following statement was issued today by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation in Myanmar and Independent Expert for the United Nations Secretary-General's global study on violence against children:

Bangkok, 17 June - The Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation in Myanmar, Prof. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, calls on the Government of Myanmar to clarify the political direction of the country, the present status of the roadmap and the steps that will be taken following the conclusion of the National Convention.

In Bangkok to take part in the South-East Asia Regional Consultation on Violence against Children, Prof Pinheiro, who is also the Independent Expert for the United Nations Secretary-General's global study on violence against children asks that the Government clearly state the procedural steps it plans to take in the drafting the Constitution, the conduct of the referendum and genuinely free and fair elections. He calls on the Government to ensure the full and effective participation throughout this process of all those political actors who are trying to build a free, open and just society.

The Special Rapporteur believes that the Government of Myanmar needs to explicitly reaffirm and demonstrate its commitment to implement political and constitutional reform, by guaranteeing the full and effective participation of all political actors, including the National League for Democracy (NLD), political parties and ethnic leaders, in a meaningful and substantive dialogue. Such actions will without doubt, salvage the credibility of the government both at home and internationally.

In moving the process towards a more open and accountable political system without further delay, the government will honor its commitment made to the people of Myanmar to give effect to their political will.

The Special Rapporteur reiterates that the General Secretary of the NLD, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Vice-Chairman of the NLD, U Tin Oo, as well as ethnic leaders such as Khun Htun Oo, Chairperson of the SNLD, and elderly prisoners such as the poet and journalist, U Win Tin, must be released. The immediate release of the approximately 1,300 political prisoners would send a powerful signal to the people of Myanmar and the international community that the Government is seriously committed to a genuine process of reconciliation and to establishing a participatory democracy in Myanmar. Those arrested following the political changes of October 2004 and the recent bomb attacks in Yangon must have access to all guarantees of the due process of law.

It is deeply regrettable, that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will mark her sixtieth birthday under house arrest. Her virtual solitary confinement and lack of access to her NLD colleagues runs contrary to the spirit of national reconciliation. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has dedicated her life to actively promoting the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in her country. Her openness to dialogue with the government, illustrates her unwavering commitment to push forward the process of national reconciliation in a meaningful way. It would be desirable to have an independent assessment of her conditions of detention, by a neutral body such as the ICRC.

Progress towards democracy can only be made through broad, inclusive and open dialogue and not through the coercion or exclusion of political parties, ethnic nationality groups or civil society organizations. While the release of a large number of common prisoners and some political prisoners is to be welcomed, such steps are sadly tempered by the ongoing arrests, detention and maltreatment of civilians and democracy advocates. Freedom of movement, assembly and association must be guaranteed, as they are basic requirements for national reconciliation and the path to democratization. The Special Rapporteur deplores the recent indictment of five pro-democracy activists to life imprisonment on June 13 last, which contradicts the expressed commitment of the government to implement the roadmap in good faith.

Since the presentation of his last report to the United Nations General Assembly, the Special Rapporteur has continued to receive allegations and substantiated reports of serious human rights and humanitarian violations perpetrated against ethnic minorities, the continued use of forced labour, ongoing forced relocations and consequently large numbers of IDPs and refugees. Steps can and should be taken immediately to end such serious violations of human rights and to hold those responsible to account.

The Special Rapporteur welcomes the active participation of the Myanmar Government in the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Trafficking, as an indicator of its willingness to address the problem of trafficking in the country.

He strongly believes that the United Nations and the international community are ready to work in partnership with the government, the political parties and civil society organizations to effectively facilitate national reconciliation and the transition to democracy. By strengthening its cooperation with international organizations, the government can end its isolation and be assured of support for conflict resolution, political and economic reform, institution building and humanitarian assistance and human development.

It is most regrettable that in the past two years, the Government is unable to find mutually convenient dates for a visit by the Special Rapporteur to Myanmar. It is also unfortunate that the UN Special Envoy has not been received in the country since March 2004. During his last fourteen visits to Myanmar, he made an important contribution to facilitating dialogue amongst all parties.

The Special Rapporteur wishes to make clear that the failure to create a climate for political and judicial reform and progress, compromises the future of the people of Myanmar. The transition to a full, participatory and democratic system must not be prolonged. By instituting values of democracy and human rights, the government would send a clear signal to the people of Myanmar and the international community, that it is actively committed to the creation of a stable and democratic future for the country.

In so doing, the Government could take its place among the community of Southeast Asian nations, as it strives to forge an ASEAN identity based on human rights and democratic values. Myanmar could thereby become a credible and dynamic partner in the establishment of lasting security and prosperity of the region.

In the Thai capital, Prof Pinheiro has met local and regional actors in the governmental, diplomatic and non-governmental sectors, in fulfillment of his mandate on Myanmar. He has also met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Royal Thai Government, Kantathi Suphamongkhon.

The Special Rapporteur last visited Myanmar in November 2003.