U.N. Calls for Burma Reform

A U.N. investigator calls on Burma's military government to make major reforms ahead of planned elections.

2009.03.16
Tomas Ojea Quintana briefs journalists at the Rangoon International Airport in Rangoon, Feb. 19, 2009.
AFP

BANGKOK—A U.N. human rights investigator is calling on Burma’s military government to free all political prisoners and reform its military, police, and judiciary before elections scheduled for next year.

“These recommendations should be implemented before 2010,” U.N. special rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana said in an interview on March 16, referring to a report to be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“These recommendations are the review of national legislation which is against international law and the new Constitution, the second one is the progressive release of prisoners of conscience, the third one is the reform of the armed forces and the police, and the fourth—the core element—is the reform of the judiciary for an independent and impartial judiciary.”

“As I reported in my document, fair trial and due process of law have not been respected in the country, particularly during this last harsh sentencing against 400 prisoners of conscience,” Quintana said, adding that he had discussed his recommendations with Burmese authorities on his last mission, in February this year.

Among those political prisoners detained in Burma is Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been held without trial for 13 of the last 19 years.

Aung San Suu Kyi's political party, the National League for Democracy, won Burma's 1990 democratic elections, a result the military junta never recognized.

New elections, the first in 20 years, are scheduled for next year.

Political prisoners still held

Burma's military rulers released 6,313 prisoners last month in a general amnesty, including 29 prisoners of conscience. More than 2,000 political prisoners are believed to be held in Burma.

In its most recent report on human rights around the world, the U.S. State Department said the junta in 2008 “continued to abridge the right of citizens to change their government and committed other severe human rights abuses.”

“Government security forces allowed custodial deaths to occur and committed other extrajudicial killings, disappearances, rape, and torture. The government detained civic activists indefinitely and without charges … abused prisoners and detainees, held persons in harsh and life-threatening conditions, routinely used incommunicado detention, and imprisoned citizens arbitrarily for political motives.”

Western governments have dismissed next year's vote as a charade, and human rights groups accuse the regime of seeking to eliminate all political opposition ahead of the election. Special courts have sentenced scores of dissidents to lengthy prison terms of up to 65 years in recent months.

The most prominent activists have been sent to the furthest corners of the country, making it almost impossible for relatives to deliver food and medicine to them, raising the possibility of the prisoners dying behind bars.

Original reporting by Zaw Moe Kyaw for RFA's Burmese service. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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