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Myanmar: UN human rights chief calls for release of peaceful demonstrators

Myanmar: UN human rights chief calls for release of peaceful demonstrators

Voicing mounting concern over the detention of peaceful demonstrators in Myanmar, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the Government to release them immediately.

In a statement issued last Friday, Louise Arbour “urged the authorities to uphold freedom of expression and association and engage with Myanmar’s civil society, rather than suppress dissent.” She also noted that “there will be no progress in Myanmar’s political transition unless people have space to express their views openly and peacefully.”

Since 19 August when citizens started protesting against a surge in fuel prices, more than 150 people have been arrested, she said, expressing dismay at the violence utilized by “agents of the State” against some protestors, including monks.

Late last month, the High Commissioner urged the authorities to “engage in consultation and dialogue with the demonstrators on their concerns.”

Stressing that freedoms of expression and association are “touchstones of human rights,” Ms. Arbour said that allowing greater space for citizens to express their views and discontent will be essential in fostering the way towards a democratic transition and reconciliation in the South-East Asian nation.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Adviser on Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari, in a press conference last week, characterized the Government’s response to the protests as a “setback for Myanmar.”

He added that Myanmar’s actions “are all the more disappointing as they not only have the effect of calling into question the stated commitment to democratization and national reconciliation by the authorities, but also make it more difficult to maintain support, international support, for engagement with Myanmar at a time when we believe strongly that the country needs international assistance in addressing the many pressing challenges, from political and human rights issues to humanitarian and socio-economic problems.”