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After latest release, UN expert urges Myanmar to free all political prisoners

Special Rapporteur Tomás Ojea Quintana with children on a visit to Myanmar in 2008.
Special Rapporteur Tomás Ojea Quintana with children on a visit to Myanmar in 2008.

After latest release, UN expert urges Myanmar to free all political prisoners

United Nations officials today welcomed the decision by Myanmar’s President to grant amnesty and release a significant number of detainees and urged the Government to free all remaining political prisoners.

In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all parties to redouble their efforts to set promised reforms “on an irreversible course,” and addressing the serious challenges facing the country.

“He hopes the Government will ensure that this process results in the early release all political prisoners, consistent with its commitment to uphold fundamental rights and the rule of law,” the statement said.

Mr. Ban acknowledged the ongoing dialogue between the Government and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate who was held under house arrest for much of the past 20 years before being released last November, as well as the negotiations between the authorities and ethnic groups.

The exact number of political prisoners included in the release that began yesterday has yet to be confirmed, according to a news release issued in Geneva. However, it is believed to be more than 200, including a number of prominent figures. Human rights groups estimate that there are some 2,000 political prisoners still behind bars.

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, said the release is an “important further step” by the country’s authorities to respond to international concern and advance political reconciliation.

“I am pleased that these prisoners who have suffered so long can be reunited with their families and again play a part in national life,” said the expert.

Among those released are some prisoners whose cases have been previously addressed by the Special Rapporteur as well as some individuals he had visited in jail during his visits to the Asian nation.

Mr. Quintana also voiced concern at the ongoing detention of a large number of political prisoners, many of whom are suffering serious health problems from the harsh conditions of their detention.

“These are individuals who have been imprisoned for exercising their fundamental human rights or whose fair trial or due process rights have been denied,” he said.

“Their release would be an important step for the democratic transition, and would be welcomed by people both inside and outside the country. It is imperative that the Government completes the liberation of all such prisoners.”

Mr. Quintana called on the Government to immediately improve the conditions of detention and the treatment of prisoners in compliance with international standards.

“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 deepen the transition to democracy,” said the expert, who reports to the UN Human Rights Council in an independent and unpaid capacity.

“The new Government should intensify its efforts to address the many long-standing human rights concerns and advance national reconciliation.”

A new Government was established in Myanmar seven months ago, and more recently the country has received a series of high-level bilateral visits. In addition, President Thein Sein has made a pledge for Myanmar to “catch up with the changing world.”

At a meeting last month in New York of the Group of Friends on Myanmar, Mr. Ban said recent developments bode well for progress in the country, while calling on the new Government to do more to ensure to bring about an inclusive transition.

“Real opportunities for progress exist, but the Government must step up its efforts for reform if it is to bring about an inclusive – and irreversible – transition,” Mr. Ban said in a press statement, adding that the authorities must, in particular, cultivate improved dialogue with all political actors and release all remaining political prisoners.