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Myanmar: UN deplores conviction and sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi appears at the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 10 December 2019.
ICJ/Frank van Beek
Aung San Suu Kyi appears at the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 10 December 2019.

Myanmar: UN deplores conviction and sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi

Human Rights

The UN’s top human rights official on Monday condemned the imprisonment of Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi by a military-controlled court, and called for her release. She also faces additional charges of corruption and electoral fraud.

The development follows media reports that a military vehicle slammed into demonstrators in the city of Yangon over the weekend, leaving an unknown number injured and at least five dead.

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Political motives

In a statement on Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet maintained that Ms. Suu Kyi’s guilty verdict was the result of a “sham trial”.

“The conviction of the State Counsellor following a sham trial in secretive proceedings before a military-controlled court is nothing but politically-motivated,” she said.  “It is not only about arbitrary denial of her freedom – it closes yet another door to political dialogue,” the UN rights chief said in a statement.

Ms. Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s former leader, had been held at an unknown location since February; she was tried in a closed court with no access for observers.

The verdict had been “politically-motivated”, said Ms. Bachelet, who warned that the State Counsellor’s detention had closed “yet another door to political dialogue”.

Myanmar’s military took power in a coup on 1 February, after declaring the results of the November 2020 elections invalid.

More than 10,000 political prisoners are believed to have been detained by the junta, and at least 175 have reportedly died in custody, according to the UN human rights office.

Immediate release plea

In her statement, the High Commissioner called for the immediate release of all those who have been held arbitrarily.

Ms. Bachelet also strongly condemned the “vicious, utterly reprehensible” attack reported yesterday in Yangon, the country’s commercial capital, where unconfirmed video footage showed a security forces’ truck running into unarmed protesters and then firing upon the group using live ammunition.

In addition to those feared killed and injured, 15 others have been detained, according to reports.

The UN’s top aid representative in Myanmar, Ramanathan Balakrishnan joined Ms. Bachelet in speaking out against the violence and said that those responsible for excessive and disproportionate use of force against unarmed civilians must be held accountable.

“Initial reports indicate that a number of people were killed in the incident, while a number of others were injured,” he said, insisting that freedom of expression “is a fundamental human right and today’s action by security forces is completely unacceptable...I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms and pass on my deepest condolences to the families of all those who were killed or injured.”

Armed clashes, violence and insecurity in the country has risen significantly since the coup, displacing tens of thousands of civilians, according to United Nations estimates.

End the violence: Guterres

Briefing reporters in New York, UN Spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, said that the Secretary-General António Guterres "reiterates his condemnation of the military takeover on 1 February and repeats the call for an immediate end to the violence and repression, for the respect for human rights, and for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Myanmar.

"As you know, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the principles of equality before the law, the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal., and all of the guarantees necessary for a person’s defence", he added.

‘Hostages, not criminals’

UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, described the sentencing as the “theatre of the absurd”, saying the military-directed process underscored the complete lack of rule of law in the country.

“Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint are hostages, not criminals,” the independent expert said. “This proceeding should not be confused with an actual trial - it is theatre of the absurd and a gross violation of human rights.

“Aung San Suu Kyi, and thousands of others, are being arbitrarily detained in a system of injustice, guilty of only exercising their fundamental rights.”

Mr. Andrews said that the sentencing “demonstrates why the international community must take stronger action to support the people of Myanmar by denying the junta the revenue and weapons that they need to continue their illegitimate grip on the people of Myanmar.

“I call upon Member States to significantly increase pressure on the junta as a result of this outrageous action.”

The junta’s arrest and sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi and thousands of others highlights the relentless assault on the people of Myanmar’s right to exercise their civil and political rights, the independent expert added.