Myanmar: UN rights expert to probe allegations of abuses during crackdown

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro

24 October 2007 – The United Nations independent human rights expert on Myanmar said today he would use his upcoming official visit to the troubled country to verify allegations of abuses during the recent Government crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, determine the numbers and whereabouts of those detained or killed, and collect testimony about what happened.

Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, told the General Assembly’s third committee (social, humanitarian and cultural issues) that although he has not been allowed into the country since 2003, he has received extremely worrying reports about the Government’s response to the protests, which began in mid-August after a sudden surge in fuel prices.

“I have been able to verify, through different independent and reliable sources, allegations of the use of excessive force by the security forces, including live ammunitions, rubber bullets, tear gas, bamboo and wood sticks, rubber batons and catapults (slingshots),” he said. “This largely explains the killings and the severe injuries reported.”

Mr. Pinheiro said it was difficult to know yet exactly how many people were killed or arrested during the crackdown, with the figures provided by authorities well below that of others in the South-East Asian nation.

“According to other sources, between 30 to 40 monks and 50 to 70 civilians have allegedly been killed, while 200 have been beaten,” he said, noting that one website has listed almost 800 people who were allegedly detained or have disappeared and others cite even higher numbers.

The Special Rapporteur added that reports continue of deaths in custody, torture, disappearances, ill-treatment, and lack of access to food, water and medical treatment for those in detention.

“Reports are being received regarding night raids during the curfew hours, with the army and the militia going home by home searching for people and detaining participants in the demonstrations. Relatives of people in hiding have reportedly been taken hostage as a way of pressure.”

Later, during a press conference at UN Headquarters, he said: “I don’t think that the repression… has finished,” adding that a “situation of fear prevails” in the country.

In response to questions, he said he had been informed by Myanmar that 2,675 people have been released from detention since the crackdown.

In his statement to the Assembly committee, Mr. Pinheiro urged Myanmar’s authorities to: release unconditionally all detainees; ensure humanitarian access to all in custody; grant amnesty to those who have been sentenced; reveal the whereabouts of missing persons; ensure the safety of everyone taken into custody; and conduct an independent investigation into the killings and enforced disappearances.

He noted that “the recent tragic events have shown to the international community, once again, that the Government is not adequately protecting the freedoms of opinion and of assembly,” and he said the Government-decreed road map for democratization “faces many obstacles” before it can produce a meaningful transition.

In addition, he called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the General Secretary of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), who as of today has spent 12 years in detention in Myanmar.

Mr. Pinheiro’s visit, which the Government of Myanmar agreed to last Friday, is likely to take place before the summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is scheduled to open on 17 November.

Ibrahim Gambari, the UN Special Envoy for Myanmar, is also slated to makes his own visit to the country next month, his second since the crackdown began.

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