Myanmar: UN expert urges release of all political prisoners before elections

Tomas Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

22 October 2009 – An independent United Nations expert has called on Myanmar’s Government to release all political prisoners before the national elections planned for 2010 so that the polls can be as inclusive as possible.

“I told the Government that these elections should be fair and transparent, that freedom of speech, movement and association should be guaranteed in the country, and of course that all prisoners of conscience should be released before those elections,” Tomás Ojea Quintana told a news conference in New York.

In his most recent report on the issue, Mr. Quintana, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said the Government missed an opportunity to prove its commitment to holding inclusive elections by extending the house arrest of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, effectively barring her from participating in next year’s polls.

Earlier today he told the General Assembly committee dealing with social and humanitarian issues, also known as the Third Committee, that all political prisoners should be released to be able to participate, either as candidates or voters, in the elections – which the Government announced as the fifth step in its seven-step roadmap to democracy.

Last year the Special Rapporteur proposed that four core human rights elements be completed before the 2010 elections.

He again urged the Government to implement the elements, which are the revision of domestic laws that limit fundamental rights, the progressive release of the estimated 2,000 prisoners of conscience still in detention, the reform and training of the military so that it conforms with human rights, and changes to the judiciary so that it is fully independent.

He reported that the situation of human rights in Myanmar remains “alarming,” with “a pattern of widespread and systematic violations.” In addition, the prevailing impunity allowed for the continuation of those violations.

“I urge the Government to take prompt measures to establish accountability and responsibility with regard to those widespread and systematic human rights violations.”

Mr. Quintana also referred to the “starvation situation” in many parts of the country – including Kayin, North Rakhine, Chin, North Shan and East Shan states – and reports of “dire” economic and social conditions. He said he has asked the Government and the international community to try to find solutions to tackle poverty in the country.

Mr. Quintana, who has visited Myanmar twice since being appointed Special Rapporteur in May 2008, announced he will make his trip by the end of November.

Like all Special Rapporteurs, he reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in an independent and unpaid capacity.


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Press conference by Tomas Ojea Quintana - 22 Oct. '09

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