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Myanmar: UN expert welcomes prisoners’ release and urges Government to free those still jailed

GENEVA (13 October 2011) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, on Thursday welcomed the decision by President Thein Sein to grant another amnesty and release a significant number of prisoners, and urged the Government to free the remaining prisoners of conscience in the country.

While the exact number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience included in the release has yet to be confirmed, it is believed to be more than 200, including a number of prominent figures. Among those released are some whose cases have been previously addressed by the Special Rapporteur, as well as some individuals he had visited in jail.

“I see this development as an important further step by the authorities in Myanmar to respond to international concern and advance political reconciliation in the country,” the UN rights expert said. “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.”

The Special Rapporteur expressed his concern at the continuing detention of a large number of prisoners of conscience, 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,” Mr. Ojea Quintana 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.”

The Special Rapporteur also called upon the Government to take immediate measures to improve the conditions of detention and the treatment of prisoners in compliance with international standards.

In his upcoming report* to the General Assembly, he notes continuing allegations of torture and ill-treatment during interrogation, the use of prisoners as porters for the military or ‘human shields’, and the transfer of prisoners to prisons in remote areas where they are unable to receive family visits or packages of essential medicine and supplemental food.

The UN expert noted that the newly-established National Human Rights Commission had led calls for the prisoner release, and expressed hope it would work to advance other human rights issues.

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

The Special Rapporteur reaffirmed his willingness to work constructively and cooperatively with Myanmar to improve the human rights situation of its people.

(*) Check the preliminary observations from the Special Rapporteur’s latest mission to Myanmar (21-25 August 2011): http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11330&LangID=E

ENDS

Mr. Tomás Ojea Quintana (Argentina) was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2008. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.

For additional information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, please visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/countries/mm/mandate/index.htm

UN Human Rights, country page – Myanmar: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests:
In Geneva: Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)
In New York: Fred Kirungi (+1 917 367 3431 / kirungi@un.org)

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