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UN human rights experts call for unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi after unfair trial

GENEVA – Four independent United Nations human rights experts today deplored the confinement of Aung San Suu Kyi to 18 months of house arrest, and reiterated their call for her immediate and unconditional release.

“This was a baseless trial convened by the Government of Myanmar to exclude Aung San Suu Kyi from the 2010 elections”, stated the Vice Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on arbitrary detention, Mr. El Hadji Malick Sow; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Frank La Rue Lewy; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms. Margaret Sekaggya; and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Mr. Tomas Ojea Quintana.

The charges laid against the leader of the National League for Democracy and Nobel Peace Prize laureate were itself in violation of international human rights law. “The court was not independent, judicial guarantees were disregarded, and charges under the State Protection Act were unsubstantive. As we have stated time and again, this trial should never have occurred in the first place,” the UN experts said. This view was confirmed by the most recent Opinion adopted by the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention on Aung San Suu Kyi, which declared the continuation of her house arrest to be arbitrary (Opinion 46/2008).

Today, Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced under article 22 of Myanmar’s State Protection Law 1975 after an uninvited intruder swam across Lake Inya and spent two nights at Aung San Suu Kyi’s home. “If the State assumes the responsibility to prevent access to the house of Aung San Suu Kyi and has disciplined, even punished, 20 security officials in connection with the incident,” the experts said, “how can she then be held criminally liable for an unwanted intrusion?”

The State Protection Law 1975 is based on Myanmar’s 1974 Constitution, which was annulled when the military Government took power in 1988, prompting the Working Group on arbitrary detention to conclude that Aung San Suu Kyi’s continuing house arrest lacks any legal basis (Opinions Nos. 9/2004 and 46/2008).

“In addition to the fact that the holding of this trial was unlawful,” the experts said, “we are also deeply concerned about numerous reports of irregularities in the way it was conducted.”

As examples, they cited the fact that a lawyer of the defence team for Aung San Suu Kyi and her co-accused had his license revoked by the Myanmar authorities. She was allowed to consult with her defence lawyers only sporadically. Only selected diplomats and journalists were allowed into the special court on 20 and 26 May as well as 24, 27 and 31 July 2009, and the rest of the trial was conducted behind closed doors, and the media were prevented from speaking to the defence lawyers. Only two of the five witnesses called by the defence were permitted to testify.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right not to be arbitrarily detained, as well as the rights to due process and a fair trial, and to freedom of opinion, expression and assembly,” the experts said. “None of these have been complied with.” They rejected the suggestion that the trial was a purely internal affair as is also evidenced by three statements concerning the situation in Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi in particular issued by the UN Security Council on 25 May 2009, 2 May 2008 and 11 October 2007.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been subjected to house arrest for almost 14 of the past 20 years. She was rearrested on 30 May 2003, and her house arrest was subsequently extended until it reached the maximum term permitted under Myanmar’s own laws in May 2008. It was then illegally extended for another year by the authorities. Today Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced for violating the terms of this house arrest order. Two of her aides were also sentenced under Section 109 of the Penal Code for aiding and abetting another in committing a crime.

“This case has been riddled with irregularities from start to finish,” the four experts concluded.