16 June 2009
GENEVA – Five independent United Nations human rights experts* on Tuesday urged the authorities of Myanmar to ensure that the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and two of her aides, is “fair and open.”
“So far, the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi and her aides has been marred by flagrant violations of substantive and procedural rights,” said Leandro Despouy, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. Pointing to the fact that, to date, the trial has mostly been conducted behind closed doors and that the media have been prevented from speaking to the defence lawyers, Despouy said that “Transparency in the administration of justice is a pre-requisite of any State governed by the rule of law.”
Noting the political transition to which the Myanmar leadership has committed itself, the experts emphasized the requirement in democratic society for trials to be conducted openly. “National and international media should be granted full access to the trial,” said the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue.
While the prosecution was allowed to call 14 witnesses, most of them policemen, only one witness called by the defense team has so far been permitted to testify. Applications for another three defense witnesses to testify have been made. Last week a second defense witness was granted permission to be heard in the case. “While this is a significant step forward, the court must ensure that all witnesses who may have relevant evidence are able to testify,” Despouy said.
“The court has the duty to conduct the proceedings fairly and to respect the rights of the parties as a pre-requisite to the principle of equality of arms and the right to defense,” he said, adding that it is essential that the justice system examines the compatibility of Aung San Suu Kyi’s continued house arrest with domestic law and international standards.
The Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Manuela Carmena Castrilo said the Working Group had declared that the continuation of the house arrest after May 2008 was arbitrary according to international standards and also violated Myanmar’s own laws (Opinion 46/2008). For this reason Aung San Suu Kyi needs to be released immediately and unconditionally, the experts concluded.
On 14 May 2009, Aung San Suu Kyi and two of her aides were taken by security forces to Insein Prison, where they continue to stand trial before an ad hoc special tribunal. They were charged under Myanmar’s State Protection Law 1975 after an individual swam across Lake Inya and spent two nights at Aung San Suu Kyi’s home.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been subjected to house arrest for more than 13 of the past 19 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.
Therefore, the moment the incident occurred, Aung San Suu Kyi should not have been under house arrest. Furthermore “If the State assumes the responsibility to prevent access to the house of Aung San Suu Kyi,” the experts said, “how can she then be held criminally liable for an unwanted intrusion?”
Since she was placed under house arrest in 2003, Aung San Suu Kyi has never been brought before a judge. It seems paradoxical that now – one year after the expiration of the house arrest – the justice system is being used to justify a further restriction of her liberty.
The five experts called upon the authorities of Myanmar to allow the justice system to function in an independent and impartial manner, so as to guarantee an open and fair trial for the defendants, and to grant unfettered media access.
* The Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Ms. Manuela Carmena Castrilo; the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mr. Leandro Despouy; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Mr. Tomas Ojea Quintana; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms. Margaret Sekaggya; and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Frank La Rue
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