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Myanmar: “It’s not too late for the Government to keep its promises” – UN Special Rapporteur

GENEVA (5 May 2010) – On the eve of a key deadline for party registration, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, urged the Government “to take affirmative action to move closer to the promise of peaceful transition and national reconciliation that would allow the people of Myanmar greater enjoyment of human rights.”

Statement by the Special Rapporteur:

“The Government of Myanmar has not yet responded to pleas from inside and outside the country for conditions that allow credible elections. Now is the time that the Government could show its sincerity in achieving peace and progress for the people of Myanmar by freeing all prisoners of conscience, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to take part in these momentous elections. Such a release of prisoners of conscience would allow political parties that have decided against participation to reconsider, and would facilitate the active participation of all citizens in this landmark process.

While the election date has yet to be announced, on 9 March the Government of Myanmar issued long-anticipated election laws. The UN Secretary General stated that these laws do not seem to measure up to the international community’s expectations of what is needed for an inclusive political process. This view has been repeated by many actors and States including by ASEAN members.

As I have stated previously, these elections are important for the people of Myanmar and provide an opportunity for real improvement in the human rights situation. However, the Government needs to ensure that these elections are credible—they must be open to full participation, they must be transparent, and they must be conducted in a manner that allows for free and fair choice by the people of Myanmar.

A more inclusive process could still be possible under the current election laws, despite their inherent flaws, if all prisoners of conscience are released immediately and unconditionally. Some provisions in the election laws for fair polls are in fact in place, such as the counting of votes in each polling station in the presence of the candidates or their nominated agents and members of the public. However, the powers granted to the Electoral Commission could impede the activities of political parties. It is possible that such practices could be mitigated if the Government made guarantees to allow full freedom of expression and assembly.

In the context of preparations for these national elections, there have been disturbing reports of increasing tension between Myanmar’s military forces and ceasefire groups. I would emphasize again that national reconciliation must include all the people of Myanmar. I believe that it is not too late for the Government to take affirmative action to move closer to the promise of peaceful transition and national reconciliation that would allow the people of Myanmar greater enjoyment of human rights.”

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.