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UN experts urge Myanmar to release Aung San Suu Kyi and other prisoners of conscience

GENEVA (12 November 2010) – Four UN experts on Friday expressed concern about reports that tens of thousands of people had fled from Myanmar into Thailand after fighting erupted in the wake of Sunday’s election, although many appear to have returned in recent days, and urged the Government of the Union of Myanmar to release all prisoners of conscience, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, El-Hadji Malick Sow, the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, jointly called on the Government of Myanmar “to release over 2,200 prisoners of conscience who remain detained in prison for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of opinion and expression or freedom of association and assembly, as a step towards national reconciliation.”

The UN experts also reiterated their call to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi immediately and unconditionally, and recalled the most recent Opinion adopted by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on 7 May 2010 -- the sixth such opinion* -- which found her house arrest to be arbitrary.

Despite repeated messages from the various experts that Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention has been arbitrary, the Government has not expedited her release. The four experts therefore urged the Government to consider the recommendations already made, particularly the Opinions by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the proposals by the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, to remedy this situation. Under the terms of Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention under Myanmar’s own legal proceedings, her sentence ends this Saturday, 13 November. The experts urged the Government to ensure the end of all restriction on her movement and activities.

Shortly after Myanmar’s first elections in 20 years, around 15,000 people reportedly fled from Myanmar into Thailand to escape fighting between Government and ethnic minority forces.

“The elections were billed as one of the final elements of the so-called seven-step roadmap to democracy,” the UN experts said. “However, the renewed clashes and resulting humanitarian crisis as civilians fled to a neighboring State highlight the many unresolved challenges that Myanmar faces. True democratic transition will require genuine dialogue with all stakeholders including Aung San Suu Kyi, and the various ethnic minorities that were excluded from the electoral process. These prominent voices are necessary if Myanmar’s democratic transition is to have a chance of succeeding.”

“The elections did not meet international standards, and the media was effectively barred from covering them,” the experts said. “Many people across the world called upon the Government to release all prisoners of conscience before the elections in order to make the process more inclusive. It did not happen. It must happen now if there is to be any hope of national reconciliation.”

* Opinion No.12/2010, to be published in March 2011. To view the text of the five earlier opinions (Opinion No.8/1992, E/CN.4/1993/24; Opinion No.2/2002, E/CN.4/2003/8/Add.1; Opinion 9/2004, E/CN.4/2005/6/Add.1; Opinion No.2/2007, A/HRC/7/4/Add.1; Opinion No. 46/2008, A/HRC/13/30/Add.1) go to: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/detention/annual.htm

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Learn more about the the Independent Expert on Myanmar: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/countries/mm/mandate/index.htm
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/detention/index.htm
The Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/opinion/index.htm
The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/defenders/index.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Myanmar: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact:
Christine Chung (Tel: +41 22 928 9673 / email: cchung@ohchr.org)