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Myanmar: UN expert welcomes prisoner release, calls for further progress on human rights protections

GENEVA (16 January 2012) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, on Monday welcomed the decision by President Thein Sein to grant another amnesty and release a significant number of prisoners of conscience.

While the exact number of prisoners of conscience released has yet to be confirmed, among those released last Friday were prominent figures whose cases have been previously addressed by the Special Rapporteur as well as individuals he had visited in jail.

“I welcome the release of many prisoners of conscience, 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. “This is an important and necessary development to advance national reconciliation and deepen Myanmar’s transition to democracy.”

“In this critical period for Myanmar, and in the lead-up to the by-elections in April, it is fundamental that all citizens, including those just released from prison, are allowed to play an active and constructive role in political and public life. Based on lessons learnt from past elections, I call on the Government to ensure respect for the rights to political participation and freedoms of opinion and expression, assembly and association – rights which are essential for the functioning of a democratic society.”

The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern that a number of prisoners of conscience remain in detention. He called on the Government to release all remaining prisoners of conscience, without conditions and without delay.

"I continue to emphasise that prisoners of conscience must be released without any conditions that may effectively be new ways of diminishing their enjoyment of human rights,” he said.
Separately, the Special Rapporteur noted that preliminary agreements have been reached between the Government and the Karen National Union, and with other ethnic groups. He expressed hope that there would be further progress in resolving conflicts with armed ethnic groups throughout Myanmar and called on all parties involved in ongoing conflicts to ensure the protection of civilians and respect for international human rights and humanitarian law.

“I renew my call on the Government to develop a comprehensive plan to officially engage ethnic minority groups in an inclusive dialogue to resolve long-standing grievances and deep-rooted concerns,” Mr. Quintana said. “And all parties to this dialogue must ensure that investigations and accountability for past gross and systematic human rights violations are on the agenda. Ending discrimination and ensuring fundamental rights for Myanmar’s ethnic minorities is essential for national reconciliation and will contribute to Myanmar’s long-term political and social stability."

The Special Rapporteur added that he looked forward to engaging with the Government further on these and other key human rights concerns on his next mission to Myanmar. To this end, he called for unimpeded access for the UN and relevant actors to help address crucial human rights issues in the country.

END

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 more information and media requests, please contact Maureen Teo (+41 22 928 89113 / mteo@ohchr.org)

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