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Ongoing detention of Myanmar's Suu Kyi a 'blow' to democratic efforts - UN expert

2 October 2009 – Myanmar’s Government has missed an opportunity to prove its commitment to holding inclusive elections by extending the house arrest of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, effectively barring her from participating in next year’s polls, says an independent United Nations human rights expert.

“The continuation of her house arrest is a blow to the Government’s seven-step road map to democracy,” Tomás Ojea Quintana, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, writes in a new report.

Ms. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), was sentenced in August to an additional 18 months of house arrest. She was reportedly convicted of violating state security laws after an uninvited United States citizen gained access to her home.

Mr. Quintana, who reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, notes that the additional 18-month house arrest bars her from actively participating in the national elections planned for 2010.

He “regrets that the Government of Myanmar missed another opportunity to prove its commitment to hold inclusive, free and fair elections.”

In a report issued following his first visit to the country last year, Mr. Quintana proposed that four core human rights elements be completed before national elections are held in 2010.

They are the revision of domestic laws that limit fundamental rights, the progressive release of the estimated 2,000 prisoners of conscience still in detention, the reform and training of the military so that it conforms with human rights, and changes to the judiciary so that it is fully independent.

Mr. Quintana states that while the Government expressed its readiness to implement the four core elements during his mission to Myanmar in February, “their effective implementation and completion has yet to be seen.”

Therefore, he reiterates that these elements be implemented, reminding the Government that they are part of its international human rights obligations, and are “absolutely necessary to be completed in order for the seven-step road map to democracy to be credible and founded on internationally recognized democratic values.”

He also recommends, among other things, that the Government take prompt measures to establish accountability for “widespread and systematic” human rights violations and combat the prevailing impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators.

The report also highlights the situation of prisoners of conscience, their right to a fair trial and due process of law and conditions of their detention, as well as freedom of expression, assembly and association in the context of the 2010 elections.

In addition to the trial of Ms. Suu Kyi, the period under review was marked by “harsh long sentences,” ranging from 24 to 104 years, given to more than 400 prisoners of conscience, according to the report.

While Mr. Quintana welcomes the recent release of six political prisoners in September, and of 29 others in February, he says that, compared to the 2,160 currently in detention, “these releases lack proportionality.”

The report also contains a review of internal conflicts, the protection of civilians, discrimination and the need for humanitarian assistance.

The Special Rapporteur, who serves in an independent and unpaid capacity, also voices regret that his request to visit Myanmar a few months ago was not accepted by the Government, and says he hopes to return before the end of 2009.

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