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UN expert welcomes release of prisoners of conscience in Myanmar

20 September 2012 – A United Nations independent expert today welcomed the latest presidential amnesty releasing a number of prisoners of conscience in Myanmar, and called on authorities to continue “this systematic liberation” without conditions, stressing this is key for the country’s democratic transition and reconciliation process.

“Bold steps are needed now to overcome the legacy of the past and to ensure that no prisoners of conscience are left behind,” said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana.

“This requires a concerted effort by the Government to engage with relevant stakeholders, such as political and civil society organizations, to clarify exactly how many prisoners are left and should include the establishment of a review mechanism which has access to prisons,” he added.

According to a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), among those released was U Khaymar Sara, a Buddhist monk who had been detained since he took part in demonstrations in September 2007, and whom Mr. Ojea Quintana had visited in prison during his visit to the country in August.

Mr. Ojea Quintana said he was encouraged by the Government’s continuing steps to release the remaining prisoners. However, he expressed concerns that conditions may again be attached to this latest release, such as the imposition of the remaining sentence if a crime were committed in the future.

Instead of imposing conditions, the Government should take measures to ensure the reintegration of released prisoners of conscience into society, Mr. Ojea Quintana said, adding that “adequate medical and psyco-social services should be provided to those released, particularly those who suffered ill-treatment or were subject to prolonged periods of solitary confinement.”

In addition, the Government should take positive steps such as providing reparations to prisoners, removing restriction on applications for passports and removing obstacles to continue their education or regaining professional licenses, the Special Rapporteur said.

Mr. Ojea Quintana underlined that the release of prisoners of conscience should be at the forefront of Myanmar’s reforms, and called on the Government to release all remaining prisoners of conscience without delay as part of the process of democratic transition and national reconciliation.

This includes people such as Myint Aye, the director of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters Organization, and 36-year-old Aung Naing, who has spent the past 16 years in prison and who was also visited by the Special Rapporteur during his previous visit.

“Persons such as Myint Aye and Aung Naing may have been convicted of crimes under Myanmar's penal code, yet I believe that the reason for many convictions such as these was because of their opposition to the previous Government at the time or because they had no opportunity to defend themselves in a fair trial,” Mr. Ojea Quintana said. “These people must not be forgotten and left languishing in prison.”

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs like Mr. Ojea Quintana, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.

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