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November 12, 10

NEWS / Independent UN rights experts urge Myanmar to release all political prisoners

12 November 2010 – Four United Nations human rights experts today urged the Government of Myanmar to immediately and unconditionally release pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as the over 2,200 political prisoners detained in the country.

They called for the release as a “step towards national reconciliation” in the South-east Asian nation, which just held its first elections in 20 years last weekend.

Authorities will reportedly make a decision on Saturday regarding the release of Ms. Suu Kyi, the head of the National League for Democracy (NLD), who has been under house arrest for much of the past two decades.

Under the terms of her detention under Myanmar’s own legal proceedings, Ms. Suu Kyi’s sentence ends on 13 November, noted the experts, who urged the Government to ensure the end of all restrictions on her movement and activities.

The experts, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, also voiced concern about reports that around 15,000 people had fled from Myanmar into Thailand to escape fighting between Government and ethnic minority forces in the wake of Sunday’s election.

“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 neighbouring 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,” said the group, which also included 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.

In a related development, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today that most of the 15,000 Myanmar refugees that fled to Thailand earlier this week have returned across the border.

“While many have returned to Myanmar others have dispersed and remain on the Thai side of the border,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva. “Others still have crossed back into Thailand again because of resumed fighting in some locations.

The agency is currently working with non-governmental organizations and the local authorities to reach these isolated groups and assess their needs.

At the same time, following reports of renewed fighting overnight and the potential for further clashes in some villages in Myanmar, UNHCR is advocating with the Thai Government that refugees be given further time before being encouraged to return home.




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