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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2612

The UN must not admit defeat under the military dictators of Burma

By Zin Linn

The Article 9 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) says:"Everyone has the right to liberty: any detention must be lawful and should be used only as a last resort". But the article seems strange to people of Burma. In this country under the military rule, even possessing of a UDHR booklet may send a citizen into jail for several years. To people’s disappointment, it still lacks of human rights education and practices in Burma although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the member countries 60 years ago on December 10, 1948.

Thet Zin and Sein Win Maung, respectively, Editor and Manager of the privately-owned Myanmar Nation Journal, were sentenced by a summary court on 28 November in Rangoon under the Printers and Publishers Registration Act for being in possession of dissenting documents, including a UN Special Rapporteur’s Human Rights report on Burma.

A young female journalist who made an effort to cover a protest by a group of victims of Cyclone Nargis and aeach of them in the group was sentenced to 2 years in prison on 14 November. Eint Khaing Oo, 21, was arrested on June 10 when she tried to cover a rare protest in front of the head office of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Rangoon by a group of victims affected by Nargis from South Dagon Township, a new satellite town for the poor. A Rangoon Summary Court made a decree on Eint Khaing Oo of damaging the importance of national security.

Burma’s best-known comedian, Zarganar, and two journalist friends were given additional prison terms by a special court in Rangoon’s Insein Prison on 27 November. His journalist friend and associate in a mission to deliver aid to cyclone victims, Zaw Thet Htwe, who had earlier been sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, received a further four years and video-journalist Thant Zin Aung, who had also been sentenced earlier to 15 years imprisonment, received an additional three years and video-journalist Thant Zin Aung, who had also been sentenced earlier to 15 years imprisonment, received an additional three years sentencing.

No one is under any hallucination over how ruthlessly Burma’s military regime is prepared to take action against its challengers who are disenchanted with the military dictatorship. Nonetheless, the sentences handed down on 14 protesters on 11 November 2008 were shockingly harsh. The 14 protesters were found guilty of four counts of using electronic media without permission and were sentenced to 15 years on each count, plus five years for forming an unlawful organization – in total 65 years of imprisonment. The sentences were handed down in delivered long term sentences of imprisonment on several dissidents for their participation in 2007 August-September protest.

The sentences were typical of Burma's military regime which has been ignoring calls by the international community to correct its human rights record. Sentences of imprisonments delivered on the political dissidents also contradict the junta’s claims that its new constitution and procedure for elections in 2010 are proper efforts toward political change.

The release of all political prisoners is a vital step in the process of national reconciliation, but the regime’s stance is backward-looking move. The regime continues to defy the Presidential statement made by the UN Security Council on 11 October 2007, calling for the release of all political prisoners in Burma. The UN Security Council needs to take concrete action to secure their release, without further delay. These recent sentences are some of the harshest punishments handed out by the regime ever since 1988.

At least 215 Burmese political activists have been sentenced in the month of November, according to a report released on 1st December 2008 by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma). The first trial of activists arrested in connection with last year’s uprising in August and September began on 8 October 2007. Since then at least 384 protesters have been sentenced, over half of them in last November, confirming recent reports that the regime plans to speed up the trials of political dissenters.

The ugliest abuse of power is that the junta has been cracking up the existence of justice. The sentences recently handed down ranging from 4 months on charges of ‘contempt of court’ for National League for Democracy (NLD) lawyers U Khin Maung Shein and U Aung Thein, to life imprisonment plus 8 years for Human Rights Defenders and Promoters network founding member U Myint Aye on explosives charges.

Former political prisoner and well-known comedian Zarganar, arrested in connection with his efforts to co-ordinate voluntary relief efforts after May 2-3 Cyclone Nargis, received sentences totaling 59 years. All Burma Monks’ Alliance leader U Gambira, who played a leading role in last year’s Saffron Revolution, was given sentences totaling 68 years. Twenty-three members of the 88 Generation Students Group, who led the protests against fuel price hikes in August last year, were handed sentences totaling 65 years each.

Meanwhile, on 3rd December 2008, a letter signed by 112 former presidents and prime ministers – including former US Presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, former British prime ministers Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher and John Major, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and former Polish president Lech Walesa - urged U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday to return to Myanmar and press its military junta to free all political prisoners. The letter, an effort led by former prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik of Norway, said Ban should make good on the Security Council's call in October 2007 for Myanmar's government to release the prisoners, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

Subsequently, on 5th December 2008, a total of 241 parliamentarians from 8 Asian countries have sent a letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urging him to obtain the release of all political prisoners from Myanmar / Burma by 31 December 2008. The letter comes just after a group of 112 former Presidents and Prime Ministers from 50 countries wrote appealing to the Secretary General. Members of Parliament from Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia joined the effort by parliamentarians from Asia who are extremely concerned about the lack of progress in Myanmar’s human rights situation.

“It is important that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon travel to the country himself and engage in serious dialogue with the military regime and impress on them the calls by leaders and lawmakers from Asia and around the world for the release of all political prisoners,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, President of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, who hosted the petition.

“The suffering of the people must not be allowed to continue and the world can no longer sit idly by and only assist them when there is a devastating natural disaster,” he added, in a separate cover letter to the UN Secretary General.

Despite the fact that Burma has intensified the tempo of its imprisonment of political opponents, human rights defenders, bloggers and journalists, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met with his “Group of Friends on Myanmar” on 5th December. Afterwards he told the media that he will only go to Burma (Myanmar) if there are some positive growths by the Than Shwe regime, including release of political prisoners.

In direct non-cooperation with the UN, the military regime has not only shown disregard to release political prisoners and take part in meaningful dialogue, but increased twofold the number of political prisoners in excess of 2,100. Although the Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) says that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile, Burma’s military dictators have never taken in consideration of it.

On this 60th Anniversary of the UDHR, the world body should seek concerted efforts from the prestigious organizations and governments to carry out the true meaning of the significant charter. Burma’s human rights problem should be the first task for the UN as an extraordinary example. The UN must not admit defeat under the military dictators of Burma.

Zin Linn: The author, a freelance Burmese journalist, lives in exile. Now he's working at the NCGUB East Office as an information director and is vice-president of Burma Media Association, which is affiliated with the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers.

- Asian Tribune -

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