11/20/2013, 00.00
MYANMAR - UNITED NATIONS
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UN committee calls on Myanmar to release all political prisoners

by Francis Khoo Thwe
The committee passed a toned down annual resolution on the Asian nation. In it, the UN body expressed hope that political prisoners would be released "by the end of the year," and that the rights of the country's Rohingya Muslim minority would be respected. However, a Myanmar rights groups slams ongoing convictions for crimes of opinion, noting that detainee release is "unlikely".

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The UN General Assembly's human rights committee called on the Myanmar government to fulfil the promises it made to release all political prisoners "by the end of the year."

Whilst appreciating Myanmar's political and economic reforms after decades of military dictatorship, the UN body also expressed "concern" over new cases of activists being arrested.

Sectarian violence in the western state of Rakhine between Burmese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims is an additional cause for concern. The latter should be granted equal access to citizenship and Buddhist violence against them should stop.

The 193-member UN General Assembly's human rights committee on Tuesday passed a resolution that was toned down from past years when Myanmar had one of the worst human rights records in the world.

President Thein Sein, a former army general, and his reformist government were responsible for the changes.

However, the detention of dozens of activists and the sectarian nature of the violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority remain unresolved issues.

The United Nations committee urged the government "to continue the process and to fulfil its commitment to release them [i.e. political prisoners] by the end of 2013, without conditions, and to ensure the full restoration of their rights and freedoms."

The government released 69 political prisoners last week, but dozens remain in jail and more people are being arrested for expressing their opinion.

Indeed, the UN committee resolution expressed "concern about remaining human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and detentions of political activists and human rights defenders, forced displacement, land confiscations, rape and other forms of sexual violence and torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."

What is more, sectarian violence in the past 18 months has left more than 240 people dead, whilst more than 240,000 have fled their homes, most of them Rohingya.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) also issued a report in October 2013 on political prisoners.

The study noted that in October 34 political activists were indicted, including two human rights defenders who are still in detention. Five people were also convicted, including three who were sent to jail on various charges.

The association did welcome the release of 56 political prisoners, noting however that the conditions attached to their release still impose great restrictions on their lives.

"In stark contrast to the seemingly progressive steps towards change taken by the Burmese government is the continued arbitrary use of the law to restrict and deny activists' civil and political liberties," the report said.

Therefore, the continuing arrests mean that Thein Sein's pledge that all political prisoners will be released by the end of the year will not likely be fulfilled.

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