January 23, 2016

Burma Campaign UK welcomes the release of around 52 political prisoners this week. Burma Campaign UK has been welcoming the release of political prisoners in Burma for more than 20 years.

Burma Campaign UK condemns the sentencing this week of Patrick Kum Jaa Lee for six months for a Facebook post he denies even making. Burma Campaign UK also condemns the arrest on immigration charges of U Gambira, one of the leaders of the pro-democracy uprising in 2007, for what are clearly political reasons. Burma Campaign UK has been condemning arrests and jailing of political activists for more than 20 years.

The events of the past week highlight how there has been little fundamental change with the problem of people being jailed for their political beliefs, ethnicity or religion. It also highlights how President Thein Sein did not deliver on promises to free all political prisoners. Almost all those freed in recent releases where jailed during his Presidency.

The formation of a new NLD-led government, despite having to share power with the military, presents an opportunity to start to address the issue of political prisoners once and for all.

In April last year, 23 human rights organisations issued a call for a reformed Prisoners of Conscience Affairs Committee, with ten specific recommendations. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also called for such steps.

The reformed committee should:

  1. Review the cases of all those charged or deprived of their liberty simply for the peaceful exercise of their human rights, with a view to securing their release and having the charges against them dropped;
  1. Review all laws used to charge and detain political prisoners, and recommend to Parliament the repeal or amendment of all such laws to bring them in line with international human rights law and standards;
  1. Formulate and present recommendations to the relevant authorities aimed at ending the abuse of the criminal law to fabricate criminal charges against individuals for politically motivated reasons;
  1. Ensure that all conditions attached to the release of political prisoners are lifted;
  1. Provide support and assistance to former political prisoners and their families by ensuring that they have effective access to restitution, compensation, assistance in gaining access to education and employment opportunities and other forms of rehabilitation to enable them to resume a normal life.
  1. Share with the public its mandate, its terms of reference, and operational procedures, and publish regular activity reports;
  1. Be properly resourced, receive appropriate support and co-operation from government offices, and be given access to prisons, prisons’ records and the authority to question relevant state officials;
  1. Invite a sufficient number of additional members to join the Committee who are selected according to objective and relevant criteria, including their independence and expertise in human rights issues, so as to ensure that the Committee overall has adequate gender and ethnic representation, as well as expertise on gender issues and children’s rights. The Committee should be comprised of a wide range of stakeholders, including former political prisoners and their representatives;
  1. Ensure resources are provided to build the human rights capacity of Committee members and seek technical assistance and advice from external experts in this regard;
  1. Ensure the Committee’s programme of work is developed in consultation with former political prisoners, their families and representatives, and takes into account the different experiences of women and men.

Burma Campaign UK hopes the new NLD-led government will consider the establishment of such a committee as a way of ensuring that the revolving door of political prisoners in Burma finally stops spinning.

The original statement calling for reform of the Political Conscience Affairs Committee is available here.

Twitter: @burmacampaignuk

@MarkFarmaner


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