November 17, 2011

In the past 24 hours, supporters of Burma Campaign UK have sent more than 1,000 email messages to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon ahead of his meeting with President Thein Sein of Burma later this week. Ban Ki-moon is expected to meet Thein Sein at the ASEAN summit in Indonesia.

The messages urge Ban Ki-moon to deliver a strong message to Thein Sein that the international community will not be fooled by limited and cosmetic change in Burma. That for sanctions to be lifted and Burma to be accepted as a legitimate member of the international community all political prisoners must be released, a nationwide ceasefire must be introduced, and a genuine process of dialogue, which includes ethnic representatives, leading to fundamental reforms, must be started.

Despite some reforms and the release of just under 300 political prisoners, most political prisoners, more than 1,000, remain in jail.

Most are kept in appalling conditions, some on death row or solitary confinement, in tiny dirty bare concrete cells with just a bucket as a toilet. They are not given proper food to stay healthy, and when they get sick they don’t get proper medical care. Some are still in remote prisons to make it very hard for their families to visit, and even if families do travel for days to see them, they are only allowed 15-20 minutes to talk. Torture is still being used against political prisoners.

Burma’s government is using political prisoners as human bargaining chips, releasing small numbers to gain positive publicity in an attempt to get sanctions lifted without making fundamental democratic reforms.

At the same time as promising reforms, the Burmese Army has stepped up attacks against ethnic civilians, with almost 150,000 forced to flee their homes in the past year. Women are being gang-raped and homes mortar-bombed.

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma stated in September that: ‘…serious human rights violations, including attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, internal displacement, land confiscations, the recruitment of child soldiers and forced labour and portering.’

“Ban Ki-moon has the opportunity to press Thein Sein for greater reforms, including the release of all political prisoners,” said Wai Hnin, Campaigns Officer at Burma Campaign UK. “The international community should be doing more to support Aung San Suu Kyi as she tries to get more concessions from the government. She has stated that the release of all political prisoners and a nationwide ceasefire are top priorities. Ban Ki-moon should make these his top priorities as well.”

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