Sunday, 29 June 2008

Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual REport 2007-Burma

Political context
The most significant event of 2007 was undoubtedly the unprecedented peaceful protest movement since 1988, triggered by the Government's decision, on August 15, 2007, to increase the price of fuel, in spite of a socio-economic situation that had already largely deteriorated. The demonstrations called for improvement in the quality of life and for dialogue with the Government on political reforms. They began in Rangoon and quickly spread, bringing together tens of thousands of people. Led by Buddhist monks, they were violently repressed by the police, the army and members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), the civil branch of the military Government. On the evening of September 25, 2007, the authorities ordered a curfew and began systematic raids into monasteries. Several thousands of people were arrested, including monks and students, as well as members of the 88 Generation Students Group and the National League for Democracy (NLD)
1 The Burmese authorities' brutal repression was a reminder to the international community of the harshness of the Burmese military Government, led by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). It was strongly condemned, especially by Ms. Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights,
2 the United Nations Council on Human Rights
3 and its Special Procedures,
4 the United Nations Security Council,
5 the Governing Body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO),
6 the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
7 and the European Union (EU).
8 Furthermore, Burma's National Convention, which was in charge since 1993 of drafting the principles of a new Constitution, ended its works on September 3, 2007, but excluded most of the political parties from the drafting process and prohibited by law any criticism of the convention.
In 2007, in spite of the climate of repression and of continued, serious and systematic violations, for the first time since 2003 the SPDC authorised the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar to visit the country as a result of the unprecedented international pressure put on the regime. However, the Rapporteur has not been able to return since then, nor has the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, despite requests to do so made by the Security Council on November 14, 2007 and on January 17, 2008.
Repression of all human rights activities
In Burma, it remains almost impossible to carry out human rights activities due to the heavy repression that defenders continue to suffer. On May 21, 2007, for example, Ms. Phyu Phyu Thin, an HIV/AIDS activist, was arrested by the special police for protesting against the lack of access to antiretroviral drugs in Government hospitals, placed in detention at the Kyaikkasan Centre in Rangoon and was questioned about her activities. She was released on July 2, 2007, and at no time did the authorities inform her of the reasons for her detention.
9 Moreover, on July 24, 2007, six members of the association Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP) – Messrs. Ko Myint Naing (alias Myint Hlaing), Ko Kyaw Lwin, U Hla Shien, U Mya Sein, U Win and U Myint – were given from four to eight years prison sentences for "attempting to disturb public order". On April 17, 2007, the six men had actively taken part to the organisation of a human rights training seminar.
Trade union leaders are also the focus of repression. For instance, on September 7, 2007, Messrs. Thurein Aung, Kyaw Kyaw, Wai Lin, Myo Min, Kyaw Win and Nyi Nyi Zaw, six defenders of the right to work and freedom of association, were found guilty of "inciting hate and contempt of the Government" and some were accused of being members of "illegal associations".
10 Messrs. Thurein Aung, Kyaw Kyaw, Wai Lin and Nyi Nyi Zaw were arrested on May 1, 2007 after organising a May Day celebration and planning to organise discussions on subjects related to labour and freedom of association at the American Centre of the United States Embassy in Rangoon. This event was cancelled immediately following these arrests. On May 10, 2007, Messrs. Kyaw Win and Myo Min were arrested while they were on their way to the border with Thailand with the intention of informing the international community about these arrests. Similarly, on November 28 2007, Mr. U Tin Hla, a member of the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma (FTUB) and the Burma Railway Union, was arrested together with his family at their home by the special police. The police accused Mr. U Tin Hla of having encouraged railway workers to join the September 2007 demonstrations.
In 2007, policy regarding the Internet and cyber dissidents, i.e. those defenders who use the Internet to promote human rights and democracy, continued to be extremely repressive. The Myanmar Wide Web sites, a national Intranet network composed of websites authorised by the regime, are the main sites – if not the only ones – to which Burmese have access. Furthermore, during the demonstrations in August and September, Internet connections were severely restricted, when they were not completely cut off, after Burmese citizens had used the Internet to send images and news of the violent repression of the demonstrations. Cybercafés in Rangoon were also closed down. On November 30, 2007, Mr. Aung Gyi (aka) Aung Thwin was arrested in a Rangoon cybercafé whilst sending photos taken the day before of security forces forcibly evicting the monks from Maggin monastery. Since these demonstrations, the authorities have tried to impose new restrictions on Internet use. The owners of cybercafés have thus been ordered to copy the data from their computers and send it to the special police each week.
11 The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).
1 According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma (AAPPB), as of December 1, 2007, 706 people remained in detention following the demonstrations, in addition to the 1,158 political prisoners who had been held prior to August 5, 2007.
2 On October 2, 2007, Ms. Louise Arbour noted that "the peaceful protests we have witnessed in recent weeks [...] are only the most recent manifestations of the repression of fundamental rights and freedoms that have taken place for almost 20 years in Myanmar".
3 On October 2, 2007, during its fifth Special Session, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution deploring "the continued violent repression of peaceful demonstrations in Myanmar" and urging "the Government of Myanmar to release without delay those arrested and detained as a result of the recent repression of peaceful protests" (See United Nations document A/HRC/S5/L.1/Rev.1, October 2, 2007).
4 On September 28, 2007, Mr. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Ms. Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ms. Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the Secretary General on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. Ambeyi Ligabo, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, and Ms. Leila Zerrougui, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, expressed their grave concern "over the growing number of reported deaths and serious injuries suffered by protesters and bystanders" (See United Nations Press Release, September 28, 2007).
5 On October 11, 2007, the Security Council strongly deplored "the use of violence against peaceful demonstrators" and emphasised "the importance of the early release of all political prisoners and remaining detainees" (See United Nations Press Release SC/9139, October 11, 2007).
6 The Governing Body "expressed its serious concern at the Government's crackdown in response to the recent peaceful protests" and "noted with deep regret the imprisonment of persons exercising their fundamental right to freedom of association and the freedom of expression it entails", "[calling on] the Government to immediately release those persons" (See 300th session of the Governing Body of the ILO, Conclusions concerning Myanmar, November 2007, GB.300/8 (& Add.) ).
7 The ASEAN Ministers for Foreign Affairs demanded that the Myanmar Government "desist from the use of violence against demonstrators" and spoke of their "revulsion" on being informed that the demonstrations were being repressed by force (See Statement by ASEAN Chairperson, September 27, 2007).
8 See Declaration by the EU Presidency of August 28, 2007 and European Parliament Resolutions P6_TA (2007) 0384 and P6_TA (2007) 0420 of September 6 and 27, 2007.
9 See AAPPB, July 2007.
10 Messrs. Thurein Aung, Wai Lin, Myo Min and Kyaw Win were sentenced to 28 years in prison and Messrs. Nyi Nyi Zaw and Kyaw Kyaw were sentenced to 20 years.

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