Friday, August 26, 2011

Burmese gov’t tells UN envoy more amnesty releases for prisoners likely

Friday, 26 August 2011 22:34 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – More amnesty releases are likely to be granted to prisoners in Burmese jails, government officials reportedly told Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, when they met in Naypyitaw this week.

An aerial view of Burma's Insein Prison in Rangoon.
Government officials reportedly told UN envoy
Tomas Ojea Quintana this week that more prisoners
would be granted amnesty at a future date.
Photo: Mizzima
Upper House Speaker Khin Aung Myint reportedly told Quintana that he believed releasing Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and engaging her in a dialogue with government officials was for the benefit of the country, and releasing other prisoners would offer similar benefits. The chairman of the Union Election Commission also reportedly said that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy could apply to form a political party and contest in elections.

Khin Aung Myint reportedly said more prisoners would be released when it was certain they would not endanger the peace and stability of the state.

During Quintana’s five-day visit to Burma, he met a wide range of government leaders including the speakers of the lower and upper houses of Parliament, government ministers, the chief justice, attorney general, Election Commission chairman and vice police chief.

An article on Friday in the New Light of Myanmar, a state-run newspaper, provided some details of Quintana’s conversations with officials, including  Chief Justice Tun Tun Oo, who reportedly said, “There are no prisoners serving a sentence for their beliefs; prisoners are all serving their terms for the crimes they have committed.” He said that that the Criminal Law (the Indian Penal Code) was enacted in Burma in 1861, and it is still in force.

The UN human rights envoy used the term “prisoners of conscience” in his discussions with government officials to avoid the term “political prisoners,” which has never been accepted by successive Burmese governments. Officials referred only to “prisoners” in their talks with Quintana.

Home Minister Lieutenant General Ko Ko, reportedly said: “On the prisoners issue, the number is different between the government’s figures and the resources of Mr. Quintana.” Referring to some names listed as political prisoners, he said that there are more than 100 prisoners convicted of drug trafficking, murder, bombings, insurgency and other acts. “Some prisoners are serving sentences because they smuggled a large amount of narcotic drugs when they were arrested, so that the prisoners on Mr. Quintana’s list” is really not clear, he said.

Nevertheless, Lieutenant General Ko Ko said it could be expected some of these prisoners would be granted amnesty in the future.

Labour, Social Welfare and Resettlement Minister Aung Kyi reportedly told Quintana that in the future Aung San Suu Kyi together with her National League for Democracy party would participate in “realizing Myanmar [Burma] issues.” Suu Kyi and the government would carry out national tasks on a reciprocal basis, he said.

Union Election Commission Chairman Tin Aye reportedly said that Suu Kyi could apply to form a political party in accordance with the law.

Defence Minister Major General Hla Min reportedly defended the government’s position on the recruitment of child soldiers’ issue, but he admitted, “Due to faults of individual recruiters and others, there were some child soldiers in the armed forces.”

A committee was formed to look into the cases, he said, and as of June, 2,317 minors had been sent back to their parents and 597 minors were allowed to resign from the military forces. Actions were taken against 21 officers and 156 other ranks involved in such cases, he said. Out of 389 child recruitment cases taken up by the International Labour Organization, the government took action in 182 cases and 177 Tatmadaw (armed forces) officers who violated the rules for recruiting soldiers had been dealt with, he said.

Hla Min reportedly refuted accusations that members of the armed forces raped ethnic women, saying the accusations were used by opposition groups and insurgents as a tool to defame the armed forces. Punishment for rape case was harsh, he said.

Regarding the use of landmines, Hla Min said, “It was insurgents who used land mines, and they use land mines as a tactic because they are not strong enough to face the Tatmadaw.”

Vice Police Chief Colonel Zaw Win said human rights courses were now included in the syllabus of the police academy, and officials were now distributing the universal human rights declaration, the UN Convention on Human Rights and a code of conduct book and manuals for investigating cases involving children.

Upper House speaker Khin Aung Myint reportedly told Quintana that as a democratic country, Burma would hold an “International Democracy Day” on September 15.

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