BURMA: LRWC calls upon the United Nations to send a mission to Burma to investigate murders, disappearances and detentions 

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) is gravely concerned for the safety and wellbeing of peaceful demonstrators including monks, arrested or missing after the demonstrations of August and September 2007 in Burma.  Given the large number of detained and missing, a UN sponsored delegation of experts is required to respond effectively.  LRWC welcomes the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution to send Sergio Paulo Pinheiro, the Special Rapporteur on Burma, to investigate and assess the current situation.

LRWC calls on the United Nations Human Rights Council to immediately put monitoring and reporting mechanisms in place to investigate the deaths, disappearances, and arrests in Burma during this period.  LRWC calls on Hina Jilani, UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, to press for a special monitoring mission to be set up under UN auspices as a matter of urgency, to conduct an independent investigation and report on:

  • the number of people killed; and,
  • a preliminary assessment of responsibility for deaths, arbitrary arrests and disappearances; and,
  • recommendations for further investigations; and,
  • the number of people dead, detained and disappeared along with details including: names, charges laid, detention particulars, and plans for release; and,
  • the conditions in prisons and holding centers; and,
  • the treatment of people detained, including information regarding access to medical care.

It is appropriate that such a mission engage the participation of a number of the UN Special Rapporteurs, Representatives and Working Groups.  It is also critical at this time that International Committee of the Red Cross, which has been denied access to prisons in Burma since 2006, be given access again to conduct ongoing monitoring.


Since the military began firing on unarmed demonstrators on September 27, eyewitnesses have reported that authorities have conducted night raids, ransacked monasteries and rounded up approximately 6,000 monks and other civilians suspected to have taken part in the demonstrations.  Although the Burmese official media reports claims that 10 people died, unconfirmed reports say the number is much higher. The Burmese government reports that the release of approximately 1,000 people from custody.  However, adding those recently arrested to the approximately 1,300 previously incarcerated, the number of political prisoners and detainees currently held is estimated to be between 5,000 and 7,000.  According to reports, no warrants have been produced by police in these arrests.

At present, there is almost no information available about the whereabouts of most detainees.  The families of those who did not return home after September 27, or who were seized in the middle of the night, do not know whether their relatives are missing, dead, or imprisoned, and if so, where they might be held.  LRWC has also learned that when authorities cannot locate a targeted person, they are arresting family members instead.

We are concerned that the Burmese government is using this opportunity to target human rights defenders.  Since August 24, 2007, twelve members of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters group have been arrested, bringing the total of arrested and disappeared from this organization alone to 19.  Human Rights Defenders and Promoters group is devoted to educating Burmese about international human rights instruments and the Burmese government’s obligations under them.  As of October 17, we understand that most of the ’88 Generation activists, including Htay Kywe and Mi Mi, leaders of the August demonstrations, have been arrested.

The number of those who have died after being arrested is unknown.  According to interview transcripts released by Amnesty International on October 17, monks and demonstrators saw other monks shot in the head and beaten.  There are fears that other demonstrators who were wounded when troops opened fire may now have died of their injuries.

We are also concerned that those in need of health treatment will not receive it, either because they are in hiding or because they have been imprisoned.  Hla Myo Naung, a leader of the ’88 Generation students’ group, was seized on October 10 from a clinic where he was seeking urgent medical treatment for a ruptured cornea, without which, he was at risk of losing his eyesight.  On October 16, LRWC learned that he had undergone emergency eye surgery while under detention and that authorities told his wife he now has “nerve damage.”

Ill treatment and torture of political prisoners in Burma have been well-documented by reliable human rights organizations for many years.  On October 10, the National League for Democracy reported that Win Shwe, 42 years old, died after being tortured in prison in Kyaukpadaung township.  His body was cremated before his family could see it.

In the past, the Burmese authorities have shown no respect for the rule of law.  It remains unclear how many of those detained have been formally charged.  Authorities in Burma frequently invoke the Emergency Provisions Act of 1950, the Unlawful Association Act, the State Protection Law of 1975, and The Law Protecting the Peaceful and Systematic Transfer of State Responsibility and the Successful Performance of the Functions of the National Convention against Disturbances and Oppositions (Law 5/96).  All of these laws aim to suppress political dissent and have been used against people peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association.  It is common for people charged to be denied access to legal counsel, tried summarily and then sentenced to lengthy prison terms, sometimes with hard labour.  Four National League for Democracy members in Sittwe, Arakan State, (Than Pe, Tun Kyi, Sein Kyaw and Kyaw Khine, who is 85 years old) have been formally sentenced to seven and a half years each in prison for allegedly “taking a leading role” in the protests.

Although LRWC understands that communications networks, including internet service, in Burma are being restored, there has been a virtual blackout on information on the ground in the aftermath of the demonstrations.  This makes the need for prompt action to locate detainees and secure their release and protection from further atrocities, all the more critical.

Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) is a committee of Canadian lawyers who promote human rights and the rule of law internationally by providing support to advocates in danger because of their work as human rights defenders. LRWC is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

Paul Copeland at 1 416 964-8126 ext. 142, Brenda Belak at 1 604-537-0680
or  www.lrwc.orglrwc@portal.ca; 1 604 738 0338


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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984. The above statement has only been forwarded by the AHRC.

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Document Type : Forwarded Statement
Document ID : FS-038-2007
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),