BURMA: Complaint lodged with Asean over jailed human rights defender

(Hong Kong, August 2, 2007) The Asian Human Rights Commission on Thursday submitted a letter of complaint with the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) concerning the arrest and imprisonment of a human rights defender in Burma at “precisely the same time” that the regional grouping was debating the establishment of a new regional rights body.

The Hong Kong-based rights group submitted the complaint to the secretary general of Asean, Ong Keng Yong, concerning the jail sentence just handed down to 31-year-old Ko Min Min for alleged illegal tuition after he had held a discussion at his house on basic human rights.

“It is particularly ironic that this human rights defender was being jailed at the very same time that the government of Myanmar was reluctantly agreeing to the setting up of a human rights mechanism under the new proposed Asean charter,” Moon Jeong Ho, urgent appeals coordinator at the AHRC, said in the letter, which followed a public appeal sent earlier in the day.

“We expect that if the nations of Asean are serious about this new human rights commission then among its first tasks will be to address the blatant persecution and imprisonment of human rights defenders in Myanmar as in cases such as this one, and the corresponding abuse and degradation of the legal system for the same purpose,” Moon said.

Min Min was the seventh human rights defender to be given a long jail term in Burma during the previous week. On July 24 six other persons who had been giving instruction on human rights were sentenced to four to eight years in jail on allegations of upsetting public tranquillity.

On Wednesday the AHRC director also sent an open letter to the UN expert on human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, urging her to take a much stronger position on the situation in Burma.

“The AHRC has obtained documents that reveal the hand of the township councils in organising and deploying gangs of thugs as an alternative to the conventional security forces, and is concerned that this presages special risks to human rights defenders in the near future,” Basil Fernando said, alluding to the attack on a convoy carrying democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters in mid-2003 that left an unknown number of persons dead.

“We thus call upon you to show some leadership at this very important and dangerous time for human rights defenders in Myanmar and seek concerted international action to see that those that have been imprisoned are released, and that no further attacks occur,” he said, referring to the country by its official name.

However, Fernando urged the UN expert to study the details of the situation in Burma much more carefully, rather than making generic demands that could be ignored easily by the country’s military authorities.

“Who or what will conduct an independent and thorough investigation there? Neither the means nor relevant authorities exist for such investigations to take place. Nor is there any point in pretending that they do,” Fernando said.

“It is therefore essential that the heavy institutional and systemic obstacles to the defence of human rights in Myanmar–in the criminal justice system especially–obtain your serious attention through detailed research into individual cases and related problems,” he added, inviting to assist in such work as and how necessary.

The full text of that open letter can be read here: http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2007statements/1135/

The appeal for Ko Min Min can be accessed here:

Document Type : Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-PL-030-2007
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),