Ahead of Sunday Elections, Amnesty International Calls on Myanmar to Protect Human Rights, Including the Release of 'Prisoners of Conscience' and Safeguards for Ethnic Minorities

Supporters of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League of Democracy (NLD) AFP/Getty Images
Press Release
March 30, 2012

Ahead of Sunday Elections, Amnesty International Calls on Myanmar to Protect Human Rights, Including the Release of 'Prisoners of Conscience' and Safeguards for Ethnic Minorities

Despite Steps Forward, Human Rights Organization Says Myanmar "Not Doing Enough," Encourages United States to Push for Sustained Reforms

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-509-8194

(Washington, D.C.) -- Ahead of Myanmar's elections on Sunday, April 1, Amnesty International said that despite Myanmar's steps toward improving the country's human rights record, much work remains to be done. From the release of hundreds of "prisoners of conscience" to implementing safeguards for ethnic minorities, the United States should push for sustained reforms.

"The prospect of Aung San Suu Kyi's election to the Myanmar Parliament is an extraordinary milestone, yet represents only one key step toward reforms that have a long way to go," said Suzanne Nossel, Amnesty International USA executive director. "As Myanmar prepares to go to the polls in a flawed yet historic election, the international community, especially the United States, must use its influence to ensure that the results are fair and to press for real change for the Burmese people. While Myanmar may present the United States with economic and strategic opportunities, these can only be realized on a foundation rooted in human rights."

The human rights organization reiterates its call on Myanmar officials and the international community to address the situation in ethnic minority areas -- in particular, the Kayin, Kachin and Shan states, where war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed -- and ensure a credible investigation and accountability for atrocities committed against ethnic minority civilians.

The recent decision to cancel the by-elections for three seats in the Kachin state, due to ongoing hostilities between ethnic Kachin fighters and the Myanmar army, adds to continued repression by government officials. Myanmar is not doing enough; the army must cease targeting civilians, and perpetrators must be held to account for their crimes.

Sunday's elections follow those in November 2010, when the Myanmar government's attacks on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association compromised the country's first elections in 20 years. While not without blemish, the current human rights situation in Myanmar is generally better than in 2010, as illustrated by the participation in 44 of 45 available seats by the National League for Democracy (NLD), a group who, in protest, refused to register itself as a political party in 2010.

Amnesty International demands the immediate and unconditional release of the more than 1,000 remaining "prisoners of conscience," individuals detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. While Myanmar has released at least 477 political prisoners since the 2010 elections, among them Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent more than 20 years under house arrest, the majority remain behind bars.

Political prisoners are regularly charged under vaguely worded laws in Myanmar, most relating to security or public order concerns, which allow excessively broad interpretation by the authorities. Prisoners are often subjected to torture, prolonged solitary confinement and other ill-treatment, including a lack of food, water and medical care

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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Note: Suzanne Nossel is available to provide analysis to the media.  Please contact Sharon Singh at 202.459.8703 or ssingh@aiusa.org to schedule an interview.