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Political Prisoners in Burma – A Crime Against Humanity

By Burma Campaign UK  •  March 10, 2011

Burma Campaign UK today publishes a new briefing, ‘Political Prisoners in Burma – A Crime Against Humanity’. The briefing finds, based on international law, that the detention and treatment of political prisoners in Burma should be investigated as a crime against humanity. It calls on governments to support the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma, and for the detention and treatment of political prisoners to be included in the remit of such an inquiry. The briefing finds that five possible crimes against humanity are being committed against political prisoners in Burma.

To coincide with the publication of the briefing, Burma Campaign UK is today holding protests at six London Embassies of European countries. 10thMarch is the 44th birthday of Ko Mya Aye, a political prisoner in Burma whose detention could be defined as a crime against humanity. His daughter, Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, will lead the protests, demanding to know why the six European countries have so far failed to support a UN Commission of Inquiry. The six are Sweden, Latvia, Luxembourg, Norway, Germany and Denmark. Wai Hnin will be handing in a letter to each embassy. So far ten European countries have publicly supported a UN Inquiry.

Five acts defined as crimes against humanity could apply to the detention and treatment of political prisoners in Burma. These are:

  • 7(e) Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law
  • 7(f) Torture
  • 7(h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within jurisdiction of the Court
  • 7(i) Enforced disappearance of persons
  • 7(k) Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.

The Briefing details how each of these are taking place in Burma. The scale of detention of political prisoners can also be described as widespread and systematic, a criteria for crimes against humanity. As the dictatorship has shown that it is unwilling to act to end or to investigate breaches of international law, the international community has a responsibility to act. This should include the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry.

“The detention of my father breaks international law, it is a crime against humanity”, said Wai Hnin, Campaigns Officer at Burma Campaign UK. “Those European countries which have failed to support an inquiry should be ashamed. My father will die in jail if action isn’t taken. I don’t want to hear sympathetic words from European governments, I want action. The European Union must support a Commission of Inquiry.”

The briefing is available here.

About Ko Mya Aye

10th March is Ko Mya Aye’s 44th birthday. A leader of the 88 Generation Students, he has been in jail since 2007 for his role in the uprising that year. The UN has ruled that his detention is arbitrary and illegal. There are more than 2,067 political prisoners in Burma.

Ko Mya Aye is currently serving a 65 year jail term. He is being denied medical treatment for a life threatening heart condition. In January 2011 the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that his detention is arbitrary and breaks international law.  The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Burma has also raised concerns about the detention and treatment of Ko Mya Aye. The dictatorship claims that there are no political prisoners in Burma, and has ignored repeated calls from the UN to release all political prisoners.

The UN Call for an Inquiry

It is now a year since the UN Special Rapporteur on Burma stated that the UN should consider establishing a Commission of Inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the dictatorship. In October 2010 he went further, stating; “Failing to act on accountability in Myanmar will embolden the perpetrators of international crimes and further postpone long-overdue justice.” In March 2011 he again repeated his call for a UN Inquiry.

Support for a UN Inquiry

Details of countries supporting a UN Inquiry can be found in Burma Briefing No. 7, available here.

Protest at six European Embassies
Meet: 11am sharp, outside The Globe Pub, Opposite Baker Street tube station. Don’t be late!
First stage: walk together to Swedish and Latvian Embassies, hand in letter and short protest. Back to Baker Street tube approx 11.30am.
Public transport to Hyde Park Corner.
Second Stage: Approximately 12 noon. Walk together to embassies of Norway, Luxembourg, Germany and Denmark.
Ends: Approximately 1pm.

Download the briefer here.

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