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AIPMC Welcomes Release of Political Prisoners, but More Still Needs to Be Done

By ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus  •  January 14, 2012

The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus welcomed recent, far-reaching release of political prisoners in Myanmar as a major step towards national reconciliation.

“The release of hundreds of prisoners of conscience is a major step towards national reconciliation in Myanmar and something we have all been campaigning for for years. But the government must allow for a comprehensive assessment of the numbers of political prisoners still behind bars and ensure all remaining political prisoners are released,” said Eva Kusuma Sundari, AIPMC President and Indonesian Member of Parliament.

“For those that have been freed, it is vital that all of those released are returned their full civil and political rights, in recognition of their illegal detention and to honour the President’s announcement that they are being freed so as to help support the ‘nation-building’ process.”

Current estimates of the number of political prisoners in Myanmar vary wildly, and it is generally regarded that no one knows the true number of prisoners of conscience there. It is important that international monitors be given access to Myanmar’s prisons so that they can verify the number of people imprisoned for exercising their rights and freedoms. This must be the next in a number of steps that are needed if the reform process is to truly move forward and give the international community the incentive and belief it needs to consider lifting economic and political sanctions.

“ASEAN and the international community, as well as local civil society, must continue to engage with President Thein Sein and encourage him in his reform efforts. I also hope to see more support from the National Defence and Security Council. With all the support of the international community and Myanmar’s neighbours, the once distant hope of a free Myanmar could become a reality,” said Sundari.

“The immediate thought from some must be that sanctions will now be lifted. By no means does anyone want to see sanctions continuing to cripple the economy of Myanmar, and it would be great to see aid money coming in to help the poorest and neediest people in Myanmar, but we must be realistic here; more needs to be done to ensure that when sanctions are lifted, everyone will be able to benefit and live freely under a new and open nation,” she added.

According to media reports, of the 651 prisoners released, 591 are prisoners of conscience – the remaining 60 are reportedly former military intelligence officials. Today’s releases were also carried out under Act 401(1) that gives the President the individual power to suspend sentences, whereas past amnesties have been executed under Article 204(b) of the constitution that goes through the National Defence and Security Council. This suggests that today’s unexpected and welcome event was under the initiative of the President himself and not the wider government. It also means that these prisoners have only had their sentences suspended, and not commuted.

“It’s wonderful that these courageous individuals can return home to their families and we all join them today in celebrating the return of their freedoms. But more still needs to be done. We must make sure that they and others like them are never persecuted, threatened and illegally detained again in the future; the people of Myanmar need real  and tangible guarantees that they are free to take part in the running of their own country once again,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, Vice President of AIPMC and Chair of the AIPMC Thailand Caucus.

Myanmar must also now move forward in legal terms, to review and change the laws that have been used to lock up its citizens for demonstrating their rights and freedoms under international law.

AIPMC also welcomed the signing of a ceasefire agreement with the Karen National Union this week. Again, AIPMC supports the government of President Thein Sein and its efforts to bring about widespread reforms. However, in light of ASEAN’s call for economic and political sanctions on Myanmar to be lifted, AIPMC urges the international community to continue to push for further, more lasting reforms before any such steps are taken. Recent ceasefires are welcome but they must be backed up by a genuine desire from all parties enter into constructive dialogue to help draw a united vision of a future Union of Myanmar that incorporates all the rights of all its various ethnic groups and peoples.

“While we sit here and welcome the ceasefires rolling in and the release of political prisoners, we must remind ourselves that in Kachin state, the Tatmadaw is currently waging the largest offensive in its history, with 130 battalions stationed in Kachin state and northern Burma. Fighting is intensifying rather than abating, and accusations of gross human rights abuses and contraventions of international laws are reported each passing day,” Kraisak said.

“Until the state enters into genuine dialogue with ethnic leaders, lasting peace will never be forthcoming. And without lasting peace, we will never have a free and open Myanmar,” he added.

For more information/ interview with AIPMC MPs, please contact: Agung Putri Astrid +62 81514006416

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