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Burma: End Attacks on Protestors, Account for Monks

UN Envoy to Burma Should Press for Concrete Action During His Visit

(New York) - In its meetings with visiting United Nations envoy Ibrahim Gambari, Burma’s military government should pledge to end violence against peaceful protestors, account for hundreds of monks arrested this week, and allow access by independent observers to places of detention, Human Rights Watch said.

“Burma’s military government has shown contempt for the aspirations of the tens of thousands of people who have bravely taken to the streets demanding change,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But if the government does not cooperate with an envoy sent by the UN Security Council, it risks unprecedented international isolation.”

Human Rights Watch urged the government to provide information to Gambari, on the many reported human rights abuses committed during the course of the protests, including:

  • An accurate accounting of the number of individuals killed by the security forces. The government has admitted to 10 deaths, but credible reports suggest there have been many more;
  • The number of individuals arrested and their whereabouts, including members of the 88 Generation of Students arrested at the beginning of protests in August, members of the opposition National League of Democracy, and other activists; and
  • The whereabouts and conditions of the hundreds of monks apparently detained in the morning hours of Thursday, September 27.

Human Rights Watch also called on the government to end its newly imposed restrictions on mobile phones and the internet, which are critical to the dissemination of accurate information about events in Rangoon and elsewhere.

Gambari and diplomats should be given access to Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained opposition leader and Nobel laureate. It remains unclear whether she remains under house arrest or has been imprisoned.

The government should also allow an independent investigation into the killing of Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai. Photos suggest that Nagai was shot at close range by Burmese security forces on Thursday.

“Gambari should publicly demand the immediate release of all detained monks and activists,” said Adams. “He should also insist that independent organizations and diplomats be given access to all places of detention to ensure there is no mistreatment in custody. And he should be allowed to meet Aung San Suu Kyi.”

Human Rights Watch noted that Gambari’s previous visits and public statements have focused too heavily on dialogue between the government and the United Nations, and not enough on actions the government needs to take. In June, Gambari stated in a visit to India that it was important to “recognize positive steps taken by” the government. But as recent events confirm, it is difficult to identify any meaningful steps toward reform taken by the Burmese government, Human Rights Watch said.

“This time Gambari needs to speak in unambiguous terms, make clear demands, and express the world’s horror and anger at the actions of the Burmese government,” said Adams. “He should tell the generals that the age of impunity is over and that they will be held accountable one day if they continue with their abusive behavior.”

Human Rights Watch commended a strong statement made on September 27 by the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN). As chair of ASEAN, Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo said ASEAN foreign ministers “expressed their revulsion to [Burmese] Foreign Minister Nyan Win over reports that the demonstrations in Myanmar are being suppressed by violent force and that there has been a number of fatalities.” He also called on Burma’s government to “immediately desist from the use of violence against demonstrators.”

Human Rights Watch urged China, Russia, India and Japan to speak out clearly against human rights abuses in Burma and to use their influence to press the government to enter into genuine dialogue with the political opposition, ethnic groups and civil society. China, Russia and India failed to support an emergency special session of the UN Human Rights Council. The special session was approved Friday with the support of 17 council members, including Japan. While welcoming Japan’s support, Human Rights Watch expressed disappointment that Tokyo has continued to issue only mild statements of concern about the situation in Burma.

“While ASEAN has called a spade a spade, China, Russia, India and Japan do little more than issue bland statements calling for restraint,” said Adams. “Their calls for restraint have been deafened by gunfire, beatings and arrests in Burma.”

China, Russia and India have been major trading partners and arms suppliers of the Burmese government for several years. In January, China and Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution aimed at addressing the human rights situation in Burma. Japan is Burma’s leading aid donor.

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