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Burma (Myanmar) : Still Far to Go
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) recently released a report on the status of political prisoners for the month of January 2013. The following guest blog post by the organisation details some of the main issues they encountered. It makes clear that while Burma has seen improvements over the past year human rights defenders still face an uphill struggle in their work.
As events unfolded throughout January it was clear that there is still far to go in terms of bringing Burma‘s judiciary into the twenty-first century. While some steps forward have been taken, the continued use of restrictive laws such as sections 18 and 19 of the penal code shows us that Burma has a long way to go to before it becomes the democracy it claims to be striving for.
Sections 18 and 19 refer to the peaceful assembly and peaceful procession laws that have been used to block rather than enable peaceful demonstrations. After twenty-five years the Government has lifted its restrictions on public gatherings. These sections of the penal code had been in place since 1988, when a military government took power after crushing pro-democracy protests.
Correspondents say an end to the ban has been demanded by the international community and has in practice been widely flouted at protests in recent years. The state-run Myanmar Ahlin newspaper said the law was being axed because it was not in line with the constitution. It quoted officials as saying that basic rights, such as freedom of expression, were now constitutionally guaranteed. However these fundamental human rights continue to be ignored. In December 2011, a “Peaceful Assembly Law” was implemented specifically allowing public protests.
However, permission must be obtained in advance, without which organisers are subject to penalties including prison terms. Several people have been arrested under the statute.
This month also saw Government and NGO officials gather in Nay Pyi Taw for a seminar focused on reforming the country‘s justice system, an important step in the overall reform process. The two-day ”Promoting Justice Sector Development in New Democracies” seminar, co-hosted by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Attorney General‘s Office, drew 180 participants to Nay Pyi Taw. “Justice sector development is crucial for the fundamental rights of citizens.” Attorney General Dr Tun Shin said in his opening address on January 24.
Myanmar has repealed a military decree used by the former Military Government to sentence dissidents to extended prison terms, state media reported this week, the latest step in the recently elected government's bid to edge toward democracy. Decree 5/96, enacted in 1996, laid out prison sentences of up to 20 years for anyone who wrote or delivered speeches that could undermine the "peace and stability of the nation." President Thein Sein, in a signed announcement in the New Light of Myanmar daily, a government mouthpiece, said that he was revoking the measure. There are however several similar laws still in place.
While there are calls from the Burmese Lower House for a ceasefire in Kachin, sporadic fighting is still going on.
This month also marked the long awaited return to Burma by two leading members of AAPP: Tate Naing and Bo Kyi. They returned to Rangoon this month 16 years after they formed the AAPP in exile.
During the trip, the two activists met with authorities in the hope of securing the release of political prisoners and the rehabilitation of former political prisoners. While they were able to return to Burma after having had their names removed from the blacklist, the two representatives commented ex-political prisoners still face many problems inside Burma.
Read more about the AAPP here.