CSW urges UN Secretary General to prioritise human rights in Burma

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to press ahead with his planned visit to Burma next month, in light of the recent prison sentences passed on to pro-democracy activists and the continued military offensive by the Burma Army against civilians in Karen State.

CSW urging the Secretary-General to make the release of political prisoners in Burma a priority during his visit.

Over 80 democracy campaigners, including a poet, a blogger and several Buddhist monks, have been jailed within the last week. At least 23 dissidents were sentenced to 65 years in prison for their involvement in the peaceful demonstrations in Burma in September last year. The activists include members of the 88 Generation Students Group, including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi. They face 21 charges, and their trials continue, with the possibility of their prison sentences increasing to as much as 159 years in some cases. Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi have already spent many years in prison for their involvement in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising.

Some of those sentenced have been moved to prisons in remote parts of Burma, hundreds of miles from Rangoon, making it impossible for their families to visit them. Their increased isolation is likely to mean harsher prison conditions, including torture, and denial of medical treatment. There are serious concerns about the implications for their health.

Meanwhile, the Burma Army continues to attack villagers in Karen State. On 4 November one villager was killed and over 1,971 people were displaced following attacks in Mon Township. According to the Free Burma Rangers, at least 12 villages have been looted, destroyed and abandoned, rice fields and food stores destroyed, civilians shot at and villagers taken for forced labour.

CSW’s Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, said: “In light of the desperate deterioration in human rights in Burma, it is essential that the Secretary-General does not take the lack of progress as a reason to cancel his visit. On the contrary, the visits of UN envoys over many years have been shown to have failed and now it is time for the Secretary-General himself, with the full weight of his office, to visit Burma and seek to facilitate change."

CSW is calling on the UN Security Council to set out some "specific benchmarks for progress" which the regime must meet according to set deadlines. These include the immediate release of political prisoners, followed by an end to the military offensives against civilians in eastern Burma.

"The regime’s crimes against humanity have gone unchallenged for too long," said Thomas. "We believe the international community should seriously consider invoking the principle of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ with regard to Burma.”