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Burma/Myanmar's Prisoners of Conscience Affairs Committee needs urgent reform

20 April 2015

On the eve of the first anniversary of the death of U Win Tin, 23 organisations today call for urgent reform of Burma/Myanmar’s Prisoners of Conscience Affairs Committee.

On 21st April, people around the world will be wearing a blue shirt or blue clothing in memory of U Win Tin, who served nearly 20 years in jail as a political prisoner. U Win Tin famously pledged to wear a blue shirt, the same colour shirt he had to wear in prison, until all political prisoners in Burma were released.

U Win Tin, a journalist and founding member of the National League for Democracy, was one of Burma/Myanmar’s longest serving political prisoners, describing his time in jail from 1989 until 2008 as living in hell.

On the first anniversary of the death of U Win Tin, at least 173 political prisoners remain in Burma/Myanmar’s jails, with a further 316 activists awaiting trial.  The number of political prisoners has risen by almost 600 percent since the start of 2014.

Despite hundreds of political prisoners being released from 2011 to 2013, repressive laws remain in place, and new repressive laws, such as the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, have been introduced. These laws are being used by the government to intimidate, arrest and jail political activists and peaceful protestors.  President Thein Sein did not keep his promise to release all political prisoners by the end of 2013. A new committee formed by the government of Burma/Myanmar to address the issues of political prisoners, the Prisoners of Conscience Affairs Committee, excludes key civil society organisations, including the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma, the main organisation which works on political prisoner issues.

Fundamental reforms to the Prisoners of Conscience Affairs Committee are needed if it is to start to address the decades-long problem of political prisoners in Burma/Myanmar.

We call for ten key reforms to the Prisoners of Conscience Affairs Committee.

A reformed Prisoners of Conscience Affairs Committee should:

1.    Review the cases of all those charged or deprived of their liberty simply for the peaceful exercise of their human rights, with a view to securing their release and having the charges against them dropped;

2.    Review all laws used to charge and detain political prisoners, and recommend to Parliament the repeal or amendment of all such laws to bring them in line with international human rights law and standards;

3.    Formulate and present recommendations to the relevant authorities aimed at ending the abuse of the criminal law to fabricate criminal charges against individuals for politically motivated reasons;

4.    Ensure that all conditions attached to the release of political prisoners are lifted;

5.    Provide support and assistance to former political prisoners and their families by ensuring that they have effective access to restitution, compensation, assistance in gaining access to education and employment opportunities and other forms of rehabilitation to enable them to resume a normal life.

6.    Share with the public its mandate, its terms of reference, and operational procedures, and publish regular activity reports;

7.    Be properly resourced, receive appropriate support and co-operation from government offices, and be given access to prisons, prisons’ records and the authority to question relevant state officials;

8.    Invite a sufficient number of additional members to join the Committee who are selected according to objective and relevant criteria, including their independence and expertise in human rights issues, so as to ensure that the Committee overall has adequate gender and ethnic representation, as well as expertise on gender issues and children’s rights. The Committee should be comprised of a wide range of stakeholders, including former political prisoners and their representatives;

9.    Ensure resources are provided to build the human rights capacity of Committee members and seek technical assistance and advice from external experts in this regard;

10.    Ensure the Committee’s programme of work is developed in consultation with former political prisoners, their families and representatives, and takes into account the different experiences of women and men.

The greatest tribute to the memory of U Win Tin would be to achieve his dream of the release of all political prisoners in Burma/Myanmar. We believe these reforms to the Committee would be a positive step towards achieving that goal.

Signed by
Actions Birmanie
Action Committee for Democracy Development (ACDD)
All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress (AASYC)
Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) AAPP
Association Suisse-Birmanie
Burma Action Ireland
Burma Campaign UK
Burma Link
Burma Partnership
Canadian Burma Ethnic Nationalities Organization (CBENO)
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Fortify Rights
Forum for Democracy in Burma
Free Burma Campaign (South Africa)
Info Birmanie
Inter Pares
Network for Democracy and Development
Norwegian Burma Committee
Society for Threatened People
Students and Youth Congress of Burma
Swedish Burma Committee
US Campaign for Burma