Friday, December 14, 2007

Geneva:U.N. human rights body backs new probe of Myanmar

By Laura MacInnis
GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. Human Rights Council told Myanmar on Friday to prosecute those who committed abuses during a crackdown on peaceful monk-led protests and free Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners.

In a resolution adopted by consensus, the United Nations forum called on the ruling junta "to lift all restraints on the peaceful political activity of all persons" and "to release without delay those arrested and detained as a result of the repression of recent peaceful protests."

It also urged Myanmar "to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and to investigate and bring to justice perpetrators of human rights violations, including for the recent violations of the rights of peaceful protesters."

The 47-member-state Council said its special envoy for Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, should revisit the country and report back in March on the fall-out from the September suppression that captured international attention.

Myanmar criticized the resolution, backed by 41 countries including Britain, Germany, Canada and Korea, as "politicized."

"This clearly shows that Myanmar has been put under pressure by influential and powerful countries who have their own political agenda," Wunna Maung Lwin, Myanmar's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, told the Friday session.

Human rights groups welcomed the censure by the Council.

"This is a very positive thing," Juliette de Rivero of Human Rights Watch told a news briefing in Geneva. She said it was important for Pinheiro to return to the country "to do a more in-depth investigation of violations he has already identified."

Amnesty International said a second and longer visit to Myanmar could help Pinheiro carry out a full investigation of the circumstances before and during the crackdown, as well as reported abuses against ethnic minorities there.


In a report presented to the Council this week, denounced by Myanmar as "intrusive" and "misleading," Pinheiro said excessive force was used to quell the demonstrations, triggered by a 500 percent oil price rise in the former Burma.

The Brazilian professor, who visited Myanmar in November, said at least 31 people died and up to 4,000 were arrested in the clashes in which troops and riot police used tear gas, live ammunition, rubber bullets, smoke grenades and slingshots.

Pinheiro also reported accounts of bodies -- including those apparently of monks -- burned in suspicious circumstances during the crackdown, possibly in order to hide the total death toll.

Lwin said the independent envoy's report was based on unreliable sources, and flatly denied Pinheiro's suggestion that 1,000 people arrested during and after the clashes were still being detained, some in extremely difficult circumstances.

"We have been able to restore peace and stability and the situation is back to normalcy all over the country," he said.

Myanmar has repeatedly ignored calls for the release of Suu Kyi, whose opposition party won an election in 1990 by a landslide but was denied power by the military, which has ruled Myanmar since a 1962 coup. She has been detained for 12 of the last 18 years and many of her supporters have also been jailed.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Tim Pearce)

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