Wednesday, March 12, 2008

UN expert says unlawful arrests in Burma accelerating

GENEVA (AFP) - Some 1,850 political prisoners are behind bars as of January in Myanmar, as the government "accelerated" rather than stopped unlawful arrests, a United Nations report said Wednesday.

"Rather than stop unlawful arrests, the government had accelerated them," according to the report by UN expert Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, which said that initial indications by Myanmar's military junta of a willingness to address human rights abuses has "disappeared."

In the study to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday, Pinheiro said he continues to get reports of arrests made in relation to massive anti-government demonstrations last year -- even as a culture of impunity reigns in Myanmar.

According to information received, at least 70 individuals were arrested, with some 62 still detained since his last visit to Myanmar in November, said Pinheiro, who is ending a seven-year mandate as special rapporteur.

He also received allegations of abuse relating to the arrests, including death in custody and arrests without warrants, the study said.

The government crackdown on last year's August-September demonstrations, combined with increased military deployment in some ethnic areas have helped open "new fronts in the patterns of human rights abuses," the report said.

In economic and social sectors as well, there have been "marked signs of deterioration," said the study which also denounced "serious violations of medical neutrality."

Moreover violations of ethnic minorities, including extrajudicial killings, attacks on civilians and forced displacement continue to be reported in the eastern Myanmar state of Kayin, it said.

The report also described a culture of impunity as a key obstacle, with those perpetrating torture, forced labour, sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers often going unpunished.

Pinheiro's report is based on information from independent sources, since he has not been able to return to Myanmar for a follow-up mission since his five-day November visit.

The rapporteur urged Myanmar's junta to rapidly release all physically vulnerable political prisoners, saying it would be seen "as a good-faith gesture that would help to pave the way to democratization and reconciliation."

A separate report published by the US State Department Tuesday ranked Myanmar along with North Korea among the world's worst human rights violators.

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