New Law ‘Shameful’

Burma’s pro-democracy leader takes aim at a new law, as a U.S. report slams the country on human rights.

BANGKOK—Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has called the junta’s new election law “shameful,” her lawyer Nyan Win said, as the U.S. State Department sharply criticized the regime in its annual human rights report.

“She said the laws include certain facts that show it was obviously meant for one individual and that makes it very shameful. It cheapens the legislation,” Nyan Win said in an interview.

Under new election legislation, Aung San Suu Kyi—a Nobel Peace laureate and leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party—cannot stand in elections this year on the grounds that she is a serving prisoner.

The legislation prompted an international outcry, with Washington saying it won’t recognize the outcome of the polls, scheduled for later this year.

“We made clear that, given the tenor of the election laws that they’ve put forward, there’s no hope that this election will be credible,” U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, adding the laws make the election a “mockery of the democratic process.”

The junta published a law Wednesday that stated 2,000 imprisoned dissidents cannot participate, effectively sidelining Aung San Suu Kyi.

It hasn’t set a date for the election. The last polls in Burma occurred 20 years ago but the NLD was barred from taking power despite a landslide victory.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been in prison or under house arrest in most of the years since then.

“Our engagement with Burma will have to continue until we can make clear that the results thus far are not what we had expected and that they’re going to have to do better,” Crowley said, referring to recent U.S efforts to engage Burma after decades of sanctions.

New law ‘unjust’

Benjamin Zawacki, Burma researcher for Amnesty International, said the new law targets all political prisoners in Burma.

“Amnesty feels that this new law essentially throws salt into the wounds of the political prisoners. These political prisoners should never have been detained in the first place and now, of course, it further deprives them of their political rights by not allowing them to be part of a political party,” he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi “is a prisoner of conscience. She should never have been detained in the first place. This law is clearly designed to prevent her from being any part of the NLD or, perhaps, for the eventual disbanding of the NLD.”

Record assailed

Britain and the Philippines—which is a partner with Burma in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—also voiced criticism.

“Unless they release Aung San Suu Kyi and allow her and her party to participate in elections, it’s a complete farce and therefore contrary to their roadmap to democracy,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo told The Associated Press.

Burma has signed international conventions and treaties but has consistently failed to honor pledges to improve its human rights record or carry out democratic reforms.

The Burmese junta has also been accused of persecution of the country’s ethnic minorities, sparking a continuing exodus. Some 140,000 refugees live in camps along the Thai-Burma border, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

In its latest report on human rights worldwide, issued Thursday, the U.S. State Department said that Burma’s 54 million people are “ruled by a highly authoritarian military regime dominated by the majority ethnic Burman group.”

“Military officers wielded the ultimate authority at each level of government…The regime continued to abridge the right of citizens to change their government and committed other severe human rights abuses,” the report said, citing alleged irregularities in a 2008 referendum including voter intimidation and ballot stuffing.

“Government security forces allowed custodial deaths to occur and committed extrajudicial killings, disappearances, rape, and torture. The government detained civic activists indefinitely and without charges. In addition regime-sponsored mass-member organizations engaged in harassment, abuse, and detention of human rights and pro-democracy activists.”

“The government abused prisoners and detainees, held persons in harsh and life-threatening conditions, routinely used incommunicado detention, and imprisoned citizens arbitrarily for political motives. The army continued its attacks on ethnic minority villagers,” the report said.

Original reporting by Kyaw Min Htun for RFA’s Burmese service. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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