(The Irrawaddy) The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, said on Wednesday that the Burmese military government has not established
the conditions necessary for a credible election and urged the junta to release all political prisoners in advance of the election.
“The Government of Myanmar [Burma] has not yet responded to pleas from inside and outside the country for conditions that allow credible elections,” Quintana said in a UN press release.
“These elections are important for the people of Myanmar [Burma] and provide an opportunity for real improvement in the human rights situation. However, the government needs to ensure that these elections are credible—they must be open to full participation, they must be transparent, and they must be conducted in a manner that allows for free and fair choice by the people of Myanmar [Burma],” he said.
One of the main obstacles to a free and fair election with full participation is the fact that more than 2,000 political prisoners—including Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and members of the 88 Generation Students—are held in prisons across Burma, and the election laws forbid all of them from taking part in the election.
Quintana said that the release of prisoners of conscience would allow political parties that have decided against participation to reconsider, and would facilitate the active participation of all citizens in Burma’s first election since 1990.
After his last visit to Burma earlier this year, however, Quintana reported to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that political prisoners in Burma are not expected to be released ahead of the polls.
Bo Kyi, the joint-secretary of Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma, agreed that prisoners should be released but is not optimistic.
“All the political prisoners should be released so that they can take part in the political process,” Bo Kyi said. “I don’t anticipate general amnesty for the prisoners before the elections. But perhaps only a small number of prisoners who have almost served their terms would be freed just for show.”
Quintana said in the UN press release that the election laws do include some provisions for fair elections, such as the counting of votes in each polling station in the presence of the candidates, or their nominated agents, and members of the public.
But election commission decisions regarding political party activity are unchallengeable in any court of law, and Quintana expressed concern that the absolute powers granted to the election commission could impede the activities of political parties unless the Government guaranteed it would allow full freedom of expression and assembly.
The UN press release came the day before the Burmese election registration deadline, after which any political party that does not register will be dissolved. The NLD has already decided to face party dissolution rather than accept the Burmese regime’s controversial election laws and 2008 Constitution.