UN human rights envoy visits Myanmar prisons

Yangon – United Nations special rapporteur for human rights, Tomas Ojea Quintana, was allowed to visit Yangon’s notorious Insein prison Monday, security sources confirmed.
Quintana, who arrived in Myanmar Saturday, travelled to the Karen State on Sunday where he visited Hpa-An prison, where a 28 year-old Burmese blogger named Nay Phone Latt is serving a 20-year prison term, according to sources who asked for anonymity.

Upon his return to Yangon on Monday, Quintana met with foreign diplomats and then went to Insein prison, where hundreds of political prisoners of the military-ruled state are being held.

On the eve of Quintana’s arrival in Yangon on Saturday, Myanmar’s junta sentenced two well-known political activists to 15 years in jail.

The opposition National League for Democracy said Saturday that two of its members, Nyi Bu and Tin Min Htut, had been punished by a closed court session Friday for sending an open letter to the UN in August that was critical of the military’s plans to set up a civilian government.

Quintana wants to meet arrested opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners following a series of lengthy jail terms against scores of critics of the military and ahead of a general election scheduled for next year.

The UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari – who most recently visited Myanmar a week ago – has notably failed to induce the ruling generals to bend even slightly in the direction of compromise. Suu Kyi even refused to see Gambari on an earlier visit because she was so dissatisfied with his efforts.

Quintana will attempt during his five-day visit to persuade the regime to improve core human rights. Among the steps he will encourage are progressively releasing ‘prisoners of conscience,’ giving independence to the judiciary, bringing laws into line with international human rights standards and training officials to respect these rights, according to a statement released by the UN in Geneva.

After his visit to the Karen State, home to one of the world’s oldest insurgencies and countless documented reports human rights abuses by the government, Quintana is scheduled to visit the Rakhine (Arakan) and Kachin states, where local opposition movements have complained of repeated harassment by the authorities.

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