TO THE UNITED NATIONS FROM THE
ASSISTANCE ASSOCIATION FOR POLITICAL PRISONERS (BURMA)
Secretary-General Kofi Annan
United Nations Headquarters
First Avenue at 46th Street
New York, NY 10017
15 July 2004
Dear Secretary-General Kofi Annan,
Warm greetings from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma). AAPP consists completely of former political prisoners, and helps fill a void which exists among other pro-democracy groups located on Burma's border.
When we were in prison, we heard about the series of resolutions that have been adopted by the United Nations General Assembly asking for the release of political prisoners, and encouraging the Burmese regime to take all necessary steps towards democracy.
Since we are now outside Burma, we have seen your efforts for us and we thank you for this. We note the following comment in your report to the fifty-eighth session of the General Assembly on "The human rights situation in Myanmar," August 28, 2003. You observed that:
"As a result of the events of 30 May and subsequent developments, the three-year-old home-grown process of national reconciliation, as understood by the United Nations, has come to a complete halt. The longer the detention of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders goes on and the longer the sustained absence of substantive political dialogue continues, the harder it will be to revive the process."
We agree with this. The 30th May incident, in which many people were killed and many other individuals were arrested, revealed the true nature of the SPDC. We believe much greater pressure from the international community is required if Burma is to become a democracy.
The will of the people is still denied. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house arrest. Political prisoners are still in prison. The arbitrary detention, torture, imprisonment without fair trial, forced labor, forced relocation, and killing are still significant. There is no rule of law or law and order in Burma.
We can see it clearly in the arrest of political prisoners. We would like to explain to you a little bit about how this occurs. Military Intelligence, the police, and the headman of the local ward knock on the door in the middle of the night, search the entire house for any evidence they assume to be destructive to the state and that they can use in their accusations, and frighten family members and neighbors, including children, with violent words and actions. Former and current political prisoners can provide evidence of such events in front of a United Nations sponsored international committee.
When a case is submitted to a court, to military courts in most cases which are presided over by military officers, the detainee is sometimes not permitted to hire a lawyer and defend his/her case under current laws. The verdict comes sealed in an envelope from military intelligence personnel and the judge needs only to read it out. No complaints, defense, or appeals are heard.
When they are sent to prison, they are beaten at the prison gate by the prison staff. They can face punishment in prison if they complain about the lack of water and poor quality of food, or stage a hunger strike. Moreover, they are kept in iron shackles in tiny cells for months and are not allowed to bathe, have family visits, and so on.
At present there are at least 1,500 political prisoners in Burmese prisons including women, students, elected Members of Parliament (from the 1990 democratic elections), members of the National League for Democracy, monks, nuns, and members of different ethnic groups.
Among them, we want to draw your attention to the following cases:
Min Ko Naing, a student leader in the 1988 popular democracy movement. He was arrested on March 23, 1989 and given 15 years imprisonment with hard labor (reduced in 1993 to ten years as part of a limited amnesty by SLORC, the predecessor of the SPDC). His imprisonment was completed in July 1999 according to the official statement to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) under the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. However, he is still in Sittwe prison, which is near the Bangladesh border. The current military regime regards him as a dangerous person to the country's peace and stability. He has been placed under the State Protection law since 1999. Not only Min Ko Naing but also over twenty other activists are detained under this law even though they have completed their sentences.
Another case is Daw Aye Myint Than and her daughter, Hnin May Aung. Both of them were arrested in 1998 and Daw Aye Myint Than was given 21 years imprisonment and her daughter 42 years imprisonment with hard labor. For the time being they are in Myaungmya prison. Daw Aye Myint Than is suffering from paralysis and high blood pressure. Even though she cannot walk, she is still in prison because she will not agree to sign a statement saying that she will not be involved in politics anymore.
We would like you to read part of a letter, from Daw Aye Myint Than.
"When MI knocked on my door to arrest me, my 6 year old son was sleeping. I felt great sorrow not to be able to say goodbye to him. Now he is 11 years old and traditionally it is time to enter novice hood. Because of my poor health, I am deeply concerned about getting him the chance to become a novice. As a mother, I am also worried for my other daughters. [Daw Aye Myint Than has two other daughters, Hnin May Aung and another daughter who is with her son.]
As a result of suffering from osteosclerosis, I might suffer a stroke. Then I would die in prison. However, I will never give up until I die, as a politician who is fighting not for myself but for the people."
The detention and treatment of Burma's prisoners of conscience violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the regime must abide by as a condition of UN membership, not to mention numerous other UN charters and conventions such as the Convention Against Torture, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, CEDAW and the CRC.
The above quote illustrates the strength of Burma's political prisoners. They deserve urgent action to secure their release. We therefore call on you to work on their behalf. As organizations such as The United Nations and the governments of other nations increase the pressure on the SPDC, improvements will be made in prison conditions and more political prisoners will be freed.
Finally, we request that you raise the issue of Burma in the Security Council. Burma must become democratic before 2006, when it is scheduled to head the regional grouping, ASEAN. The political prisoner problem in the country will never be solved, once and for all, until the nation is a democracy.
Thank you for your visit to our region, and for your concern for the people of Burma.
Web site: www.aappb.net