Myanmar in dock at UN rights body

Amid a climate of terror, the noise and bustle of everyday life has returned to Myanmar Keystone

The Swiss ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva has demanded the immediate release of peaceful protestors and political prisoners in Myanmar.

This content was published on October 2, 2007 - 21:49

Blaise Godet was addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which on Tuesday condemned Myanmar's "violent repression" of protests and called on the junta to allow its investigator to visit for the first time in four years.

The 47-nation UN human rights watchdog was holding a special session on the troubled southeast Asian country at the request of the European Union.

Myanmar has said that ten people died in its recent crackdown on the biggest pro-democracy protests in 20 years, but Western governments believe the true death toll is much higher.

Godet informed the Council of alarming information coming from Myanmar concerning torture, sexual violence, summary executions and deaths in detention.

"We remind the authorities that they are answerable for the physical and moral integrity of those arrested," Godet said.

The Council adopted by consensus a resolution presented by the EU deploring beatings, killings and arbitrary detentions during recent unrest and calling for an investigation into the violations.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, told the Council's special one-day session that he was ready to investigate and report back to the 47-member state forum.

"Light must absolutely be shed on what happened in Myanmar," he said. "It's time for the government of Myanmar to respond to this truly universal appeal from this historic meeting."

Pinheiro's last mission in Myanmar was four years ago.

Humanitarian situation

Switzerland also expressed concerns about the humanitarian situation in Myanmar and asked the government there to authorise the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to resume all its activities throughout the country.

Also addressing the emergency session, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour urged Myanmar's junta to give full account of people killed and injured in protests as well as the whereabouts of those arrested.

Arbour said the Myanmar authorities "should no longer expect that their self-imposed isolation will shield them from accountability".

The Human Rights Council lacks enforcement powers, and is limited to focusing global attention on human rights offenders.

The EU led the move for the special session by the Geneva-based rights organization following discussions in the Security Council and the General Assembly in New York.

As the council convened, UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari met Myanmar junta chief Than Shwe and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday at the end of a four-day mission to Myanmar.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Myanmar, formerly Burma, has been under military rule since 1962.

A massive hike in fuel prices last month sparked almost two weeks of sustained popular protest which were halted when police and soldiers moved against protesters late last week.

The UN says the junta has more than 1,100 political prisoners. An unknown number of protestors have been detained.

Nobel peace laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 11 of the past 17 years.

ICRC staff have not visited her since September 2003.

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Switzerland and Myanmar

The Swiss foreign ministry is advising citizens not to travel to Myanmar in the current situation.

The ministry previously called on Swiss citizens to stay away from street protests against the military rulers.

There are currently about 50 Swiss residents in Myanmar and the foreign ministry said it is in contact with the Swiss community.

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