Five prominent rights experts associated with the United Nations have today let it be known that fundamental reforms in Burma are necessary prior to the scheduled 2010 general election, if the poll is to stand any chance of being recognized as free and fair.
Issued from Geneva, as Burma's courts continue to sentence waves of activists and dissidents to lengthy prison terms, the called for reforms take as their basis the four points urged upon the Burmese junta by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to the country, Tomas Ojea Quintana.
Identified by Quintana, the reforms include: a comprehensive review of national legislation to ensure its compliance with international human rights standards, the release of political prisoners of conscience and reform of the armed forces and the judicial system.
"The UN experts strongly urge the Myanmar [Burma] authorities to cease harassing and arresting individuals for peacefully exercising their internationally recognized human rights," iterate the United Nations representatives.
The five individuals especially pointed to the need for detainees to be granted open and fair trials with the right to defence counsel.
"The closed-door hearings are being held inside prisons by courts which lack independence and impartiality. Three of the defence lawyers have been sentenced to several months of imprisonment for contempt of court," note the rights experts.
Joining Quintana in the signing of the document, were Special Rapporteurs: Leandro Despouy – independence of judges and lawyers; Frank La Rue – freedom of opinion and expression; Margaret Sekaggya – situation of human rights defenders, and; Asma Jahangir – freedom of religion or belief.
The sudden surge of sentences handed down to opposition activists is widely understood to be a move on the junta's part to deflate and mitigate domestic opposition in the run-up to the 2010 general election – the first the country will hold in twenty years.