A United Nations Human Rights Council working group on arbitrary detentions has issued a legal opinion criticizing Myanmar’s continued detention of local pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The ruling military junta, which has been in power since 1962, has confined Suu Kyi to her compound in Yangon for 13 of the past 19 years after refusing to recognize the victory of her party, the National League for Democracy, in the 1990 general elections.
The U.N. report found Suu Kyi’s detention to be in violation of both international law and the domestic laws of Myanmar. Although the U.N. group previously found her detention to be illegal under international law, the recent report marks the first time that the group has accused the junta of violating its own law. The report asserts that the 1975 State Protection Law, under which Suu Kyi has been held, only allows renewable arrest orders for a maximum of five years. Suu Kyi should therefore be released, the report contends, since this five year term ended in May 2008. The report further criticizes the junta’s designation of Suu Kyi as a threat to the “security of the State or public peace and tranquility,” the provision of the State Protection Law that has been used to justify her continued detention.
The junta has not issued a response to the report and Suu Kyi’s lawyer Jared Gesner is wary of the report’s potential to change Suu Kyi’s situation. “I am under no illusion that the junta will be listening to the United Nations. There is no quick and easy answer to the problem of Burma, so we have to take it one step forward at a time.” Others are more hopeful. The National League for Democracy has requested a hearing from Myanmar’s Prime Minister, General Thein Sein, and activist groups, under a Free Burma’s Political Prisoners Now Campaign, are circulating a petition calling for the release of Suu Kyi, which is to be sent to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
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