Burma: United Nations Working Group finds that the detention of human rights defender Mr. Htin Kyaw was arbitrary

Urgent Appeal

Geneva, February 5, 2014. In an opinion adopted at its 68th session on November 21, 2013, the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) found that the detention of Burmese human rights defender Mr. Htin Kyaw was arbitrary. The opinion was transmitted to the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT joint programme) on February 3, 2014.

On December 11, 2013, Burma’s President Thein Sein ordered the release of 41 political prisoners in a presidential amnesty. Among those freed was prominent human rights defender Mr. Htin Kyaw, leader of the Movement for Democracy Current Force (MDCF), an organisation that assists grass-roots communities in their struggle against land-grabbing and other human rights violations. He was re-arrested on the same day on sedition charges and eventually released in another presidential amnesty on December 31, 2013.

In its opinion, adopted when Mr. Htin Kyaw was still behind bars, the UN WGAD found that the latter had exercised his “right to freedom of opinion and expression and to freedom of association” by engaging in a peaceful protest against the eviction of some people from their lands. The UN WGAD noted that the Burmese Government did not challenge the peacefulness of Mr. Htin Kyaw’s protest.

The UN WGAD also stated that the Government acknowledged that Mr. Htin Kyaw had been arrested, detained, and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment under the Act on the Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession, and Article 505 (b) of the Penal Code. The UN WGAD found that those two pieces of legislation “fall below the standards of international human rights law, offending in particular articles 9, 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (UDHR).

As a result, the Working Group concluded that the deprivation of liberty of Mr. Htin Kyaw was “arbitrary, being in contravention of the said articles of the [UDHR]”.

The Observatory recalls that about 40 political prisoners remain behind bars and over 100 people, including farmers who peacefully protested against land confiscation, are awaiting trial on various charges, including trespassing and sedition.

“In line with the UN Working Group’s opinion, we reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release of all remaining human rights defenders and political prisoners in Burma ”, said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. “ The Government of Burma must stop prosecuting individuals who are merely exercising the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, he urged.

“The international community is looking at the changes in Burma with hopes but also anxiety as to their seriousness and speed of implementation. Demonstrated commitment to universal human rights standards and their implementation is the real litmus test for the authorities ”, said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock. “ The obligations flowing from the UN Working Group’s decision are now clear: the provision of reparation for the unlawful detention suffered, and the repeal of a set of legislation that lends to arbitrary forms of detention as recognised by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ”, he added in a comment on the decision.

For more information, please contact:
• FIDH: Audrey Couprie/Arthur Manet: +33 1 43 55 25 18
• OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: +41 22 809 49 39

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