Press Release: Burma: Outlaw of the Burma Lawyers Council and harassment of its members

Press release

Paris-Geneva, May 5, 2009. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), firmly denounces the decision of the Burmese authorities to outlaw the Thailand-based Burma Lawyers’ Council (BLC), the campaign of defamation against BLC members in the Burmese press, as well as the arrest warrant issued against BLC General Secretary, as a workshop on Burma and the International Criminal Court (ICC) organised by FIDH and the BLC is currently being held in Bangkok, Thailand.

On April 30, 2009, the Burmese authorities issued Order 1/2009, which declares the BLC as an unlawful association, on the basis of the Unlawful Associations Act of December 11, 1908. This order comes along with a campaign of defamation in the Burmese press, qualifying the BLC as an “enemy of the State”, accusing BLC members, in particular those working on the ICC, to “violate the rule of law of Burma”, and threatening BLC members with imprisonment. Such actions were reportedly followed by the issuance on May 4, 2009 of an arrest warrant against Mr. U Aung Htoo, BLC General Secretary.

“I vehemently denounce these acts of harassment against the BLC and its members, which are blatant violations of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders that guarantees the right of everyone to form, join and participate in associations to defend human rights. I fear that such decisions might come as a means of retaliation by the military junta to the organisation by FIDH and the BLC of a workshop on Burma and the ICC, a workshop that is currently taking place in Bangkok” said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President.

Furthermore, “defamation of the activities of human rights defenders is a double crime that is particularly pernicious: on the one hand, it is a crime against victims who see their source of support unjustly questioned and their defence made fragile; on the other, it is also a crime against defenders themselves whose actions are discredited”, added Eric Sottas, OMCT Secretary General.

The Observatory calls upon the Burmese authorities to repeal Order 1/2009 as well as the arrest warrant against Mr. U Aung Htoo, and to ensure more generally that an end be put to any kind of harassment against the BLC and its members, in line with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

More generally, the Observatory urges the Burmese authorities to conform with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as international human rights instruments ratified by Burma.

For further information, please contact:

FIDH : Karine Appy, + 33 1 43 55 25 18

OMCT : Delphine Reculeau, + 41 22 809 49 39

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