Myanmar: UNESCO chief deplores arrest of pro-democracy leader

Aung San Suu Kyi

20 May 2009 – The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has expressed his grave concern over the arrest and trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, coinciding with when her house arrest was due to end, to the leader of the ruling military junta.

In a letter sent today to General Than Shwe, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura did not pass judgment on the validity of the charges against her, but underscored that Aung San Suu Kyi – who received the 2002 UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence – plays a very important role in the country’s national reconciliation process.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who leads the National League for Democracy (NLD) and two aides were taken by security forces on 14 May to Insein Prison, where they were charged by a special court. They are said to have been charged with violating the terms of her house arrest, after an uninvited United States citizen gained access to their home, and her trial is currently under way.

Mr. Matsuura added his voice to the chorus of UN officials, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in calling for her immediate and unconditional release.

Last week, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay emphasized that “her continued detention, and now this latest trial, breach international standards of due process and fair trial.”

It had been hoped that Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, would be released when her current detention order, which has already continued for one year longer than the maximum of five years permitted under Myanmar’s laws, expires at the end of this month.

“The Myanmar authorities might claim Aung San Suu Kyi has breached the conditions of her detention, but they have broken both their own laws and their international human rights obligations,” Ms. Pillay stressed. “She should not be detained in the first place.”

Ms. Suu Kyi has spent over 12 years under house arrest. On 30 May 2003, she was re-arrested under a law which states that a person “suspected of having committed or believed to be about to commit, any act which endangers the sovereignty and security of the state” can be detained.

In May 2007, the Government extended her arrest for another year, bringing her detention to the five-year limit, and her detention was prolonged for sixth year last May.

Source: UN News Centre