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Myanmar Must Embrace Human Rights

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Myanmar's future must be rooted in respect for human rights, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, voicing his deep disappointment that the South-East Asian nation's Government refused his request to meet with Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar was one of the first United Nations Member States to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but "unfortunately, that commitment has not been matched in deed," Mr. Ban said in Yangon, at the end of his two-day visit to the country. "Myanmar's human rights record remains a matter of grave concern." He called on authorities to release all political prisoners - including Ms. Suu Kyi - without delay.

The Secretary-General said that Senior General Than Shwe's refusal to allow him to meet with Ms. Suu Kyi, whose trial is pending, shows that the Government "has lost a unique opportunity to show its commitment to a new era of political openness." He added that "allowing a visit to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would have been an important symbol of the Government's willingness to embark on the kind of meaningful engagement that will be essential if the elections in 2010 are to be seen as credible."

Myanmar's authorities have laid out stability, national reconciliation and democracy as their goals, and next year's polls, the first in two decades, must be "inclusive, participatory and transparent," Mr. Ban stressed in his address today to diplomats, UN agencies, and international and non-governmental organizations.

"Sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity are legitimate concerns for any government," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, underscoring that "opening and broadening the political space is the best way to ensure that each group and each individual becomes part of the greater collective project."

This visit to Myanmar was the Secretary-General's second since last May in the wake of the devastating Cyclone Nargis, which killed almost 130,000 people. In his speech today, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lauded the "unprecedented" cooperation between Myanmar, the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) through the Tripartite Core Group which he said showed that humanitarian imperatives and the principle of sovereignty do not conflict.

"Humanitarian assistance - in Myanmar as elsewhere - should never be held hostage to political considerations," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized. "We can and must work together to ensure access to humanitarian and development assistance to all those in Myanmar who need it." Mr. Ban, who met with Senior General Than Shwe yesterday and today, as well as Prime Minister Thein Sein, also urged Myanmar to lift millions of its citizens out of poverty by unleashing its economic potential. "The people of Myanmar need jobs, they need food security and they need access to health care," he said, calling on the country to "take advantage of the opportunities that the international community is prepared to offer."

Myanmar, the Secretary-General said, can only benefit from engagement and has stated many times that cooperation with the UN is the cornerstone of its foreign policy. "We ask it to match deeds with words," he said. "The more Myanmar works in partnership with the United Nations to respond to its people's needs and aspirations, the more it affirms its sovereignty."

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Lawrence J. Gist II is a dedicated pro bono attorney and counselor at law, adjunct professor of legal studies at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, CA, a member of the board of directors of the Institute of Indigenous Knowledges, and a veteran (more...)
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