'Myanmar should adopt UN envoy's reform calls'

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New York, Mar 8: The Myanmarese military government should adopt UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari's expected calls for an open and inclusive political process ahead of a planned constitutional referendum in May, according to Human Rights Watch.

On February 19, Myanmar's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) announced that a referendum on a new constitution would be held in May, with multiparty elections following in 2010. However, without input from the public and opposition parties, the process would fail to be a real step toward democracy, despite the government's claims.

Mr Gambari should tell the generals that marching a fearful population through a stage-managed referendum would not advance democracy or reconciliation in Burma, Asia director at Human Rights Watch Brad Adams said yesterday, on the eve of Mr Gambari's visit to Myanmar.

''A referendum under these repressive conditions will only cement in place continued military rule.'' Since announcing the referendum, the government issued Law No 1/2008, which denies voting rights to members of religious orders, including monks and nuns. It also imposes a three-year prison sentence on anyone found lecturing, distributing papers, using posters or disturbing the voting in any other manner in the polling booth or at the public or private place to destroy the referendum.

Provisions in the draft constitution bar candidates from running for president if they have a foreign spouse or child (such as detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi) and reserve a quarter of parliamentary seats for serving military officers.The New York-based rights body called on Special Envoy Gambari to seek guarantees from the government to convene an independent election commission, compile a proper voter registration list, lift longstanding restrictions on news media, permit freedom of association, expression and assembly in Myanmar, and revoke new regulations that criminalise legitimate debate about the referendum.

It also called upon Mr Gambari to secure access to Myanmar for the incoming UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country and permit the opposition political parties to meet with the special envoy. Following its brutal crackdown on protesters during August and September 2007, the SPDC promised Mr Gambari to set out clear steps to reform, and engage in dialogue with the domestic opposition and the international community.

On October 11, 2007, the UN Security Council urged the Myanmarese government to create the necessary conditions for a genuine dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all parties concerned and ethnic groups, in order to achieve an inclusive national reconciliation with the direct support of the United Nations.

On November 14, the Security Council expressed its expectation that a ''meaningful and timebound dialogue'' would take place, and called for the release of political prisoners, accounting for missing people, and humanitarian access to those in need throughout the country.


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