UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] urged Myanmar to release political prisoners in a meeting Monday with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [JURIST news archive] and a Myanmar government minister, according to a statement [text] by Ban's spokesman. Ban was satisfied with positive developments made in the meeting with Suu Kyi and the Minister for Social Welfare U Aung Kyi. Suu Kyi recently called on the international community to help improve workers' rights in an address to the International Labor Organization (ILO) [official website] at its annual conference. She said the workers rights linked to the prisoner situation in Myanmar. Ban's spokesman said:
The Secretary-General encourages such contacts and dialogue. It will be recalled that his Special Adviser, had meetings with [Suu Kyi and Aung Kyi] during his recent visit to Myanmar. In line with the international community's expectations and Myanmar's national interest, the Secretary-General hopes such efforts will continue with a view to building mutual understanding through genuine dialogue. He also calls upon the Government of Myanmar to consider early action on the release of political prisoners in that country.Myanmar underwent a transfer of power [BBC report] from a military regime to a civil system after holding its first elections in 20 years. But many critics argue the new regime is a sham since a party close to the military regime won with 80 percent of the vote. Last November, Myanmar's government released Suu Kyi, ending her almost eight years under house arrest.
Last month, Myanmar began releasing as many as 15,000 prisoners as part of an amnesty program after a visit by the UN secretary-general's envoy to Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar [official profile], who called on the country to release its political prisoners. But few of the prisoners being released by the government are political prisoners. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] called the move a "pathetic response" to calls from the international community. Last December, a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] expert Tomas Ojea Quintana [official profile; JURIST news archive], a UN Special Rapporteur, urged Myanmar's military government [JURIST report] to release 2,202 political prisoners. Quintana called for the release of the "prisoners of conscience," many of whom, he says, suffer from health problems as a result of the harsh detention conditions. Quintana claims the release is necessary to promote democracy. Ban hailed Suu Kyi's release and encouraged the country to release all political prisoners [press release]. Suu Kyi's release came days after the Myanmar Supreme Court rejected an appeal [JURIST report] challenging the conditions of her house arrest.