[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy websites] sent a joint letter [text] to the chairman of the Myanmar Prisoners of Conscience Affairs Committee on Friday to address concerns over the establishment of the committee and to offer recommendations. The government committee was reconstituted in January to resolve the remaining prisoner-of-conscience cases. The committee is composed of 28 members with a stated objective of “promptly carrying out prisoners of conscience affairs at the grassroots level.” AI and HRW expressed their hope that the committee will function to promptly release prisoners detained for the peaceful expression of their political opinions. The rights groups also encouraged the committee to put an end to arbitrary arrests and detentions in the country and stated that a failure to do so would suggest that the establishment of the committee was merely a political move to appease international criticism. An AI representative spoke [press release] to this concern:
This cannot become another toothless committee set up by the government to deflect criticism and create a smokescreen. The stakes are too high: general elections are only months away, and the government’s crackdown on peaceful activists is picking up pace.
The letter encouraged the committee to adopt transparent operations in order to ensure long-term credibility.
In the past year Myanmar has received criticism from international organizations and human rights groups. In January AI urged Myanmar to release all prisoners of conscience [JURIST report] after the release of Dr Tun Aung, a peaceful activist. In May HRW called on Myanmar to pass more protective media laws [JURIST report] and end arbitrary arrests of journalists, listing several journalists that had been arrested since December. In April Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] over the deteriorating human rights situation in the country’s Rakhine State [JURIST news archive]. Fortify Rights [advocacy website], an independent human rights group based in Southeast Asia, issued a 79-page report last February claiming evidence the Myanmar government ordered policy discrimination [JURIST report] against Rohingya Muslims.