Myanmar’s referendum a ’sham process’: rights group

May 1st, 2008 - 11:26 am ICT by admin  

Bangkok, May 1 (DPA) Myanmar’s planned constitutional referendum was labelled a “sham process aimed at entrenching the military” Thursday by Human Rights Watch, which urged the international community to reject the outcome. The New York-based right group said conditions for a free and fair referendum May 10 do not exist because of widespread repression, media censorship, bans on political gatherings, the lack of an independent referendum commission and courts to supervise the vote, and a pervasive climate of fear created by the ruling junta in the run-up to the election in the country also known as Burma.

“The Burmese generals are showing their true colours by continuing to arrest anyone opposed to their sham referendum and denying the population the right to a public discussion of the merits of the draft constitution,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “International acceptance of this process will be a big step backward.”

Since the announcement of the referendum in February, the Myanmar military government has detained at least seven opposition activists in Yangon for staging a “vote no” campaign, Human Right Watch said.

Citing a group assisting Myanmar political prisoners on the Thai border, it said 70 activists have been arrested around the country from April 25 to 28 while trying to campaign against the proposed constitution.

In February, the junta enacted a law threatening anyone who publicly criticised the referendum with three years in prison and a fine.

“The generals expect the Burmese people to just shut up, follow their orders and approve the draft constitution without any discussion or debate,” Adams charged.

It took 14 years for a military-appointed forum to draft the constitution, which would essentially legitimise the military’s dominant role in any future government.

Under the draft charter, 110 members of 440-seat lower house, or People’s Parliament, and 56 members of the 224-seat upper house, or National Parliament, would be selected by the military.

Control of this 25 percent of both houses would effectively bar amendments to the charter that might threaten the military’s dominance, observers have noted.

For an amendment to pass, it would require more than 75-percent support.

The draft constitution also includes restrictions excluding many opposition politicians from running for office and a clause that effectively prevents National League for Democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from holding any elected office because she is the widow of a foreigner.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar independence hero Aung San, has spent 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest.

Human Rights Watch called on the international community not to give any credibility to the referendum process and insist on real reform from Myanmar’s military rulers.

“This referendum and the draft constitution it seeks to impose on the Burmese people are designed to forever entrench more of the same abusive rule that Burma has endured for nearly half a century already,” Adams said.

“The Burmese junta’s friends, including China, India and Thailand, should not give any credibility to this process. If they do, it will simply expose them to ridicule for having said they were committed to democratic change in Burma.”

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