By Lisa Schlein - Geneva
09 June 2008
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(VOA News) - The U.N. Special Investigator into the Human Rights situation of Burma, also known as Myanmar, is calling for an investigation into the alleged killing of prisoners during the early days of Cyclone Nargis. The expert has submitted a report on violations in Burma to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, from where Lisa Schlein reports for VOA.
Photo AP: Tomas Ojea Quintana, 09 Jun 2008
Argentinian lawyer Tomas Ojea Quintana assumed his post as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on May 1. This was one day before Cyclone Nargis struck, leaving an estimated 134,000 people dead or missing.
He says this catastrophic event triggered a number of events, which have serious human rights implications. He says the day of the storm on May 2, about 1,000 prisoners in the town of Insein were forced inside a hall after their jail's zinc roofs were torn off.
He says many prisoners panicked and soldiers and riot police were called in to control the situation. He says they reportedly opened fire on the prisoners and a number were allegedly killed.
"It is not that they were trying to escape," said Quintana. "Under the Cyclone circumstances, they were trying to save their lives because apparently the Cyclone was hitting the prison. So, they were trying to save their lives. And, there are some reports that there are 30 or 40 perhaps, a number of killings in the situation in Insein prison."
Quintana is urging the authorities to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation to clarify the facts and identify the perpetrators of those arbitrary killings.
The U.N. investigator is calling for the government to free all political prisoners, starting with Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest.
Burma's military rulers deny they are holding political prisoners, but Quintana says he has received reports of people having been detained while protesting the recent constitutional referendum. He says they are among 1,900 political prisoners, including monks rounded up after protests last September.
Photo AP: Zarganar (file photo May'06)
He says he is worried about the arrest of the popular Burmese comedian Zarganar, who had been leading some of the relief efforts after the Cyclone.
"I am very concerned because I do not know, so far, about his whereabouts. I do not know if he is in detention in the police station or where. So, I ask for clarification from the government on that," said Quintana.
Quintana has sharp words regarding alleged obstruction of humanitarian assistance to the victims of Cyclone Nargis. He says under international human rights law, if a country cannot provide for the needs of its people, then other means have to be found to assist them. He says aid should be allowed to flow freely to the victims.