The United Nations has ruled the continued detention of Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi violates the country's own laws as well as those of the international community, a legal document says.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has spent 13 of the last 19 years under house arrest, with the ruling junta yearly extending her detention despite international outcries.
"The latest renewal (2008) of the order to place Ms. Suu Kyi under house arrest not solely violates international law but also national domestic laws of Myanmar," said a legal opinion by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions that has been sent to the Myanmar government.
Although the ruling is unlikely to spring Suu Kyi from detention, it is uncommon for the world body to accuse a member country of violating its own laws, and while the junta has always marched to its own tune it has also resented being regarded as an international pariah.
The working group, an arm of the U.N. Human Rights Council, said Suu Kyi was being held under Myanmar's 1975 State Protection Law, which only allows renewable arrest orders for a maximum of five years. This five-year period ended at the end of May 2008. The opinion also questioned whether Suu Kyi represented a threat to the "security of the State or public peace and tranquility," the provision of the 1975 law authorities have pointed to as the reason for her continued detention.
Jared Genser, a Washington-based attorney retained by Suu Kyi's family who provided the document to The Associated Press, said while the United Nations group earlier found her detention arbitrary and in violation of international law, it was the first time it cited the junta as failing to abide by its own law.
He said the government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, has not responded to the U.N.'s legal arguments and has not commented on why Suu Kyi is still being detained.
Suu Kyi, who rose to prominence during a pro-democracy uprising in 1988, was placed under arrest before her party swept the 1990 general elections, which the junta did not recognize. Over the years, the government released her several times only to have her virtually isolated again in her compound in Yangon. The United Nations has for years attempted without success to bring about political reform and a dialogue between Suu Kyi and the military.
"I am under no illusion that the junta will be listening to the United Nations," Genser said in a telephone interview. "There is no quick and easy answer to the problem of Burma, so we have to take it one step forward at a time."
In Myanmar, the spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, Nyan Win, said over the weekend that her lawyer had sent a letter to Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein on March 13 asking for a hearing to appeal for her release when the one-year detention period expires in May.
The lawyer, Kyi Win, sent the appeal letter last October but has had no response from authorities, the spokesman said. "The reason for her detention is false because Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who advocates a nonviolence policy, has not caused any threat to public order," he said.
Nyan Win said every time Suu Kyi's detention is extended, authorities read out the order "but no explanation or reason was ever given for the extension or detention."
Asked if Suu Kyi's detention might be lifted in May, Nyan Win said, "It is very difficult to make any predictions as the government does not have a transparent policy."
Activist groups, under a Free Burma's Political Prisoners Now Campaign, are attempting to collect 888,888 signatures for a petition calling for the release of Suu Kyi and more than 2,100 other political prisoners.
The petition is to be sent to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The number "8" is regarded as highly auspicious by many Burmese. Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. Its leaders have scheduled elections next year that they say will lead to democracy. Critics say the balloting, held under a junta-orchestrated constitution, will merely perpetuate military control.