[JURIST] A group of 112 former presidents and prime ministers signed a letter [press release and text, PDF] sent to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website] on Wednesday urging him to pay a visit to Myanmar [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] before year's end to press for the release of political prisoners there. The signatories, led by former Norwegian Prime Minister and current Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights [advocacy website] president Kjell Magne Bondevik [official profile], urged Ban go to Myanmar to lend credibility to an October 2007 UN Security Council presidential statement [text, PDF] calling for the release of political prisoners being held by the military government. Saying that the release of political prisoners is "a key benchmark to measure progress," the letter adds:
If the Burmese junta continues to defy the United Nations by refusing to make these releases by the end of the year, we urge you to encourage the Security Council to take further concrete action to implement its call for the release of all political prisoners. The Burmese people are counting on the United Nations to take the required action to achieve the breakthrough they desperately need to both restore democracy to their country and address the serious humanitarian and human rights challenges that they face.Ban has conditioned his visit [Irrawaddy report] to Myanmar on the prospect that negotiations would achieve significant progress. Among those signatories encouraging the prisoner release are former US Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, former British Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair [official profiles], former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev [Nobel profile], former Mexican President Vicente Fox [UN profile], former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi [official profile], former European Commission President Romano Prodi [BBC profile], and former Polish President Lech Wa??sa [Nobel profile].
Ban has previously expressed concern [JURIST report] over the severe sentences received by dissidents in Myanmar. A panel of UN experts led by Special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana [official website] has called for retrials [JURIST report] for dozens of activists, including leaders of the 88 Generation Students [BBC backgrounder] movement given 65-year sentences [JURIST report] in closed proceedings in November. Two journalists were sentenced to seven years [JURIST report] in prison this week for possession of an earlier Special rapporteur's report on Burma [text, DOC]. Despite the September release [JURIST report] of more than 9,000 political prisoners, human rights groups estimate that more than 2,100 Burmese remain imprisoned for their religious and political beliefs.