UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] announced on Saturday that he hopes to visit Myanmar soon, after meeting [UN News Centre report] with President Thien Sein [BBC backgrounder]. Ban also congratulated Sein on the country's strive toward democracy, as well as its naming as new chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) last week urged Sein to release political prisoners [JURIST report]. In an open letter to Sein published in three state-owned newspapers, the MNHRC indicated that domestic and international support would follow the prisoners' release. Sein had granted amnesty to 6,359 prisoners in October following a similar open letter issued by the MNHRC. Ban welcomed the release of political prisoners by Sein last month, while urging the government to release all political prisoners [JURIST report] in accordance with the rule of law. It was also announced last week that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official website] would be visiting the nation next month. Ban's visit will be finalized within the next few months.
Last month, US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell indicated that Myanmar's civilian-led government was planning dramatic changes including releasing hundreds of political prisoners [JURIST report] and consequential dialogue with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Myanmar has sought to improve its international reputation following a transfer of power from a military regime to a civil system in March after holding its first elections in 20 years. Myanmar's government formed the MNHRC [JURIST report] in September to promote and safeguard the country's constitutional rights. In August, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana urged the government of Myanmar to investigate human rights abuses [JURIST report] and improve its rights record. In May, Myanmar began releasing as many as 15,000 prisoners [JURIST report] as part of an amnesty program after a visit from a special envoy from the UN secretary-general, but rights groups claim the government has not gone far enough.