Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Weekly Highlights: In the Face of Government Intransigence, Burma’s Students March On

 

26 January - 1 March 2015

Weekly Highlights

In the Face of Government Intransigence, Burma's Students March On

In Burma Partnership's 2014 end-of-year review, we identified the role of student unions in Burma's political affairs as one of the more notable and inspiring developments of 2014: "Burma's students were always at the center of major democracy movements throughout history – most notably in 1988 – and have now made a comeback." Furthermore, we declared that "it is the students that represent the greatest hope for the people of Burma – and the greatest threat to the Burma Government. It is vital that their progressive voice continues to be heard." Indeed, these forecasts have been borne out, as January 2015 has seen the student movement go from strength to strength.

The underlying catalyst for this burgeoning student movement – and wider public support for it – is the overwhelming conclusion that Burma's so-called reforms have now hit crisis point. Objections started with more "big picture" accusations that the political reforms initiated in 2011 have proven to be fake, accusations that are now crystallizing into fears that the national elections slated for later this year will be fixed, postponed or cancelled. More recently, students have honed in on specific issues, most notably education reform, land rights abuses, and violent responses to peaceful protests on the part of the authorities.

On 13 January, Action Committee for Non-violence and Justice, a working group of diverse youth organizations and networks, released this statement expressing their support for the students' boycott of the notorious National Education Law (NEL) in connection with the broader issue of education sector reform. Above all, they have called for meaningful dialogue between students, the Network for National Education Reform (NNER), the Burma Government and Parliament, and for all parties to refrain from violence. Then, on 23 January, 63 civil society organizations released a statement fully supporting the students' demands for amendment of the NEL, stating that "education sector reform during [the] transition period is very important and vital for the future of [Burma]." They also underscore the pressing need for dialogue, resolution and non-violence at this tense time.

On 24 January, following the expiry of the 60-day deadline for negotiation with the authorities, the main student representative body, Action Committee for Democratic Education (ACDE), released this statement highlighting 11 priority points for negotiation. ACDE comprises the All Burma Federation of Student Unions and University Student Unions, and was established during the nationwide student emergency conference convened on 12-13 November 2014 and attended by more than 500 students. At the conference, ACDE strongly condemned the NEL, which had been approved by the Burma Government and Parliament, and unanimously agreed to boycott it. The students demanded that the Burma Government initiate negotiations within 60 days and also include the Burma Parliament and the NNER in quadripartite talks.

After encountering various obstacles and obstructions, student representatives met government officials in Naypyidaw on 28 January and signed an agreement committing to these quadripartite talks. The talks regarding certain key preconditions for negotiating the 11 priority points were then held on 1 February in Rangoon. However the Burma Government did not agree to these preconditions, including refraining from taking legal action against the protesters and their supporters.

Meanwhile, the authorities have employed various methods of intimidation and harassment against the students and their supporters, including: (1) pressuring local monasteries not to accommodate the students as they pass through on their protest marches; (2) infiltrating marches and attempting to instigate violence from within; (3) temporarily detaining local supporters; and (4) physically attacking local supporters by throwing stones.

The students have resumed their protest marches however, while continuing to receive overwhelming support from local residents along the road, expressing their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, despite constant and explicit threats of arrest and violence. As in Hong Kong, government intransigence is being met with principled, determined and brave activism, as people find their voice and the courage to demand the democratic values and rights to which they are entitled under international law.

As stated most eloquently by the Coordination Committee of Myanmar Civil Society Organization Forum in their 30 January statement: "We strongly urge the international community, especially international governments and international non-governmental organizations operating in education and youth sectors providing either financial and/or technical assistances for education sector reform, to ensure that their assistances genuinely and effectively support the [NEL]'s compliance with democracy and human rights principles."

The negotiations continued on 1-2 February, yet as of 3 February the Burma Government has postponed further discussions without any agreement until after Union Day on 12 February.  The students are, and should be, the primary stakeholder of education reform. We stand with them and urge the Burma Government to take genuine steps towards meaningful dialogue. The international community – and particularly the donors of education sector reform – must recognize the legitimacy of the students' movement and ensure that their voices are the foundation for the promotion of democracy in Burma.

Burma Partnership's website now features updates from the student protests. Access the page here.

News Highlights

Burma Army issues a statement indicating that it will take legal action against anyone who stating that the Burma Army soldiers were involved in the case

 

Inside Burma

Main opposition party, the NLD call for an investigation into the murder of two Kachin school teachers in northern Shan State

In northern Shan State, thousands of people attend the funeral of the Kachin two girls raped and murdered by the Burma Army

Three Kachin men are missing in northern Shan State after being stopped by Burma Army soldiers while they were walking to work

Burma Army proposes 5.5% increase in national budget for the military

Government and ethnic armed groups to have a top-level meeting on Union Day next month

Burmese language daily edition of Mizzima, former exile news publication, to cease publication after main investor, Serge Pun, pulls out

Parliament begins to discuss the four controversial bills proposed in the name of protecting race and religion but vehemently opposed by rights groups

 

Regional

Thailand and Japan agree in principle to develop a railway that will link Dawei to the coast of Vietnam, via Thailand and Cambodia while a $1.7billion deal will be signed in March between Italian Thai Development Ltd and Rojana Industrial Park to develop an industrial zone as part of Dawei SEZ

Three Burmese migrant workers, including a 13 year old, were shot dead at a rubber plantation in Thailand

Rohingya activist, Aung Naing Win, is detained and beaten at Kuala Lumpur Airport while travelling to the ASEAN People's Forum in Malaysia

International

Burma establishes diplomatic ties with Ethiopia

Opinion

Myanmar Reneges on Effort to Free Political Prisoners
By David Scott Mathieson
Bangkok Post

Blame Game at Letpadaung
By Daniel Aguirre and Irene Pietropaoli
The Myanmar Times

Latest from the Blog

More Murders, Same Patterns as Burma Army Acts with Impunity
By Burma Partnership 

 

Actions

NLD holds candlelit vigils in 13 cities across Burma in memory of the two murdered Kachin teachers

 

Statements and Press Releases

အမ်ဳိးသားပညာေရးဥပေဒကိစၥ ညွိႏႈိင္းေဆြးေႏြးရန္ ေက်ာင္းသားမ်ား၏လႈပ္ရွားမႈမ်ားအေပၚ အရပ္ဘက္လူထုအဖြဲ႔အစည္းမ်ား၏ သေဘာထားေၾကျငာခ်က္
By 88 Generation Peace and Open Society

Burmese Human Rights Activists Detained At Airport, Banned from Entering Malaysia
By ACSC/APF 2015 Malaysian National Organizing Committee

2015 Palm Campaign: "Even Though I'm Free I Am Not"
By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

Burma's Rohingya: Violations of International Law Require International Investigation – New Briefing Paper
By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

British Government In Denial About Burma's Stalled Reforms - New Briefing Paper
By Burma Campaign UK

Myanmar: Further steps needed to end army's recruitment and use of children
By Child Soldiers International

Burma: Stop Christian cross Removal; Drop Trumped-up Charges
By Chin Human Rights Organization 

အမ်ဳိးသားပညာေရးဥပေဒကိစၥ ညွိႏႈိင္းေဆြးေႏြးရန္ ေက်ာင္းသားမ်ား၏လႈပ္ရွားမႈမ်ားအေပၚ အရပ္ဘက္လူထုအဖြဲ႔အစည္းမ်ား၏ သေဘာထားေၾကျငာခ်က္
By Coordination Committee for Civil Society Organizations Forum 

World Report 2015
By Human Rights Watch

Burma: Rights Heading in Wrong Direction
By Human Rights Watch

Burma: "Peaceful Assembly Law" Fails to End Repression
By Human Rights Watch

Myanmar Peace and Human Rights Consortium Condemn Ah-shin Wirathu's Employment of Hate Speech toward Ms. Yanghee Lee
By Myanmar Peace and Human Rights Consortium

ကခ်င္ခရစ္ယာန္ လုပ္အားေပး ဆရာမႏွစ္ဦးတို႔အား အဓမၼျပဳက်င့္ၿပီး လူမဆန္စြာ သတ္ျဖတ္မႈအေပၚ အမ်ဳိးသား ဒီမိုကေရစီအဖြဲ႔ခ်ဳပ္၏ ေၾကညာခ်က္
By National League for Democracy 

Religions for Peace Myanmar Statement on sexual violence against two Kachin teachers
By Religions for Peace Myanmar

Allegations of Ethnically Motivated Rape and Killing in Myanmar of Grave Concern
By UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General Zainab Hawa Bangura 

Reports

British Government Defends Burma Reforms: Burma Campaign UK Responds
By Burma Campaign UK

Burma's Rohingya: Violations of International Law Require International Investigation – New Briefing Paper
By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Under the radar: Ongoing recruitment and use of children by the Myanmar army
Child Soldiers International 

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International Campaign for Freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma