Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Weekly Highlights: Meaningful Dialogue on the National Education Law is the Burma Government’s Obligation


2 - 8 February 2014 

Weekly Highlights

Meaningful Dialogue on the National Education Law is the Burma Government's Obligation

In last week's blog, Burma Partnership examined Burma's burgeoning student movement, shedding light on the authorities' repressive response to the protests and setting the issue in the wider context of Burma's hollow political reforms. This week has seen no let-up, with the students continuing to dominate the headlines as support for them increases and the pressure steadily builds.

Of most concern to the Burma Government must be the fact that the protests are multiplying and spreading: no longer merely confined to Rangoon, the movement has seen students hailing from regions ranging from the Irrawaddy Delta to Tavoy in the southern Tenasserim Region join their fellow brothers and sisters in solidarity. Another significant development is that the ranks of the protest movement are swelling with those, such as monks, political activists and ordinary local residents from passing towns and villages, who want to declare their support.

The Burma Government must naturally be fearful of any student movement, given the spectacular country-wide success of the historic 1988 student protests against the former military government of General Ne Win. And yet it does not seem to have learnt the lessons of history. The more it tries to repress students, the more the protests spread and the more support they garner. There is a tragicomic inevitability and inexorability about the way that the actions of the Burma Government appear doomed to bring about precisely the outcome that they are trying so desperately to avoid. The universal fear is that, as in 1988, the authorities will start shooting; but, as yet, they are only shooting themselves in the foot.

But do they have any other option? Of course: if the authorities were to engage in meaningful dialogue with the students, to negotiate in good faith the 11 priority demands which the Action Committee for Democratic Education proposed in its 24 January statement, and to respect the fundamental human rights of students and all citizens of Burma, then the protests would naturally abate without the need to quell them with violence, without the need to resort to age-old tactics that will – and have never – worked.

For instance, the authorities are attempting to blame political activists and alleged troublemakers for fomenting unrest. Only last Thursday, the Government Information Committee announced on state television that political organizations and "so-called students" were responsible for the ongoing protests and were attempting to destabilize the country, subsequently threatening to expose and take action against them. This is disingenuous, and a signature response of authoritarian governments the world over. Not only do such responses fool no one; they also insult the intelligence and autonomy of the students. It is high time that the Burma Government tackled the substance of the issue, engaged with the students, amended the National Education Law to reflect their concerns, and respected human rights. Otherwise, the tension will continue to mount – to the detriment of the country's political health, economic development and moral standing.

A public announcement by the Ministry of Education that it would be amending the NEL at first glance looks like the first sign of compromise; however, it also included a stark warning that university examinations scheduled to start in late February would be held "without fail" – in other words, students must choose between their academic futures and exercising their fundamental right to freedom of assembly, their strongest point of leverage in defending their rights.

In fact, if the Burma Government were serious about a genuine transition to democracy – and one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise – it would realize that democracy is not a one-way street. Democratic governments govern on behalf of their people, and in response must accept its people's criticisms and praise accordingly, depending on whether they are doing their jobs properly and representing people's interests.

Furthermore, if the Burma Government were serious about courting votes before what is supposed to be Burma's first free and fair election since 1990 later this year, it would realize that it cannot afford to alienate so many of Burma's youth, the future of democracy in this country. Rather than panicking in the face of criticism and resorting to ever more authoritarian measures to quell protests, it has an obligation to listen to its people, and try to win them over the democratic way – before history repeats itself and blood is shed, inflicting another deep wound in the hearts of the people of Burma and pushing national reconciliation ever further away. Never has the Burma Government had a better opportunity to prove to the world that the leopard really has changed its spots.

News Highlights

The intelligence agency, Special Branch, moves from Police control to the Home Affairs Ministry, which is a military-designated ministry

Inside Burma

Lower house of Parliament agrees to a proposal to quickly pass a law to protect women against violence

Parliament passes a law that will allow 'white card holders' (temporary citizens including Rohingya) to be allowed to vote in an upcoming referendum on constitutional change prompting nationalists to plan a seven day protest march in opposition to allowing Rohingya to vote

Talks aimed at signing a nationwide ceasefire agreement between the government and ethnic armed groups fail to produce an agreement

Amid more clashes between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), attacks on civilians are also increasing, with the burned bodies of four dead Kachin men found near Muse while such clashes have caused the closure of many jade mines in and around Hpakant Township

Intense fighting between the Burma Army and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army Leaves at least 10 dead in northern Shan State

A new code of conduct is introduced by the Myanmar Garment Manufacturer's Association in an attempt to make factory owners comply with international standards


Labor dispute between Burmese workers of the Zawtika offshore oil and gas exploration platform and the Thai company, PTTEP, rumbles on


The Foreign Ministry criticizes the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee for using the term 'Rohingya', a statement she believes is 'hard to comprehend'

Royal Dutch Shell oil company signs a contract to explore three offshore gas and oil blocks

Australian MP crosses the border into Karen territory to celebrate Karen Resistance Day with the Karen National Defence Organization and pledges support for the Karen cause


The Rohingya Crisis in Burma has become a "Protracted, Squalid, Stateless, Status Quo"
By Oliver Griffin
The New Statesman

How the Military is still Fighting Democratic Transition in Myanmar
By Htun Aung Gyaw
The Nation

Latest from the Blog

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In Irrawaddy Region, locals block a land survey for a coal-fired power plant backed by Mitsubishi, promoting the Japanese company to invite locals to Japan to see how such plants operate there

Lawyer who defends the rights of farmers and was imprisoned after protesting against the judiciary starts a hunger strike after his bail application was rejected

Statements and Press Releases

Myanmar: Prisoner Committee Should Not be Smokescreen
By Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch

Joint letter on the Establishment of the Prisoners of Conscience Affairs Committee
By Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch

Rose-tinted Glasses Delivered to British Foreign Office- Burma Campaign UK
By Burma Campaign UK

ပညာေရးဥပေဒျပင္ဆင္ေရး ေတြ႕ဆံုေဆြးေႏြးပြဲ ရပ္ဆိုင္းျခင္းအေပၚ ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္
By CSO Forum Coordination Committee 

Myanmar: Prosecute Perpetrators, Not Human Rights Defenders Authorities Threaten Media & Critics for Implicating Military in Kachin Killings
By Fortify Rights

Indigenous local Nabule Residents Call Responsibility and Accountability for the Damages Caused by the Dawei Special Economic Zone Project
By Nabule Indigenous Youths


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