Monday, March 16, 2015

Weekly Highlights: Following Vicious Student Crackdowns, EU Must Stop Training Thugs

 

9 - 15 March 2015

Weekly Highlights

Following Vicious Student Crackdowns, EU Must Stop Training Thugs


Burma has once again been in the international headlines for all the wrong reasons. Rather than making headlines for, say, realizing a sustainable peace settlement between the Burma authorities and the country's various ethnic nationalities, or blazing a trail with genuine political reforms in the lead-up to supposedly historic and seminal general elections, Burma has reverted to type. On 10 March 2015 police launched a violent and cold-blooded crackdown on student activists in Letpadan, Bago Region, brutally assaulting students, monks, ambulance workers and journalists, and arresting scores more. Their "crime" – protesting against the undemocratic National Education Law. The same day, another group of protestors was forcibly dispersed in Rangoon. Their "crime" – protesting against the violence in Letpadan.

The grim details tell a shocking story of callousness, cruelty and chaos: medical workers beaten by police through the open doors of ambulances as they attended to the wounded; journalists attacked and arrested for recording police violence, despite wearing press badges to identify themselves; students hit with batons and stamped upon even after they had been detained;monks arrested merely for supporting the student protestors and giving them sanctuary in the Aungmyay Beikman monastery in Letpadan; and protestors dragged out of houses where they had been sheltering from the violence and arrested by police going around the local area door-to-door.

The fall-out over the last few days since the 10 March crackdown has only exacerbated the anger, fear and confusion that has now descended on Burma once again. Monks have come out to denounce government claims – lies – that they apologized for their actions and promised not to engage in any political activities again in the future. Furthermore, while some of the potentially hundreds of students and supporters arrested in Letpadan (the official figure is 127) have since been released from prison, many are still detained, with the Ministry of Information vowing to "take action" against the "masterminds" of the student protests.

Such language betrays the mindset of the Burma Government: it sees the students and anyone who supports them as criminals, simply because they are questioning government policies and actions – in this case regarding educational reform. This attitude is not only dangerous, immoral and undemocratic, but also completely delusional and illegal: in fact, by ensuring that their protests passed off peacefully, the students stayed on the right side of international law. They were merely exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Articles 19 and 20, respectively) and protected by the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights  (Articles 19 and 21) – just like many protestors over the past three years, including workers protesting against unfair wages and working conditions and farmers protesting against their land being grabbed. Any unreasonable steps to restrict freedom of expression and assembly are illegal, while any violence perpetrated by the police only serves to further criminalize the authorities. The police and the government should be in the dock; not innocent students, monks and journalists.

Such violence on the part of the Burma authorities is not new: even since the so-called political reforms in 2011, protests around the country have seen repressive crackdowns, with people arrested, threatened, beaten and shot at. What is particularly unsettling in this case is that the Burma police have received training from the EU – as well as reportedly being sold anti-riot and crowd control equipment by the UK. Although the EU and UK condemned the crackdown in the usual diplomatic language of tutting expressions of "great concern," as Burma Campaign UK have said, these muted responses in the face of serious human rights violations are actually of greater concern.

At best the EU's actions are having no positive effect whatsoever and, at worst, they are arming thugs and turning them into a more effective tool of violence and repression. Indeed, the police deputy chief of Bago Region even claimed that the crackdown was in line with EU training. Such training is being flagrantly abused, and must be halted immediately, despite the EU's disingenuous argument that the violence only proves that training is still needed. Unless there is real political reform in Burma, and genuine civilian oversight of the security forces, then it is a huge and dangerous gamble to equip or train them.

International human rights watchdogs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have released scathing statements condemning the "excessive force" of the crackdowns and calling for the officials involved to be punished, while civil society organizations from around the world have urged the Burma Government to cease assaulting and arresting students and their supporters.

It is evident that the darkness of violence, fear and repression has returned to Burma – if indeed it ever left. Large question marks now hang over several vital issues: Why does the Burma Government insist on approving the use of excessive force on peaceful protestors? Does this violence have any connection with the upcoming constitutional referendum and/or elections? Will the referendum and elections go ahead without any further violence? Who controls Burma's police? Have the political reforms completely unwound? Why is the international community not doing more? Why does the NLD seem so impotent? What will the students and their supporters do next? 2015 could go in any direction, but the answers to these questions will surely come. After this week though, people could be forgiven for feeling somewhat pessimistic.

 

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Actions

TAKE ACTION! Write to the authorities in Burma, urging them to immediately and unconditionally release all individuals detained on March 10 2015, including Phyoe Phyoe Aung and to guarantee their physical and psychological integrity, as well as end all acts of police violence and police and judicial harassment against peaceful protesters, and comply with comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

Statements and Press Release

Burmese Government Urged to Cease the Assault and Arrest of Students Protesting in Letpadan and Rangoon

By 130 Civil Society Organizations

Press release by the communities in Shan State marking the International Day of Action for Rivers and Against Dams
By Action for Shan State Rivers

Myanmar: Violent Police Crackdown Against Protesters Must End
By Amnesty International

2015 Palm Campaign: "Even Though I'm Free I Am Not" - Extended in Light of the Recent Mass Arrests of Peaceful Protestors
By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners and Former Political Prisoners Society

AAPP Condemns the Use of Violence and Torture in Burma and Demands the Immediate Unconditional Release of All Political Prisoners
By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

Burma Crackdown on Students: EU, UK & USA Have Questions To Answer
By Burma Campaign UK

British Government Finally Admits 'Setbacks' in Burma's Reforms
By Burma Campaign UK

Myanmar: Free Prisoners of Conscience in Rakhine State End Ongoing Persecution of Rohingya
By Fortify Rights

Burma: Police Baton-Charge Student Protesters
By Human Rights Watch

Ethnic Women Urge Canadian Pressure to End Military Abuses in Burma
By Inter Pares

Press Release: Justice Trust
By Justice Trust

Karen Rivers Watch Statement on International Day of Rivers and Against Dam
By Karen Rivers Watch

KWO Speaks in British Parliament – Meets DFID Minister
By Karen Women's Organization

EU Crowd Management Training Supports Reform of Myanmar Police Force
By Office of the European Union in Myanmar

ASEAN Youth Forum Strongly Condemns Brutality and Violence Taken Against Students Protest in Myanmar!!!
By The ASEAN Youth Forum

USCB Demands Burma Cease All Violence on Protestors; Urges U.S. Government to Investigate Regime-backed Actions of Brutality and Suppression Against Protestors
By US Campaign for Burma

Reports

New report by Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma Details Continuing Human Rights Violations by Burmese Military against its Citizens
By Network for Human Rights Documentation

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