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Burma: arrests and detention continue, despite condemnation and concern from the int’l community

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Demonstrations continue to escalate in Burma as the current regime’s 19th anniversary passes. FORUM-ASIA and others have sought to shine the spotlight on China’s role.
Recent weeks have seen continued demonstrations in Burma and what many political observers consider could be new waves of a pro-democracy movement in the country. One rally was described as the biggest to have taken place in Burma in a decade.1

The situation is reminiscent of the 1988 people’s uprising when millions took to the streets to call for the establishment of democracy. However, some feel that the recent upsurge of protests could in fact be more significant than the events of 1988, as it relates to the basic needs of the Burmese people, rather than merely to political demands.

The numbers involved have continued to rise since the first protest in Rangoon on 19 August. In Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, for example, almost 1,000 people were involved in a recent march. The authorities have responded by checking cars, buses and generally using intimidation to discourage the public from joining the demonstrations. Over 150 demonstrators have been arrested since the beginning of the protests. Details of detainees receiving life sentences are now emerging, alongside allegations of torture. The detention of human rights defenders and the general population clearly go against the supposed national reconciliation process in Burma.

In response, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Louise Arbour, and three UN Special Rapporteurs have together called upon the Burmese government to immediately release those who have been arrested.2

FORUM-ASIA wishes to join hands with the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteurs in calling on the Burmese government to immediately release all protesters, and in demanding that the authorities respect the basic human rights of the Burmese people, including the freedoms of expression and assembly. If they are not free to express their thoughts and views, the process of national reconciliation cannot move forward. We also call upon the Burmese government to enter into constructive and meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders and to make a genuine effort to move the country towards democracy.

18 September marked the 19th anniversary of the seizure of power by the current Burmese military regime. The ongoing violence in the country serves as a stark reminder of the need for international action to bring about a positive change in Burma. Civil society groups increasingly believe that China holds the key to unlocking the military’s grip on Burma. Economically, it is a hugely important ally of the regime, and it continues to exploit the country’s natural resources at a staggering rate. According to the Shwe Gas Movement, China’s new gas deal with the Burmese junta is worth $40 billion. China has also sold billions of dollars worth of equipment to the Burmese military, equipment which has been directly used in the systematic oppression of ethnic minorities in the north of the country. Diplomatically too, China has shown itself to be a loyal friend of the generals; in January of this year it exercised its veto in the UN Security Council, alongside Russia and South Africa, to prevent the adoption of a resolution on Burma. The link between China and the suffering of the Burmese people could therefore hardly be clearer. To coincide with 19 years of military rule in the country, civil society groups encouraged people around the world who wish to see democratic change and respect for human rights in Burma to organize demonstrations outside Chinese embassies on 18 September. Demonstrators were asked to call upon China to:

  1. Stop undermining the UN Secretary General and to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners in Burma.
  2. Insist publicly that the military participates in tri-partite dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy and ethnic groups.
  3. Support a UN Security Council resolution on Burma.

Burma protest leader is arrested, BBC News, 26 August 2007.

UN Human Rights Chief Voices Concern About Violations in DRC, Iran and Burma, VOA News, 13 September, 2007.