MYANMAR/BURMA: The moment for decisive action has arrived

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to you further to our letter of August 24 concerning the protests in Myanmar (Burma) following the dramatic increases in fuel prices there of the same month.

In our previous letter, we urged you to pay serious attention to the small but burgeoning demonstrations in August, and warned that it would not be adequate to continue with a “business as usual” approach to the country. We pointed to the already critical humanitarian situation in Myanmar, as attested to by the United Nations’ own humanitarian coordinator there, as well as by the International Committee of the Red Cross, and advised that it be given the highest attention in international fora as a matter of the utmost urgency.

As you will be aware, in recent days those small protests of August have swelled into marches of tens of thousands of persons from all walks of life, led by the Buddhist monkhood, which has formally declared a boycott of government personnel–the first of its kind since 1990. Apart from the big rallies in cities, the AHRC has been receiving reports of demonstrations and boycott actions in towns and villages in virtually every part of the country.

The protests have reached a point that there can now be only two possible outcomes: firm steps towards genuine and lasting change of the political, social and economic conditions in Myanmar, or yet another tragic bloodbath followed by widespread arrests, imprisonment, torture and intense long-term violence against the entire society. There are disturbing reports that the government authorities may soon act through proxies and attempt to create the appearance of violence among the protesting public and monkhood, as a pretext for the army to take forceful control yet again. And according to a broadcast of Democratic Voice of Burma radio, on September 22 emergency wards in hospitals around the former capital were ordered to begin preparing for an influx of casualties. The manifest absence of the ordinarily ubiquitous police and other government officials from their ordinary duties on city streets in recent days (such as directing traffic or handling problems caused by flooding) is also a cause for alarm.

A nationwide movement for change in Myanmar is now emerging for the first time in two decades. The challenge for those of us outside of the country is to keep up and do what we can to lend support to the genuine aspirations of its people. The moment for decisive action has now truly arrived.

As the UN General Assembly is meeting in New York this week, you have before you an ideal opportunity to put the situation in Myanmar at the centre of the world stage. We urge you to take this opportunity to do so. We again recall the constructive and important role that the United Nations played and is continuing to play in breaking the impasse in Nepal during 2006, at a time that unprecedented violence was imminent, and note that the mission there has been enhanced under your watch. United Nations agencies have meanwhile been operating in Myanmar for decades, and in view of the close cooperation that its government already has with many parts of the UN system, there should be no reason to believe that it would reject a proposal to establish a special observer mission or similar. We thus ask you to pay serious attention to this proposal, as well as any other responsible initiatives that will give due regard and weight to the extraordinary conditions in Myanmar at this time, while the opportunity still exists.

We look forward to your unequivocal commitment to the interests of the people of Myanmar at this critical juncture.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

1. Professor Ibrahim Gambari, UN Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs
2. Ms. Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
3. Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar
4. Mr. Homajoun Alizadeh, Regional Representative, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OL-031-2007
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),
Campaigns : Burma Peoples Protests