WORLD: The guillotine is no solution to despair (Burma) – part one

While expressions of despair manifest themselves in many countries in the Asian region, all that the governments of these countries offer to those who express their despair is the guillotine. Ruthless repression by way of causing forced disappearances, assassinations, torture and the destruction of property are the only responses of these governments to expressions of protest arising out of the deepening of the processes of poverty, causing of unemployment, destruction of livelihoods and increasing discrimination. The recent examples from Burma, Pakistan and Sri Lanka demonstrate this.

Over forty years of militarism has destroyed the livelihoods of the majority of people in Burma. Only a handful that are close to the military regime and others who participate in keeping the machinery of repression alive obtain some benefit from the situation. Together with destitution, destruction of livelihoods and widespread poverty there has also been the destruction of the entire political system and the administration of justice. There are no credible means of public representation through political leaders or parties. There is no free media of any sort and the system of the administration of justice after years of suppression has disappeared. The policing system is basically a surveillance system on the people and independent investigation into crime does not exist. Naturally there are no independent investigations for the abuse of human rights by the military regime itself. Even under these circumstances the people have tried to organise and express themselves. The last such intervention was in September 2007. The response was a brutal crackdown including murder, forced disappearances, secret imprisonment, torture and displacement of dissidents including Buddhist monks.

The only outlet that the people could have relied on was an investigation by the United Nations but this move was defeated by strong players in the international community including the Indian government. The Indian government argued that since the military regime promised to conduct inquiries no external inquiries were necessary. If a murderer promised to conduct an inquiry into the alleged murder, or for that matter any alleged criminal gave an undertaking to conduct the inquiry into the criminal act, anyone would see the ridiculousness of such a situation. The Indian government, which calls itself the largest democracy in the world and which also got the largest number of votes to sit in the UN Human Rights Council, does not see this as ludicrous. In fact, this is deliberate hypocrisy which some attribute to the possibly little advantages that India may have in the exploitation of some of the natural resources of this desperately poor country. The rest of the international community was not able to do anything in the face of such a ludicrous situation.

The result is that the people of Burma are continuously subjected to the draconian military rule of the regime that can do whatever it likes with the lives of the people. This includes keeping about 40 percent of the children in the country in a state of malnutrition.

With the spread of the ideologies of anti terrorism any legitimate protest can be made to appear as a crime. When people in despair, facing nothing but repression, try to get themselves out of this situation the state offers them only the guillotine. The people are trapped and often ask, how are we to fight against the conditions of poverty and repression? There is no answer to this under the present circumstances.

Those who wield the guillotine not only crack down on all acts of protest but also triumphantly claim that they are doing this in order to save humanity from terrorism. Within this context, mass murderers appear as heroes. There is hardly any sense to be found in the discussions on this issue.

People who out of sheer despair attempt to take any action to demonstrate their plight are treated today in the same way mental patients were treated in many countries in previous centuries. For example, Bedlam in England was notoriously famous for such treatment. They were often put in jail-like conditions, physically abused and discarded by society. It is this same mentality with which the retched of the present day world are being treated. They are considered a threat and therefore using the guillotine against them is considered morally and ethically acceptable.

We are reminded of the book, Lord of the Flies by William Golding. The book demonstrates what happens to society when it abandons its basic rules of law and decency. As the author points out ¡§rules are all we have.¡¨ When that is abandoned we descend to the habits of cruelty and inhumanity. But in some periods, like now, such acts of cruelty and inhumanity can be justified and even glorified in the name of the fight against terrorism.

(This statement will be continued in relation to several other countries in the region).

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-006-2008
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),