BURMA: Attack on democracy party in Burma demands an uncompromising international response

The military rulers of Burma have in this past week again shown that their pretensions to human rights and political change are utterly fraudulent. The Asian Human Rights Commission has received with concern increasingly reliable reports that at least 70 persons were killed in the attacks on members and supporters of the National League for Democracy this May 30 and 31 by hundreds of government-backed thugs, police and soldiers.

Despite assurances that it would permit registered political parties to organize freely, the military government in Burma has in recent months organized gangs to attack rallies, meetings and offices of the National League for Democracy. The formation of such groups, with names like “Masters of Brute Force”, indicates the lack of sincerity with which the military has made its commitments. The mobilizing of these groups made this latest atrocity inevitable.

Of particular concern is the fate of the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the National League for Democracy, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and U Tin Oo. Both have reportedly been injured and are under military detention, but to date their whereabouts are unknown. The military authorities have not yet guaranteed that the Special Representative of the United Nations’ Secretary General, who is going on a routine visit to Burma today, will be able to meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

As the leader of the largest group for democratic change in Burma, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi embodies popular aspirations. Recent meetings she has held across the country have been attended by tens of thousands of people, despite reports of systematic intimidation and interference by local authorities. That under these intensely repressive conditions such large numbers of people are prepared to come out in support of this leader indicates the extent of frustration with military rule in Burma.

When goon squads are sent to quash popular sentiment, they are intended to do more than assault a single individual or organization-the real objective is to destabilize society. If a country is politically and socially stable, people are capable of expressing discontent. If unstable, those in control are free to carry on with whatever schemes they have cooked up for their own economic and political advantage. When people’s lives are insecure, their primary concern is the search for security itself. When lawless elements are given a free hand, it sends the message that there exists only the un-rule of law. The effect on the collective consciousness is not only to prevent the possibility of democracy, but also to prevent the realization of even the most fundamental rights: those to food, water and other basic necessities. Poverty and lawlessness coincide; society becomes demoralized and inert.

Yet in the face of systemic and massive denials of their basic rights, people in Burma are still demonstrating their desire for an end to military dictatorship. Sadly, the international community has failed to respond. The lack of any serious consistent pressure on the military rulers of Burma has meant that they have been free to exercise unrelenting and ruthless control over the country while making piecemeal gestures to silence international critics and give the impression that they are progressing towards a political transition.

This most recent event exposes the patent absurdity of softly-softly approaches to the military regime. Undertaking seminars on human rights with officials and sending envoys to seek subtle compromises are in no way strategies for legitimate change. They merely belittle the extremely grave human rights conditions in the country and fail to recognize that ultimately the military is determined to deprive the people of Burma a genuinely democratic government.

The international protest arising out of this week’s events must lead to something different from what has come before. It must be accompanied by a newfound will to confront the military elite’s intention to retain power at any cost. It must be accompanied by recognition that the military leaders of Burma are not partners for negotiation but persons who have committed crimes against humanity. Above all, it must be accompanied by an unswerving commitment to the genuine aspirations of the people of Burma for-at long last-recognition of their fundamental human rights.

The visit by the UN Special Representative and mere international outcry is by no means enough. The situation in Burma demands urgent intervention by the Security Council. A team must be sent immediately to investigate this most recent incident and ensure the security of all persons who were subject to the attack. It must be sent as part of a specific strategy for the holding of a credible election in Burma under international supervision, to ensure that the military honours the results. Finally, it must be sent with a view to holding the military rulers of Burma responsible for numerous crimes against humanity, a charge under which they must be brought before the International Criminal Court, or appropriate international tribunal, at the nearest possible date.

Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC, Hong Kong

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-19-2003
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),