BURMA: “Arrest” in Rangoon epitomises lawlessness of a country

The Democratic Voice of Burma radio has posted a video on its website that vividly illustrates the true nature of the recent “arrest” of protestors against the price hikes in fuels there. The footage, shot by an unidentified person at around 1pm on 25 August 2007, shows at least six unidentified plain-clothed men carrying protest leader Ko Htin Kyaw struggling as he is literally lugged away and bundled into to a waiting vehicle in the centre of downtown Rangoon, within sight of the famous Sule Pagoda. The video can be viewed at: http://dvb.cachefly.net/tv/all/htinkyaw.wmv

The film shows the undeniable reality that “arrest” in Burma today is nothing other than state-sponsored abduction. Htin Kyaw and another man, Ko Zaw Nyunt, had together been standing peacefully outside the Theingyi market when they were taken. Had the authorities wished, they could have sent uniformed police officers to make an arrest under any of the terms set down in section 54 of the country’s Criminal Procedure Code and taken the two men on foot to the nearest police station. Instead, an unknown gang, presumably consisting of ununiformed Special Branch police but perhaps also comprising of other persons–such as members of the army, quasi-government agencies, local councils and gangs organised by the state–came out of nowhere to grab and drag off their quarry in the manner of criminals.

The apprehension of Ko Htin Kyaw epitomises the lawlessness that is Burma today. The Asian Human Rights Commission has for some time raised and demonstrated through numerous detailed cases how, quite apart from its completely empty rhetoric about democratisation and human rights, the military regime there cannot even claim to subscribe to the tenets of its own “law and order” agenda. Burma is neither a country of law nor order. Contrary to the exterior image, it is a country whose population–from the daily wage earners of the rundown industrial zones at its centre to the villagers hiding in the jungles of its hinterlands–is subjected to relentless, arbitrary violence and bullying, sometimes by known and identifiable others, but often by nameless, unknowable assailants and their abettors.

Regrettably, the international community has responded to the recent wave of protest with deafening silence. Despite the risks to their lives and liberty taken not only by the protestors but also by the persons documenting and sending audio and video footage and written details abroad, the reaction of the United Nations has been non-existent. The European Union, normally a staunch and vocal supporter of human rights in the country, has been little better: three short paragraphs from the presidency on August 25 condemned the arrests but did not indicate that the union would do anything more. Only the representatives of a few individual governments have spoken out more strongly, but again given no indication of any pending action.

As the generals have become used to such pathetic and worthless reactions from abroad, no matter what they do, they will naturally feel no compunction to continue using their nameless goons to drag people from houses, buses and street corners. They will continue with the fraud that has characterised all aspects of their rule, and the implementing of a national agenda that has nothing to do with the interests of the people of Burma, or even those, including law and order, to which they pretend to subscribe.

The blatant and violent abduction of Htin Kyaw and Zaw Nyunt from the street in Rangoon cannot be denied. The global community also cannot afford to ignore it. Every one of those concerned international officials should take a long hard look at this footage and then ask themselves what sort of “arrests” they are “concerned” about. They must cease to pretend that they are dealing with a government with whom “constructive dialogue” can be had on “mutual engagement” and devise more determined strategies to support the efforts of people in Burma themselves to see international standards of law and rights given meaning in their country, with or without the acquiescence of the state.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-201-2007
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),