Youth Speak Out, Myanmar Cracks Down

Over the first half of May 2018, authorities in Myanmar[1] have made different attempts to suppress increasing peaceful anti-war protests, including a violent crackdown on May 12 in Yangon. At least 30 protesters and organizers have been charged with criminal offenses so far, including three who have already been convicted. This represents not only the increasingly high levels of intolerance that the military has for dissent and criticism, but the shrinking space for civil society and freedom of expression and assembly, and the military’s attempts to isolate and retaliate against ethnic civil society and conflict-affected communities. On May 14, a group of almost 400 Myanmar civil society organizations released a statement calling on the Government to drop all charges against peaceful protesters, and to investigate and hold accountable those who committed violence against the protesters. To demonstrate its democratic credentials, the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led Government must immediately drop charges against, release and/or pardon these peaceful protesters, and redouble efforts to solve the humanitarian crisis and intensifying conflict that has led to these anti-war protests, and which the NLD promised to resolve when it first came into office.

A group of almost 400 Myanmar civil society organizations released a statement calling on the Government to drop all charges against peaceful protesters, and to investigate and hold accountable those who committed violence against the protesters. To demonstrate its democratic credentials, the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led Government must immediately drop charges against, release and/or pardon these peaceful protesters, and redouble efforts to solve the humanitarian crisis and intensifying conflict that has led to these anti-war protests, and which the NLD promised to resolve when it first came into office.

Starting with large public protests in Myitkyina on April 30, 2018, protests have been held throughout the country to call for the safe rescue of thousands of civilians trapped between conflict lines in Kachin State and blocked by the Myanmar Army from reaching larger towns where they can shelter safely. The protests have also called for the Myanmar Army to lift restrictions on humanitarian access in Kachin and northern Shan States, and for an end to the conflict there and elsewhere in Myanmar.

Civil society organizations and youth leaders in Yangon planned a large march across much of Yangon to take place on 12 May, 2018, and notified the relevant police stations as required by the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law (PAPPL) as amended in 2016. However, police informed them that their permission had been denied, citing a November 2017 order by the Yangon Region Security and Border Affairs Minister banning all peaceful assemblies in 11 Yangon townships. When the protesters gathered in front of the Ocean Supermarket in Bahan Township in an attempt to begin the march, riot police in full armed gear surrounded and pushed back the protesters prohibiting the crowd from moving forward from the gathering area, prompting approximately 100 protesters to begin holding a sit-in.

After the police began warning the protesters to leave the area as large vehicles that are suspected to be water cannons arrived on the scene, the protesters announced that they would disperse peacefully. At that point, the situation turned violent as many of whom appear to be associated with the extremist nationalists who are also military supporters began attacking the protesters. Rather than ending the violence that was being committed against the protesters, the police intervened to arrest protesters, while leaving the military supporters alone. By the end of the day, nine protesters had been arrested, and eight were detained overnight in the Bahan Township police station, charged the next day with violating the PAPPL, and released on bail. Nine others including the main organizers of the rally have been told they will be charged and called by the Bahan Township police station to provide bail. Organizers and others have been subject to harassment and violent threats since before the protest – particularly targeted by extremist nationalists.

The arbitrary use of the PAPPL in these cases is particularly concerning given the vague restrictions included in the law. Some protesters have been charged with Article 19,  with police in some cases claiming that they did not receive permission – though permission is no longer required. The November 2017 blanket ban on protest in Yangon is also of great concern, though of questionable legality given legal and constitutional provisions protecting the right to peaceful assembly, with limited though vaguely worded exceptions. It is unlikely that a blanket ban would be permitted under Myanmar law, not to mention being a violation of international law.

Meanwhile, the conflict that the protesters were denouncing has continued to escalate, with significant clashes between the Myanmar security forces and the Ta’ang National Liberation Front in northern Shan State, and the Karen National Liberation Army in Karen State. In Kachin State, the Myanmar Army ordered internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kamai to leave temporary IDP camps and shelter with friends or relatives in town or return home. These IDPs had recently been granted safe passage from the jungle to a newly-established IDP camp in Kamai town due to the immense efforts of Kachin civil society and religious leaders. This is just the most recent manifestation of a trend Kachin civil society has been reporting for months – military pressure to close IDP camps in order to combat reporting of increasing numbers of IDPs and the visibility of IDPs in camps, despite lack of safe conditions for IDPs to return home.

Peaceful assembly and voicing opposition to government and military actions including, in this case, the ongoing war that continues to affect hundreds of thousands of ethnic nationality civilians, are a crucial part of any democratic society. The NLD-led government, which itself understands well the value of peaceful assemblies, must intervene immediately to ensure that charges are dropped against peaceful protesters, pardon those who have already been convicted, and amend the PAPPL to adhere to international standards. The Myanmar Government must also urgently address and resolve the legal situation of protests in Yangon and the validity of the November 2017 blanket ban, including clarifying that all townships in Yangon are subject to the same laws about peaceful assembly as the rest of the country. The Government must also ensure that the extremist nationalists who committed violence against the peaceful protesters are investigated and held accountable.

Peaceful assembly and voicing opposition to government and military actions including, in this case, the ongoing war that continues to affect hundreds of thousands of ethnic nationality civilians, are a crucial part of any democratic society. The NLD-led Government, which itself understands well the value of peaceful assemblies, must intervene immediately to ensure that charges are dropped against peaceful protesters, pardon those who have already been convicted, and amend the PAPPL to adhere to international standards.

Furthermore, the underlying demands of the protests must be met, most urgently providing unhindered access to humanitarian aid and facilitating safe passage of civilians trapped in conflict areas. Toward this end, the United Nations should move forward with the appointment and dispatch of a Special Envoy, who should immediately visit all conflict-affected areas and negotiate humanitarian access for the United Nations and its local and international humanitarian partners. In addition, the UN-mandated Fact-Finding Mission must be supported in its efforts to find the truth about military abuses, and the UN Security Council must refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court, as an end to impunity is the only way to stop the conflict and abuses and allow Myanmar to move forward toward building a peaceful and harmonious society. The Myanmar Army must also cease all pressure on IDPs and local civil society and community-based organizations to close IDP camps, and allow all civilians displaced by conflict to shelter safely until conditions are right for them to return home with safety and dignity.

United Nations should move forward with the appointment and dispatch of a Special Envoy, who should immediately visit all conflict-affected areas and negotiate humanitarian access for the United Nations and its local and international humanitarian partners. In addition, the UN-mandated Fact-Finding Mission must be supported in its efforts to find the truth about military abuses, and the UN Security Council must refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court, as an end to impunity is the only way to stop the conflict and abuses and allow Myanmar to move forward toward building a peaceful and harmonious society.

_____________

[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week

actions

Statements and Press Releases

New Briefing Paper Calls for Amendments to the Ward or Village Tract Administration Law
By Action Committee for Democracy Development and Progressive Voice

ရပ္ကြက္ သို႔မဟုတ္ ေက်းရြာအုပ္စု အုပ္ခ်ဳပ္ေရးဥပေဒကို ျပန္လည္ျပင္ဆင္ရန္ ေတာင္းဆုိသည့္ စာတမ္းတုိ
By Action Committee for Democracy Development and Progressive Voice

AKO’s Statement on the War Crimes Against Humanity and the Humanitarian Crisis due to the Invasion by Burmese Army troops in Karen State of Burma
By Australian Karen Organisation

War in Kachin State: Trapped IDPs and Challenges for Peace
By Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Center

Statement on the Peaceful Protest in Yangon 12 May
By Embassy of Sweden Section Office in Yangon

Bangladesh: Encourage ICC Investigation and Prosecution of Crimes Against Rohingya
By Fortify Rights

Myanmar: Drop Criminal Charges Against Peaceful Anti-War Protesters
By Fortify Rights

U.N. Security Council: Refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court
By Fortify Rights and Human Rights Watch

UN Security Council: Refer Myanmar to ICC
By Human Rights Watch

Statement of Purpose for Peaceful Demonstration
By Kachin Community of Syndey and Queenland Kachin Community

Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Statement
By Karen National Liberation Army

Karen National Union (KNU) Statement Regarding the Tatmadaw’s Reinforcement and Activities in KNU Bridge-5 Area, Mudraw (Papun) District
By Karen National Union

မူတေရာ္(ဖာပြန္) ခရုိင္၊ တပ္မဟာ(၅)ေဒသအတြင္း တပ္မေတာ္ဘက္မွ တပ္အင္းအား ထပ္မံတုိးခ်ဲ႕လႈပ္ရွားမႈႏွင့္ ပတ္သက္၍ ေကအဲန္ယူ-ကရင္အမ်ိဳးသားအစည္းအရုံး၏ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
By Karen National Union

KNLA ကရင္အမ်ိဳးသား လြတ္ေျမာက္ေရးတပ္မေတာ္ ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္
By Karen National Liberation Army

Karen Women’s Organization Supporting the Kachin Communities Worldwide Urgent Demand of the United Nations Security Council to Refer Burma to the International Criminal Court
By Karen Women’s Organization

ျငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရး ခ်ီတက္ပြဲအား အင္းအားသံုးေျဖရွင္းမႈကို ရႈတ္ခ်ျခင္း
By Magway Regional Youth Network

Statement on the Violent Crackdown and Forceful Arrest of the Nonviolent Public Peace Movement
By Public Peace Movement Committee

ၿငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရးလူထုလႈပ္ရွားမႈအား အၾကမ္းဖက္ၿဖိဳခြဲျခင္းႏွင့္ အင္အားသုံးဖမ္းဆီးခဲ့ျခင္းအေပၚ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
By Public Peace Movement Committee

PHR Joins Call for Myanmar Referral to ICC
By Physicians for Human Rights

Security Council Press Statement on Security Council Visit to Bangladesh, Myanmar
By UN Security Council President Joanna Wronecka

reports

Reports

Grassroots Democracy: Analysis of the Ward or Village Tract Administration Law
By Action Committee for Democracy Development and Progressive Voice

အေျခခံလူတန္းစား၏ဒီမုိကေရစီ – ရပ္ကြက္ သုိ႔မဟုတ္ ေက်းရြာအုပ္စု အုပ္ခ်ဳပ္ေရး ဥပေဒအား သုံသပ္ျခင္း
By Action Committee for Democracy Development and Progressive Voice

Managing Change: Executive Policymaking in Myanmar
By The Asia Foundation/ Su Mon Thazin Aung and Matthew Arnold

The Wisdom, Knowledge and Customs of Indigenous Communities in Ban Chaung
By Ban Chaung Community Sustainable Environmental Conservation Committee and Tarkapaw Youth Group

Update on Current Humanitarian Situation in Kachin and Northern Shan States, Myanmar
By Joint Strategy Team


Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.

Related Posts: