Undeniable Failure of the Fairytale Democracy

May 2nd, 2020  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  8 minute read
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“True democracy and freedom for activists in Myanmar is far away since the rights to freedom of assembly and expression are not guaranteed.”

Ye Wai Phyo Aung, Athan

For over four years now, the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, who once held the promise of the country’s reform to democracy and freedom, continues to fail in its responsibility to protect and promote fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Meanwhile, those who are exercising their rights continue to face intimidation, threats and imprisonment from the government and the military. To make matters worse, the State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, doubled down on its failed responsibilities by praising the Myanmar[1] military soldiers for their military operations against the Arakan Army (AA) in Rakhine and Chin States, where civilians are being killed on a daily basis and running away from the Myanmar military’s arbitrary shellings. In addition, despite the President’s annual amnesty, 50 political prisoners remain in jail while 400 are awaiting trial outside prison and 137 are still facing trial inside prison.

Every year in April, in the spirit of Myanmar’s traditional New Year, the President announces a large annual amnesty for prisoners. This year,  almost 25,000 people were released on 17 April, though only 26 political prisoners were included in the pardon. While acknowledging and welcoming the president’s pardon for prisoners, particularly amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) expressed their concern at the lack of political prisoners released and called on the government to release the remaining 55 political prisoners. Ko Aung Myo Kyaw from the AAPP told The Irrawaddy that “In a democracy, we shouldn’t have even a single political prisoner.” Just days after the President’s pardon on 21 April, to pay tribute to the late prominent campaigner for democracy and former political prisoner U Win Tin, and in solidarity with Myanmar’s political prisoners, rights groups and activists in Myanmar and different parts of the world called for the unconditional release of all remaining political prisoners by participating in the “Blue Shirt” campaign on social media.

At the same time, human rights organizations, and Athan and Fortify Rights, as well as Amnesty International, released reports on the government’s failure to protect and promote human rights. Their reports highlighted the continuing arrest and imprisonment of activists, students, journalists and other human rights defenders, as well as the continuing use of repressive laws to crack down on their basic freedoms such as rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The report “I Will Not Surrender” by Amnesty International features 16 cases of human rights defenders, activists, students, journalists and a Buddhist monk who have been arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned in the last 18 months. The report highlights the increase in the number of individuals and activists sued by members of the Myanmar military and the government, particularly for criticizing the military and the 2008 Constitution drafted by the military. Clare Algar of the Amnesty International stated that even after the NLD government came to power, “Myanmar remains a country where the slightest criticism of the authorities can land you in jail” and added that “Aung San Suu Kyi and her colleagues have done so little to change military-era laws that are still being used to repress and punish critics.”

Similarly, Athan, jointly with Fortify Rights, published a report on the imprisonment of University students in Mandalay. Following a series of cases of students being robbed and murdered in Mandalay, including students’ motorcycles getting stolen each year, Yadanabon University students organized a protest demanding increased security in the campus. Instead of addressing the concerns raised by these students, seven of them, all members of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), were sentenced to three months in prison and were beaten by the prison guards in detention, according to the new report. Disregarding all these reports and recommendations provided from civil society organizations and activists, the government has yet to do anything to protect the people from exercising their basic rights. Ye Wai Phyo Aung of Athan said “True democracy and freedom for activists in Myanmar is far away since the rights to freedom of assembly and expression are not guaranteed.”

On another front, despite the fact that the government has an obligation to protect civilians in armed conflict and ensure accountability for the violations committed against them – not to mention that journalists, human rights defenders and activists were targeted for exposing or speaking out about wrongdoings of the Myanmar military – the State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made a remarkable statement on 22 April, paying tribute to the military members for their operations in Rakhine State. This goes against the true will of the civilians suffering on the ground who are witnessing the military’s abuses and targeting of civilians. There has been non-stop reporting of civilian casualties and loss of property because of the Myanmar military’s arbitrary shelling and airstrikes. What the civilians are wanting, as amplified and called for by civil society organizations, is the end to the fighting and targeting of civilians. The targeting of civilians is a serious breach of international human rights and humanitarian law which amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Thus, by praising the military, instead of holding it to account, the government is complicit in supporting these crimes committed by the military.

After all, the NLD government has failed to fulfill the fairytale democracy dream, and proved by its own actions that it is impossible that this government will protect the civilians or grant the fundamental rights to all the people. Despite all their efforts to engage in Myanmar, through the “pathway to democracy”, the international community must accept that the Myanmar government is unwilling to guarantee and protect the rights of all people in Myanmar.

The government must repeal all repressive laws, reform the judiciary to be impartial and independent, free all political prisoners and hold the military to account for its violations of human rights. Until it does so, civilians in conflict areas, primarily ethnic and religious minorities, as well as human rights defenders, including activists, students and youth, and journalists will continue to suffer. The international community, particularly the international governments and institutions who have supported and invested in Myanmar’s transition to democracy, must show unwavering support and protection to these courageous individuals. It must call on the Myanmar government to immediately and unconditionally release all remaining political prisoners and drop all charges against those activists and journalists facing trial and fulfil its international obligations to protect civilians in armed conflict.

[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


Statements and Press Releases

16 Agencies Express Extreme Concern After the Death of An Aid Worker Transporting COVID-19 Test Samples

By 16 International Non-Governmental Organizations

ကမ္ဘာ့ကျန်းမာရေးအဖွဲ့ (WHO) မှ ဝန်ထမ်းတစ်ဦး တာဝန်ထမ်းဆောင်စဉ် အပစ်သတ်ခံရမှုနှင့် ပတ်သက်၍ အရပ်ဖက်လူမှုအဖွဲ့အစည်းများမှ သဘောထားထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By 290 Civil Soceity Organizations

ARTICLE 19 Briefing Calls For Action to Address Freedom of Expression Concerns Ahead of Elections


Blue Shirt Campaign on 6th Anniversary of Journalist U Win Tin’s Death

By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

သတင်းစာဆရာကြီးဟံသာဝတီဦးဝင်းတင် ကွယ်လွန်ခြင်း (၆) နှစ်ပြည့် အပြာရောင်လှုပ်ရှားမှု

By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

Myanmar: Provide Remedies for Former Political Prisoners, Protect Free Expression

By Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization and Fortify Rights

Burma Campaign UK to Join Blue Shirt Day for Burma’s Political Prisoners

By Burma Campaign UK

3 Civilians Die in Cross-Fire as Heavy Artillery Hits Paletwa Town Amidst On-going Fighting

By Chin Human Rights Organization

Arakan/Rakhine State Is Calling for an Urgent Response From the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

By International Campaign for Arakan

ကချင်အမျိုးသားများ အတိုင်ပင်ခံအဖွဲ့ သဘောထားထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By Kachin National Consultative Assembly

Concerning Current Situation Surrounding Rohingya Refugees in Malaysia

By Rohingya Women Development Network and ELOM Empowerment

United Nations Myanmar Statement

By United Nations Myanmar



Our Demands are for All Students: Violations of Students’ Rights in Mandalay, Myanmar

By Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization and Fortify Rights

The Right to Freedom of Expression in the Context of Myanmar’s 2020 General Election


Digital Hate: Incitement of Public Opposition to the Case Against Burma the International Court of Justice

By Burma Human Rights Network

Situational Human Rights Overview in Burma (January – April 2020)

By Network for Human Rights Documentation-Burma

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.”