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Burma: Human Rights Groups Condemn Ongoing Crackdown on Protests and Peaceful Assemblies

By Forum-Asia, Human Rights Education Institute of Burma and Burma Partnership  •  May 2, 2013

Burma-FOAA-Launch-2013-05-02Report Highlights Violations of Freedoms of Expression, Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), together with its member Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB), and Burma Partnership, called on the Burma government to respect the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association. The appeal came during a launch event in Rangoon today of the Burmese-language version of the report of an international fact-finding mission on freedoms of expression, assembly and association in Burma held in October 2012 by FORUM-ASIA, a Bangkok-based regional human rights group representing 47 organizations in 16 Asian countries.

The launch event was held against the backdrop of growing outrage over the latest violent crackdown on protestors opposing the Letpadaung copper mine in Monywa, Sagaing Division, which has resulted in at least one villager reportedly sustaining gunshot injuries. The local police has publicly announced that it will file numerous charges against eight activists who allegedly instigated the protest. The police also warned that local residents harbouring any of the eight activists would also be charged.

“We condemn the disproportionate use of force by the police in Letpadaung yet again and the arrest of the three protestors. We are particularly concerned that the three – activist Aung Soe and two villagers – are currently being held in an undisclosed location, and we strongly call for their immediate and unconditional release,” said John Liu, FORUM-ASIA’s East Asia Programme Officer, at the launch event.

The groups also urged the police not to pursue criminal charges against the eight activists named by the Sagaing Division police for exercising their legitimate right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Besides the crackdown in Letpadaung, the groups also condemned the latest charges under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law that were filed against ten protestors opposing the Shwe Gas Pipeline in Arakan State. They called for the charges to be dropped.

These cases are merely two of the most recent examples of the litany of violations against freedom of peaceful assembly in Burma. Titled “New Forms of Control and Threats to Freedoms of Expression, Assembly and Association amidst Reforms Fanfare”, FORUM-ASIA’s report highlights numerous other cases of violations of freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association in Burma, such as the harassment and arrest of leaders of the All Burma Federation of Students’ Union (ABFSU) during a commemoration event of the 50th anniversary of the then-military regime’s crackdown against students in Rangoon (July 2012); the charges against thirteen organizers of the International Peace Day march in Rangoon (September 2012); the charges and subsequent conviction to six months’ imprisonment of four protestors against the closure of the Moethi Moemi gold mine (November 2012); and the violent crackdown using phosphorus grenades against civilian and monk protestors in Letpadaung, which resulted in more than 70 injured (November 2012).

“The emerging trend of using Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, oftentimes together with Article 505(b) of the Penal Code, to criminalize democracy activists and human rights defenders is a major source of concern as resistance is growing among various communities in Burma, especially in relation to land disputes and workers’ rights in the country,” said John Liu.

The groups thus called for, among others, the repeal of all restrictive laws, including the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, Article 505(b) of the Penal Code, as well as those outlined by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma/Myanmar in his recent reports to the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council.

The groups also urged the government to ensure that its law enforcement officials comply with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and to incorporate these principles into its legislation, as recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur.

“The call for compliance with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials is particularly urgent in light of the latest violent crackdown in Letpadaung. This was not the first time that disproportionate force was used against protestors in Letpadaung, as we have already seen similar violence in November 2012. We call on the government to ensure that those law enforcement officials who used excessive force and violence are held accountable,” said Aung Myo Min, Executive Director of HREIB, who also spoke at the launch event.

“The government must also immediately ratify all remaining core international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, if its efforts in democratic reforms are indeed genuine,” stressed Khin Ohmar of Burma Partnership.

During the week before the launch, FORUM-ASIA, HREIB and Burma Partnership jointly organized two civil society workshops on human rights defenders and freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association in Mandalay (26-27 April) and in Rangoon (30 April – 1 May).

“The two workshops, attended by a total of about 150 human rights defenders from all over the country, were aimed to address the restrictions on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, as well as to enhance protection for human rights defenders. Participants committed to campaign for the repeal of all restrictive laws and for greater respect for freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association in Burma,” said Khin Ohmar of Burma Partnership.

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