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Statement No. (12/2015) Statement with regards to the apprehension and detention of the demonstrators protesting for the reform of National Education Law at Latpadan on 10 March 2015

By Myanmar National Human Rights Commission  •  September 11, 2015

1. The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission received complaints in the form of documents containing information and video tapes alleging that

  • the Myanmar Police Force used excessive force to contain the demonstrating columns at Latpadan township of Bago Region on 10 of March 2015,
  • the demonstrators were beaten on vital parts of the body ,
  • the riot control procedures were not properly enforced.
  • Some of the police force also disobeyed orders,
  • the demonstrators were detained under Penal Code sections rather than Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law.

2. As a result, a three member team from the Commission was formed to investigate the allegations.The investigation team met with 2 monks, 22 demonstrators and supporters, 4 departmental personnel, 5 media persons and 5 members from the Nationwide Network of Educational Reform (NNER) at three separate places namely the Commission’s Office, Tharyawaddy Central Jail and Latpadan township. The team also visited the scene of the incident on 11 August 2015.

3. The concerned Minister from the Bago Regional Government overseeing the incident was requested to appear before the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission investigation team to give evidence under section 35 of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission Law, but up to the time of writing this report the Commission has yet to receive a reply.

4. Conclusions of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission with regards to the incident were as follows:-

(a)       Starting from the arrival of the protest column to Latpadan township from the 17 of February up to the 9 of March totaling 21 days in all, there was close rapport and repeated discussions between the Police Force Command Centre and the student leaders and also NNER members. Although a protest centre was established there were no agitations of any kind and the students were free to come and go. Students whose parents came to bring them back home were peacefully allowed to go back with their parents. Representatives from political parties, organizations and individuals were given free access to come and go and hold talks with the students. Donations of food, money and other accessories were freely allowed. Vocalists and music bands came to entertain the students. The understanding, respect and empathy between the demonstrators and the security forces on a positive note, demonstrated the peaceful coexistence of the democratic system that reflect greatly on the good image of the country.

(b)       However, it was learnt that on 10 March 2015 the police force with truncheons and shields and with a strength far in excess of the demonstrators barred the entrance/ exit ways of the demonstrators. The demonstrators told the security forces that they will surrender group after group, but the police force failed to arrest them in line with the law. The incident fueled up when a water bottle fell among the police force personnel.

(c)       When the police force was first deployed it was systematically organized into prevention team and apprehending team with officers in charge of them. But, when the actual pushing and shoving began it can be concluded that both sides intermingled and there was no effective supervision on the part of the security forces.

(d)       The Commission team also concluded that because of lack of supervision some police force members started hitting and beating everyone in sight, while others tried to prevent the beating and some defended themselves with shields and the riot control methods given by EU also couldn’t be applied anymore.

(e)       Although, the arrest in the Aungmyaybaikman monastery should have been carried out under procedures by the local police forces, some police personnel from the Police Regiments also took part and this created unnecessary misunderstanding and loss of properties. The confidence upon the police force personnel by the monks residing at the monastery was also affected.

(f)        It is quite difficult to conclude that the hitting out in a destructive manner by the police force on the information vehicle (propaganda vehicle) of the demonstrating column was an action that was in line with the procedures.

(g)       The Commission team also drew up the conclusion that because the repeated warnings issued by the Latpadan township general administration department on the loudspeaker which was countered by the verbal abuses by the demonstrators using loudspeakers at close range resulted in confusion of both sides and hence systematic supervision under one voice, one command system, could not materialize.

(h)       The police force headquarter issued a directive on 9 March 2015 to the effect that personnel of the police force involved in the students’ affairs must only be armed with handcuffs and ropes and not to be armed with truncheons, shields and fire arms, but it was found out that this directive was not followed by some police force personnel.

(i)        It was found out that, the injuries inflicted on the head and face of some of the demonstrators pointed out to the shortcomings.

(j)        It also came out in the police force’s security plan that if the crowds do not disburse upon warning, force can be applied to disburse the crowd, also water cannons and loud noises to frighten them can be used. But the beatings and arrest went beyond the steps that were in the plan.

5. Myanmar National Human Rights Commission would therefore like to make the following recommendations:-

(a)       To take action as necessary on the police force personnel who failed to follow the procedures in the riot that occurred on the 10 of March 2015.

(b)       To take action against all those who dismantled the barricades and mobile tents of the police force. Action should also be taken against the perpetrators who first threw the water bottle and also stones and sticks against the police force.

(c)       Action should also be taken against all those who failed to apply step by step the riot suppression procedures and acted out of hand.

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This post is in: NHRC Monitor

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