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President U Thein Sein: Immediately Investigate and Bring to Justice the Police Responsible for Grave Crimes Committed Against Peaceful Demonstrators

By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners - Burma  •  November 29, 2012

AAPP strongly condemns the use of excessive force and brutality by police officers in response to peaceful protestors in the early hours of 29 November, 2012.

The government of President U Thein Sein must ensure immediate investigation and prosecution of police officers responsible for committing human rights violations in response to individuals rightfully exercising their fundamental freedoms of assembly and expression. A strong message from the government ensuring a zero policy approach towards police violence is vital if the issue is to be taken seriously, and to prevent further police abuse from happening in Burma again.

During the protests at the Letpadaung copper mine, the police in Burma are responsible for inflicting widespread human rights abuses including arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, and inhumane treatment that span from water cannons, tear gas, and fire hoses to unleashing “fire bombs” into the crowd, according to witnesses at the protest. The resulting crackdown recalls the grave crimes committed against nonviolent demonstrators during the Saffron Revolution.

The injury toll, only hours after the crackdown, is high and is expected to increase. Currently, 22 monks with severe burns are currently hospitalized in Monywa Public Hospital, with 2 among them awaiting surgical treatment. A further 2 male protestors are considered emergency cases.

A seriously wounded monk, U Thaikkha Nyana, from Than Ne Taw Monastery, Monywa district, was sent to Mandalay Public Hospital to seek specialist treatment. Six monks from Phaung-Kar monastery are suffering from extreme wounds. Hundreds of protestors have been injured, with many facing burns throughout their body.

The protests have also resulted in indiscriminate arrests. Six are now imprisoned in Insein prison under section 505 (b) of the penal code, for “making a rumor conducive to public mischief.” Several monks and other peaceful demonstrators were also arrested in the wake of the violence.

For over 10 days, hundreds of protestors have demonstrated near the Letpadaung copper mine, demanding the project to be suspended until a genuine environmental and social impact assessment is conducted. At the protest’s peak, over 1,000 demonstrators poured into the streets. The mine, located in Sagaing Division’s Sarlingyi Township, is being accused of widespread land confiscations and environmental degradation, including mountain top removal.

At 3A.M. on 29 November, the authorities gave the protestors a five minute notice to leave their protest encampments. After the short deadline, the police began dispersing tear gas throughout the encampments and deployed 6 fire bombs, according to witnesses. In addition, the police shot into the air, and used batons and fire hoses against protestors. As a result of the police’s brutal attacks, three protest encampments were burned to the ground and at least 6 encampments were raided. Authorities also restricted the demonstrators’ movement and access to the protest site by blocking off the Monywa-Bassein highway.

Police violence during protests in Burma is an endemic issue, with serious incidences of abuse on the rise ever since the introduction of the extremely restrictive protest bill in December 2011. Six females protesting the Letpadaung copper mine were also arrested and subjected to physical abuse on 10 September 2012. The women, who were supporting farmers protest the mine, had their hair pulled, arms twisted, and were pushed to the ground. One was taken to an unknown location in a truck.

Impunity for violent police officers is deeply entrenched. Not one police officer in Burma has faced prosecution for committing human rights abuses against civilians. “No one should be abused, especially by police officers and other law enforcement authorities entrusted with protecting the public. All police officers responsible for injuring, burning, or torturing protestors must be prosecuted and punished immediately if the government of Burma is serious about preventing these grave abuses from reoccurring,” said Tate Naing, Secretary of AAPP.

An investigation into police brutality during the Letpadaung copper mine protests should include whether police used “fire bombs” against protestors. The majority of those injured are burn victims with some needing emergency surgery due to the degree and scope of the burns. Usage of any form of incendiary device or bomb is an extreme form of crowd control that is explicitly prohibited against civilians during.

times of war under the Geneva Convention. There is a strong suspicion that chemical warfare is being used against the unarmed protestors, and if allegations of “fire bombs” are found to be true, then the government of Burma is in direct violation of international law and must be treated accordingly.

“How many more victims does Burma need to prove that the culture of impunity protecting violent police has serious consequences? Until there is fundamental reform in the police and law enforcement department, I am very concerned this violence will just happen again. The police of Burma clearly do not know how to contain a protest without resorting to extreme measures. If they are not prosecuted, the government is sending a message that they are okay with this cycle of violence,” said Tate Naing, Secretary of AAPP.

AAPP strongly condemns the excessive force and brutality used against the protestors by the police force, and calls on the international community to consider the reimposition of sanctions as a matter of urgency if the government of Burma does not do the following in a timely manner:

  • Immediately release all those unlawfully detained in conjunction with the Letpadaung copper mine protests, with a wiping of their criminal records.
  • Independently and transparently investigate the widespread and serious allegations of police brutality, in particular the use of “fire bombs” against unarmed civilians. Police authorities responsible for the violence must be prosecuted and punished.
  • All of the hurt victims in this appalling incident must be financially compensated immediately in a comprehensive manner.

For more information –Tate Naing (Secretary): +66 (0) 81 287 8751, Bo Kyi (Joint-Secretary): +66 (0) 81 962 8713

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This post is in: Business and Human Rights, Environmental and Economic Justice, Press Release

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