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The Fallen Heroes and Heroines of 8888 Must Be Honored With Accountability

By Burma Partnership  •  August 12, 2013

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The week of 8888 Silver Jubilee has passed, with many commitments made for the future. Among the many commemorations of 8888 Silver Jubilee, this year Rangoon saw the largest public 8888 anniversary gathering in history with more than 4,000 activists from 88 generation forces and politicians from across the country, border areas and exile, leaders of ethnic armed groups, political parties, farmers, workers, and civil society representatives from different areas of the country as well as from exile attending the ceremony. After two days of open and lively discussions and deliberations on this special event initiated by 88 Generation Peace and Open Society and organized by various 88 generation and young generation activist groups, a crowd of 20,000 people quickly filled up the hall in the morning of 8 August and spilled out into the entrance of the hall to watch the event on a live television screen. Everyone remembers and, for the new generation, wants to remember the historical movement for democracy 25 years ago and the military regime’s brutal crackdown on countrywide mass demonstrations that killed as many as 3,000 peaceful protesters.

Allowing such gathering as the anniversary ceremony of the people’s uprising for democracy at the Myanmar Convention Center in Rangoon was a positive step taken by the government that should be welcomed. However, challenges are lined-up on the road towards meaningful reform. Unsurprisingly, a separate marching commemoration to Sule Pagoda was troubled by local authorities and three of the marchers are now facing charges. Moreover, in a panel discussion in the three-day commemoration event on national reconciliation in the three-day commemoration event, U Myint, Advisor to the President, discouraged the panelists and audience from “talking about the past.” When asked by a participant whether the government has any plan to do anything for the people who lost their lives throughout the struggle for democracy, he replied that talking about the past is useless and that people should focus on the future.

“The current government should issue an official apology to the public for all killings and oppressions starting from 1988 uprising. Only then will the current and future Tatmadaw soldiers learn to not repeat its oppressive activities against the people and only then will our future be safe,” said Moe Thway, a youth activist and President of Generation Wave. Indeed, the military crackdown during 1988 is just one of the country’s many misfortunes for which there has never been justice, largely due to the deep-rooted system of impunity that was crafted by current and former military generals to escape prosecution for past crimes. However, the effect of the system of impunity is beyond what the generals can imagine. It has ruined the current state of the nation and put the country’s future at high risk by allowing the state authorities and security forces to continue to commit crimes and encouraging the emergence of new oppressive authoritarian leaders. Modern-day crimes committed with impunity include the continuous attacks targeting civilians in Kachin State, the crackdown on Letpadaung Copper Mine protesters and the complicity of state authorities and security forces in ongoing killings and oppression of Rohingyas and Muslim people.

The 25th anniversary ceremony concluded with participants committing to the Declaration of the Silver Jubilee that reactivates and reaffirms the unfinished mission of 8888. Commitments in the declaration include working toward a genuine democratic federal union, revising the 2008 Constitution or drafting a new constitution, and holding an all-inclusive national convention.

All of these must include finding the truth. U Win Kyu, father of the 16-year old Win Maw Oo, who was shot and killed during the 1988 uprising along with many others, said his daughter will rest in peace only when real democracy is restored the country. The photo of the unconscious Win Maw Oo being carried away by two doctors remains a historical record of the bloody day in Burma in 1988. She indeed told her parents in her dying moment that they should not pray for the release her soul until Burma enjoys democracy. Uncovering the truth has always been a crucial step for a sustainable transition and meaningful and genuine reconciliation in any country: recognizing the past is the only way forward. This year’s 8888 commemorations have sent a strong and clear message to the nation and its leaders that people want the truth, the acknowledgement of the truth, and the recognition of their sacrifices and commitment to democracy, starting from what happened in 1988.

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