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Burmese Government Urged to Cease the Assault and Arrest of Students Protesting in Letpadan and Rangoon

By 130 Civil Society Organizations  •  March 13, 2015

We, the undersigned organizations, strongly condemn the latest instance of brutal and indiscriminate assault by the police and vigilante groups against the students, monks, and residents in Letpadan who have been peacefully exercising their civil and political rights. We further call on the Burmese government to immediately stop the violent attacks, harassment, and arrest of students peacefully protesting against the National Education Law, which centralizes power over the education system, hampers academic freedom, and was approved without proper public consultation.

Since 20 January, hundreds of students have been marching from Mandalay to Rangoon to demand changes to the National Education Law, passed by Parliament in September 2014. The students’ 11 demands for changes to the law include ensuring the freedom to form student unions, mother-tongue language instruction in ethnic areas, greater autonomy for universities, and the allocation of 20% of the national budget to education.

On 2 March, students resumed their protests after the government failed to meet their demands to amend the law by 28 February. A group of students in Letpadan, Pegu Division, were subsequently blocked at a monastery and prevented from marching to Rangoon. In a show of solidarity, students and other supporters in Rangoon and other parts of the country also held peaceful protests at the beginning of March.

On 5 March, police in Rangoon violently cracked down on students peacefully protesting in front of Rangoon City Hall, injuring several and arresting eight protesters, including women’s rights activist Nilar Thein. On the morning of 6 March, police in Letpadan also violently dispersed the student demonstrators held near a monastery and their supporters. Police arrested five students. These detained protesters have since been released.

On 10 March, after the protesters in Letpadan were initially allowed to go to Rangoon, police and members of vigilante groups surrounded the peaceful and unarmed protesters and proceeded to brutally attack them. Injured students, monks, and Letpadan residents who had gathered to express their support were then taken away by the police.

We strongly condemn the use of excessive force and violence against the peaceful protesters by the police.[1] The government must take responsibility for the unlawful and aggressive actions of its security forces against the peaceful protesters. These aggressive actions are reminiscent of the tactics of past military regimes that have been infamous in using lethal violence against students and crushing any form of dissent. Of particular concern is the cooperation between police forces and vigilante groups, who participated in the crackdown and used excessive force against these young women and men.

If President Thein Sein is serious about making educational reform one of the priority measures of his government, it is in his interest to take an inclusive approach by having a dialogue with the students, including leaders of the National Network for Education Reform (NNER) and other student groups in the formulation of education policy.

The violent crackdowns against student protesters further intensifies the backslide on the government’s efforts to transition to full democracy and reveals the government’s continuing reliance on repressive actions. They substantiate the critique that the Burmese government is merely putting up a façade of democratic reform for the sake of gaining political legitimacy and economic engagement from the international community.

We, the undersigned organizations, urge the Burmese government to:

–  immediately cease and desist using excessive force and violence against the peacefully protesting students, monks, activists  and residents and ensure that security forces exercise the highest degree of restraint in any interactions with the protesters  who are exercising their civil and political rights.

–  continue to hold the next hearing sessions for the draft law amending the National Education Law with the representatives of the diverse student movement, including those from ethnic and religious minorities, and to provide the students with an effective avenue to voice their concerns and propose solutions on these matters.

–  prevent any actions that violently repress the right of the students to be heard on issues that directly affect them. This includes protecting the students from the violent actions of vigilante groups that have been harassing them. We condemn the Letpadan police’s threat of using the provisions of the Peaceful Assembly Law against the right of the student demonstrators to freedom of speech, and peaceful assembly.[2]

–  investigate and hold accountable those responsible for the violence, and institutionalize nationwide measures to prevent recurrence of similar incidents.

–  drop all charges against the arrested students, and unconditionally free any students still in detention.

–  amend without delay the National Education Law in line with students’ demands to ensure authentic educational reforms that address the needs and concerns of the stakeholders.

Signatories:

  • Action Committee for Democracy Development, Burma/Myanmar
  • Actions Birmanie , Belgium
  • Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh
  • All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress, Burma/Myanmar
  • Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma
  • Article 19
  • ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
  • ASEAN Sogie Caucus
  • Asia Democracy Network
  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development
  • Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition
  • Assistant Association for Political Prisoners, Burma
  • Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters, Burma/Myanmar
  • Association Suisse-Birmanie, Switzerland
  • Ayerwaddy Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
  • Backpack Health Worker Team, Burma/Myanmar
  • Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha, India
  • Burma Action Ireland
  • Burma Campaign UK
  • Burma Issues, Thailand
  • Burma Link, UK
  • Burma Medical Association
  • Burma Partnership
  • Burma-Initiative, Stiftung Asienhaus, Germany
  • Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
  • Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association- ADHOC , Cambodia
  • Centre for Human Rights and Development, Mongolia
  • Child Rights Coalition  Asia
  • Chin State Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
  • Christian Solidarity Worldwide
  • Civil Authorize Negotiate Organization, Myanmar
  • Civil Rights Defender
  • Coalition for Refugees from Burma (USA)
  • Colorful Girls, Burma/Myanmar
  • Directorio Democratico Cubano (Cuba)
  • Empower Foundation Thailand
  • Forum for Democracy in Burma
  • Free Burma Campaign, South Africa
  • Globe International Center, Mongolia
  • HAK Association, Timor Leste
  • Hong Kong Coalition for a Free Burma
  • Hong Kong Committee for Children’s Rights
  • Htoi Gender and Development Foundation, Burma/Myanmar
  • Human Rights Foundation of Monland, Burma/Myanmar
  • Human Rights Working Group, Indonesia
  • Imparsial, Indonesia
  • Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), Indonesia
  • Info Birmanie (France)
  • Interfaith Cooperation Forum
  • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), France
  • Just Associates Southeast Asia
  • Justice for Women, Burma/Myanmar
  • Kachin Peace Network, Burma/Myanmar
  • Kachin State Women Network, Burma/Myanmar
  • Kachin State Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
  • Kachin Women Peace Network, Burma/Myanmar
  • Kachin Women’s Association Thailand
  • Karen Community of Canada
  • Karen Human Rights Group, Thailand
  • Karen Women Organization, Thailand
  • Karenni National Women’s Organization
  • Kayan New Generation Youth, Burma/Myanmar
  • Knights for Peace International, Philippines
  • KontraS, Indonesia
  • Lanna Action for Burma, Thailand
  • Magway Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
  • Malaysians against Death Penalty and Torture, Malaysia
  • Mandalay Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
  • MARUAH, Singapore
  • Migrant Forum in Asia
  • Mindanao Action Group for Children’s Rights & Protection, Philippines
  • Mon State Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
  • Myanmar ICT for Development Organization
  • Myanmar Teachers Federation
  • National Youth Congress , Myanmar
  • Natural Resources Accountability Myanmar
  • Network for Democracy and Development, Burma
  • Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma
  • Norwegian Burma Committee
  • Pago Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
  • Palaung Women’s Organization, Burma/Myanmar
  • Panzagar , Myanmar
  • People’s Empowerment Foundation, Thailand
  • People’s Watch, India
  • People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), South Korea
  • Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, India
  • Pergerakan Indonesia, Indonesia
  • Philippine Alliance for Human Rights Advocates
  • PILIPINA Legal Resources Center, Philippines
  • Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy (PODA), Pakistan
  • Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, India
  • Pusat KOMAS, Malaysia
  • Radanar Ayar Rural Development Association, Myanmar
  • Rakhine State Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
  • Right to Know Campaign, South Africa
  • SAARC Youth Association
  • Sagaing Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
  • Shan State Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
  • Shwe Gas Movement, Burma/Myanmar
  • Society for Threatened Peoples, Germany
  • 102.South East Asian Committee for Advocacy
  • Students and Youth Congress of Burma
  • Suara Rakyat Malaysia
  • Swedish Burma Committee
  • Taiwan Association for Human Rights
  • Taiwan Free Burma Network
  • Tanintharyi Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
  • Task Force Detainees of the Philippines
  • Tavoy Women’s Union, Burma/Myanmar
  • Tavoy Youth Organization, Burma/Myanmar
  • Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma, Thailand
  • Thai Volunteer Service Foundation
  • The Life Skills Development Foundation
  • The Seagull, Myanmar
  • Think Centre, Singapore
  • Union of Karenni State Youth, Burma/Myanmar
  • US Campaign for Burma
  • Universities Teachers Association
  • Vietnam Association for the Protection of Children’s Rights
  • Voluntary Internship Program, Myanmar
  • William Nicholas Gomes, Human Rights Ambassador for Salem-News.com, UK
  • Women Peace Network Arakan, Burma/Myanmar
  • Women’s League of Burma
  • World Merit, Myanmar
  • World Student Christian Federation – Asia Pacific
  • Yangon Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
  • Yayasan LINTAS NUSA Batam, Indonesia
  • Yayasan SEJIWA,  Indonesia
  • Zo Indigenous Forum, India
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