[Statement] Burmese government urged to cease the assault and arrest of students protesting in Letpadan and Rangoon

10 March 2015

Burmese government urged to cease the assault and arrest of students protesting in Letpadan and Rangoon

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:

1.   Action Committee for Democracy Development, Burma/Myanmar
2.   Actions Birmanie , Belgium
3.   Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh
4.   All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress, Burma/Myanmar
5.   Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma
6.   Article 19
7.   ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
8.   ASEAN Sogie Caucus
9.   Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development
10.  Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition
11.  Assistant Association for Political Prisoners, Burma
12.  Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters, Burma/Myanmar
13.  Association Suisse-Birmanie, Switzerland
14.  Ayerwaddy Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
15.  Backpack Health Worker Team, Burma/Myanmar
16.  Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha, India
17.  Burma Action Ireland
18.  Burma Campaign UK
19.  Burma Issues, Thailand
20.  Burma Link, UK
21.  Burma Medical Association
22.  Burma Partnership
23.  Burma-Initiative, Stiftung Asienhaus, Germany
24.  Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
25.  Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association- ADHOC , Cambodia
26.  Centre for Human Rights and Development, Mongolia
27.  Child Rights Coalition  Asia
28.  Chin State Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
29.  Christian Solidarity Worldwide
30.  Civil Authorize Negotiate Organization, Myanmar
31.  Civil Rights Defender
32.  Coalition for Refugees from Burma (USA)
33.  Colorful Girls, Burma/Myanmar
34.  Directorio Democratico Cubano (Cuba)
35.  Empower Foundation Thailand
36.  Forum for Democracy in Burma
37.  Free Burma Campaign, South Africa
38.  Globe International Center, Mongolia
39.  HAK Association, Timor Leste
40.  Hong Kong Coalition for a Free Burma
41.  Hong Kong Committee for Children’s Rights
42.  Htoi Gender and Development Foundation, Burma/Myanmar
43.  Human Rights Foundation of Monland, Burma/Myanmar
44.  Human Rights Working Group, Indonesia
45.  Imparsial, Indonesia
46.  Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), Indonesia
47.  Info Birmanie (France)
48.  Interfaith Cooperation Forum
49.  International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), France
50.  Just Associates Southeast Asia
51.  Justice for Women, Burma/Myanmar
52.  Kachin Peace Network, Burma/Myanmar
53.  Kachin State Women Network, Burma/Myanmar
54.  Kachin State Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
55.  Kachin Women Peace Network, Burma/Myanmar
56.  Kachin Women’s Association Thailand
57.  Karen Community of Canada
58.  Karen Human Rights Group, Thailand
59.  Karen Women Organization, Thailand
60.  Karenni National Women’s Organization
61.  Kayan New Generation Youth, Burma/Myanmar
62.  Knights for Peace International, Philippines
63.  KontraS, Indonesia
64.  Lanna Action for Burma, Thailand
65.  Law and Society Trust (LST), Sri Lanka
66.  Magway Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
67.  Malaysians against Death Penalty and Torture, Malaysia
68.  Mandalay Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
69.  MARUAH, Singapore
70.  Migrant Forum in Asia
71.  Mindanao Action Group for Children’s Rights & Protection, Philippines
72.  Mon State Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
73.  Myanmar ICT for Development Organization
74.  National Youth Congress , Myanmar
75.  Natural Resources Accountability Myanmar
76.  Network for Democracy and Development, Burma
77.  Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma
78.  Norwegian Burma Committee
79.  Pago Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
80.  Palaung Women’s Organization, Burma/Myanmar
81.  Panzagar , Myanmar
82.  People’s Empowerment Foundation, Thailand
83.  People’s Watch, India
84.  People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), South Korea
85.  Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, India
86.  Pergerakan Indonesia, Indonesia
87.  Philippine Alliance for Human Rights Advocates
88.  PILIPINA Legal Resources Center, Philippines
89.  Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy (PODA), Pakistan
90.  Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, India
91.  Pusat KOMAS, Malaysia
92.  Radanar Ayar Rural Development Association, Myanmar
93.  Rakhine State Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
94.  Right to Know Campaign, South Africa
95.  SAARC Youth Association
96.  Sagaing Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
97.  Shan State Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
98.  Shwe Gas Movement, Burma/Myanmar
99.  Society for Threatened Peoples, Germany
100. South East Asian Committee for Advocacy
101.  Students and Youth Congress of Burma
102.  Suara Rakyat Malaysia
103.  Swedish Burma Committee
104.  Taiwan Association for Human Rights
105.  Taiwan Free Burma Network
106.  Tanintharyi Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
107.  Task Force Detainees of the Philippines
108.  Tavoy Women’s Union, Burma/Myanmar
109.  Tavoy Youth Organization, Burma/Myanmar
110.  Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma, Thailand
111.  Thai Volunteer Service Foundation
112.  The Life Skills Development Foundation
113.  The Seagull, Myanmar
114.  Think Centre, Singapore
115.  Union of Karenni State Youth, Burma/Myanmar
116.  US Campaign for Burma
117.  Vietnam Association for the Protection of Children’s Rights
118.  Voluntary Internship Program, Myanmar
119.  William Nicholas Gomes, Human Rights Ambassador for Salem-News.com, UK
120.  Women Peace Network Arakan, Burma/Myanmar
121.  Women’s League of Burma
122.  World Merit, Myanmar
123.  World Student Christian Federation – Asia Pacific
124.  Yangon Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
125.  Yayasan LINTAS NUSA Batam, Indonesia
126.  Yayasan SEJIWA,  Indonesia
127.  Zo Indigenous Forum, India

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