Burmese Junta's Record Suggest Potential for Violent Crackdown, Rights Group Says
NEW YORK – With hundreds of thousands taking to the streets in peaceful protests against the military regime in Burma, the junta’s record for oppression of dissidents makes the potential for a violent crackdown there a “cause for extreme concern,” according to a leading human rights group.
“The current military regime in Burma has a bloody history. The massive, nonviolent protests in the streets of 1988, like those we saw yesterday, ended with some 3,000 people dead at the hands of the Burmese army,” said Betsy Apple, Director of the Crimes Against Humanity program at New York-based Human Rights First. “Why should we expect anything different today?”
“We can foresee the danger of violence here, which is why it’s critical for the United Nations Security Council and those with particular influence on Burma—namely China and ASEAN—to demand a peaceful resolution to these protests,” she added.
The current protests began in early August, when the Burmese junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), decided to double the price of fuel, making some of the world’s poorest people even poorer. In a series of smaller protests, a number of monks, revered in the largely Buddhist country, were beaten. This led to a series of protests culminating in as many as 100,000 people marching in the streets of Rangoon on September 24.
“The SPDC’s propensity toward violence, particularly against democracy activists, members of Burma’s ethnic nationality groups, and women, is quite well known,” said Apple. “It’s no secret that the regime has committed serious abuses, including torture, killings, rape, and forced labor, against its people. It seems unlikely that the junta will just ignore the peaceful protests, and unlikelier still that they won’t bring in troops with guns.”
China has strong economic ties to the SPDC and to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma is a member. It is critical that China use its strong relationship with the military regime to urge calm, demand respect for human rights, and urge the SPDC to commence the long-overdue process of democratization. ASEAN countries also should exercise their influence over Burma’s junta to call for a peaceful resolution to the protests and an end to the oppressive military regime. Finally, the international community should demand the immediate release of Nobel Peace prize winner and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as well as all political prisoners. The U.S. tightened economic sanctions on Burma on Tuesday, September 24, and other countries should send an unequivocal signal to the junta as well that continued repression will not be tolerated.