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A strange month for Burma

Again in March, violence against protesters in Burma is marked. Norway's voice is experienced as strangely quiet this spring.


Of: Moe's life

In the evening the 13. In March, Burmese in Norway demonstrated against the government in Burma in front of the Norwegian Parliament, in protest of peaceful student demonstrations being attacked violently in Burma on 5. and 10. March. The protesters urged Norway to state clearly that violence is unacceptable, and felt that Norway should exert diplomatic pressure on the Burmese government to take responsibility for the brutal handling of student demonstrations. This is not the first Burmese demonstration in front of the Norwegian Parliament. A week earlier, Saturday 7. March, a similar celebration took place this time because a peaceful demonstration in support of students in front of Yangon City Hall ended with violent attacks by Burmese authorities. The protesters issued a statement and asked Norway to exert diplomatic pressure on Burma. Their hope was that Norway would understand their concerns and try to get the Burmese colleagues to stop using violence. Only three days later, the students were again terrorized by Letpadan police. On social media, images and videos circulating ugly police attacks on students, monks and journalists – but these never appeared in Norwegian news media.

Bloody March. Since November last year, students in Burma have been demonstrating several places in the country in protest of the new Education Act, which they believe impedes both academic freedom and students' right to organize. The protesters have demanded changes in the legislation to decentralize the school system, teach ethnic languages ​​and allow the formation of student unions. The Norwegian Student Organization (NUS) supports the Burmese students' demands for educational reform. The students have tried to discuss with the authorities, without much success. In January, they started a long protest march from Mandalay to Yangon, where the most prominent universities are located. But in Letpadan, 130 kilometers north of Yangon, the students were surrounded by police. Authorities refused to march on to Yangon. On March 10, the police told students that they could march to a nearby city, and then be transported to Yangon. People who supported the students were satisfied with the news, but it all resulted in the students being beaten and arrested by the police. At least 127 people, including journalists and monks, must be arrested and dozens of people seriously injured. Minister of Information Ye Htut confirmed the incident, but said police actions were in compliance with the law. Five days earlier, on March 5, a support demonstration in Yangon was attacked by police and the hated civil protection movement Swan Ah Shin, who appears to have resurrected from the days of the military regime. Audun Aagre, general manager of the Burma Committee, said in a press release: "The use of violence is completely unacceptable and sends associations back to the regime's days. Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly is a fundamental political right in a democracy. The violence we have seen in recent days is in stark contrast to the picture Burmese authorities have drawn of the reform process. ” Min Ko Naing, the student leader of the 1988 Democratic Uprising who has spent a total of 20 years in prison, agrees with Aagre. He says: "Our experience is that the only thing we got from the authorities was violence and arrests. After 27 years, the same unfortunately happens again in this country. This should not happen again, "he says, adding:" How can we trust Burma to move towards democracy? " On March 12, many prominent activists, including Min Ko Naing, students, artists, writers, monks and several civil society groups held a meeting in Yangon condemning the government's violent arrests. The activists demand that the government must take responsibility if it truly respects fundamental human rights. Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and now parliamentary representative, also says that the use of violence is completely unacceptable and that the events should be investigated.

The UN notification. Two weeks before the authorities' violent attack in March, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein warned that although the Burmese quasi-civilian government has promised to end the era with political prisoners, it now seems set to imprison a new generation people who seek to enjoy the democratic freedoms they have been promised. But the governments that called for President Thein Sein's political reform did not heed the warning. Just as fully, the Thein Sein government showed that the apprehensions were well founded. A few days after the warning from Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the Burmese government cut down on the peaceful demonstrations. The warning from the UN High Commissioner also pointed out that Burma is heading in the wrong direction and is in dire need of getting back on track in the country's democratic transition. However, the world seemed of little interest in these warnings. Audun Aagre of the Burma Committee agrees with the High Commissioner's concern. "I share the concerns of the UN Special Ombudsman for Human Rights. We see that the military is gaining ground, that nationalism is growing and played politically, and that the war is flaring up, especially in the north. It is legitimate to say that the reforms have stopped, but it is more correct to say that the reforms were never intended to move forward, ”says Audun Aagre.

Special month. The military had already taken greater power when General Ne Win carried out a coup on March 2, 1962, which destroyed the country's democracy. According to Burmese veteran politicians Dagon Taryar and Thakhin Thein Phay, March 1962 marked the beginning of changes in Burma. The month of March, according to them, is experienced as a very special month in Burma's independence movement and human rights history – it was the month when differences in ideology and intent were exposed. Both the Burmese military and the entire country were founded and were led by General Aung San – the father of Aung San Suu Kyi, who fought against the Japanese fascist force on March 27, 1945.

"Violence is completely unacceptable and sends associations back to the regime's days." Audun Aagre

Having gained independence from the British, the date was recognized by the first democratic government as the People's Fascist Revolution Day. But after the first military coup on March 2, 1962, the military regime changed its name to Tatmadaw Day. The Burmese feel that the military not only seized power, but also stole the date March 27. What the Burmese people and the military can nevertheless agree on is that March is the month of revolution in Burma's history. Important political changes in Burma tend to happen in March.

Burmese spring. On March 13, 1988, engineering student Ko Phone Maw was shot and killed by police on campus at the Rangoon Institute of Technology, where he was studying. As a result of the murder, student organizations arose in support of democracy and human rights. March 13 was a special day of remembrance for students and the human rights movement in Burma. Every year, Burmese around the world commemorate this date as Burma's Human Rights Day. Human Rights Day is also celebrated in memory of Ko Phone Maw, because his death led to the historic, nationwide pro-democracy uprising in Burma in 1988, and thus was also a cause for today's political reforms in the country. However, the military regime and the current government led by President Thein Sein do not recognize this as Burma's Human Rights Day, which in 2015 celebrates its 27th anniversary. Myint Aye, a Burmese activist living in Oslo, says: "After 27 years, we see the quasi-civilian government led by Thein Sein, a powerful military general from the previous military regime. But students are still considered enemies. Peaceful demonstrations are brutally cracked down on. Our demonstration is not only the 27th anniversary of Burma's Human Rights Day, but also a demonstration condemning the recent violent and brutal handling of the peaceful student demonstrations. " The Burmese government's perspective is that the student demonstrations are a conspiracy by veteran communists who want to overthrow the regime. They claim that the students are ruled by communists. But ever since the military coup in 1962, student demonstrations have been branded as communist conspiracies and met with violent attacks. Also in the democracy uprising in 1988, which was led by students, the regime believed that it was a communist conspiracy. The military regime's tactic was to accuse its opponents of being either communists or neo-capitalists. Even Aung San Suu Kyi was accused of being neo-colonial because of the support she had received from Western countries. At the moment, the Thein Sein government also uses the word communist when it needs a convenient accusation. They themselves receive support from Western countries, and have stopped accusing opponents of being neocolonialist. Moe Maung Maung Thiha, one of the student leaders from 1988 and now living in Oslo, talks about the demonstrating students as a new generation. They did not experience 1988, but are denied the opportunity to live in a democracy – just as he himself became 27 years ago. "The demonstrations that are taking place now can in any case lead to positive changes, as was the case for us in March 1988," he says.

The Burmese government's perspective is that student demonstrations are a conspiracy of veteran communists.

The role of Norway. So far, only the United States is demanding that Burma stop the violent attacks on students, journalists, monks and other peaceful protesters. And only the UK and the EU have expressed their concerns about the human rights situation in Burma. Among Burmese in Norway, there is now confusion that Norway fails to condemn the recent human rights violations. For several years, Norway was the first country to condemn such human rights violations by the Burma regime. After two demonstrations in front of the Storting, Burmese residents in Norway have not yet heard anything from Norwegian politicians about the violent arrests in Burma. “Norway's role in Burma is special. The country was formerly one of the strongest supporters of the democracy movement in Burma – but at the same time was not the first to embrace the regime's reforms. Norway has been driving capacity building by the authorities in areas where we ourselves have business interests, such as telecoms and energy, ”says Audun Aagre. The Burmese who demonstrated in front of the Storting agree with Aagre. They are still positive that Norway should focus on human rights while Norwegian companies invest responsibly so that it can have a positive effect on Burma's development. They are not sure whether student demonstrations in March 2015 can bring further positive changes to Burma's fragile democracy process. But they wonder why Norway is strangely quiet this time.

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