End repression of ethnic minorities before Myanmar elections
February 2010, 03:33PM
Myanmar’s government must halt its repression of ethnic minority
activists before forthcoming national and local elections, Amnesty
International has warned.
A 58-page report, The Repression of ethnic minority activists in
Myanmar, draws on accounts from more than 700 activists from the seven
largest ethnic minorities, including the Rakhine, Shan, Kachin, and
Chin, covering a two-year period from August 2007.
The authorities have arrested, imprisoned, and in some cases
tortured or even killed ethnic minority activists. Minority groups have
also faced extensive surveillance, harassment and discrimination when
trying to carry out their legitimate activities.
“Ethnic minorities play an important but seldom acknowledged role in
Myanmar’s political opposition,” said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty
International’s Myanmar expert. “The government has responded to this
activism in a heavy-handed manner, raising fears that repression will
intensify before the elections.”
Many activists told Amnesty International that they faced repression
as part of a larger movement, as in Rakhine and Kachin States during the
2007 Buddhist monk-led ‘Saffron Revolution’. Witnesses described the
killings and torture of monks and others by the security forces during
its violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations in those states.
Others said they were pursued for specific actions, such as
organising an anti-dam signature campaign in Kachin State.
Even relatively simple expressions of political dissent were met with
punishment as when Karenni youths were detained for floating small
boats on a river with “No” (to the 2008 draft Constitution) written on
“Activism in Myanmar is not confined to the central regions and urban
centres. Any resolution of the country’s deeply troubling human rights
record has to take into account the rights and aspirations of the
country’s large population of ethnic minorities,” said Benjamin Zawacki.
More than 2,100 political prisoners, including many from ethnic
minorities, languish in Myanmar’s jails in deplorable conditions. Most
are prisoners of conscience who have expressed their beliefs peacefully.
Amnesty International urged the government to lift restrictions on
freedom of association, assembly, and religion in the run-up to the
elections; to release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of
conscience; and to remove restrictions on independent media to cover the
campaigning and election process.
Amnesty International called on Myanmar’s neighbours in the
Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as China,
Myanmar’s biggest international supporter, to push the government to
ensure that the people of Myanmar will be able to freely express their
opinions, gather peacefully, and participate openly in the political
“The government of Myanmar should use the elections as an opportunity
to improve its human rights record, not as a spur to increase
repression of dissenting voices, especially those from the ethnic
minorities,” said Benjamin Zawacki.
In 2010, Myanmar will hold its first national and local elections in
In 1990, two years after mostly peaceful anti-government protests
resulted in the deaths of at least 3,000 demonstrators, the National
League for Democracy (NLD) and a coalition of ethnic minority parties
resoundingly won national elections.
The military government ignored the results, however, and continued
their long-standing campaign against the political opposition.
Myanmar’s most well-known human rights defender, Daw Aung San Suu
Kyi, leader of the NLD, has been under some form of detention for over
15 of the last 20 years.
In 2007, monks from ethnic minority Rakhine State initiated
country-wide demonstrations against the government’s economic and
political policies, in what has become known as the Saffron Revolution.
In May 2008, a week after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country, the
government insisted on holding a referendum on the draft constitution.
The official results were that 99% of the electorate had gone to the
polls, 92.4% of whom had voted in favour. While the 2008 Constitution
potentially allows for greater representation in local government, it
ensures that the military will continue to dominate the national
Ethnic minorities constitute some 35-40 percent of the country’s
population, and form the majority in the seven ethnic minority states.
Each of the country’s largest seven ethnic minorities has engaged in
armed insurgencies against the government, some of which continue to
Amnesty International has documented serious human rights violations
and crimes against humanity by the government in the context of the
Myanmar army’s campaigns against ethnic minority insurgent groups and
Read the full report The
Repression of Ethnic Minority Activists in Myanmar (pdf 800kb)