Myanmar: The repression of ethnic minority activists in Myanmar

February 16, 2010

Myanmar: The repression of ethnic minority activists in Myanmar



© United Nations (Myanmar, No 4168 Rev. 2 May 2008)



Later this year, Myanmar will hold its first national and local elections in 20 years against a backdrop of political repression and unresolved armed conflicts. The country's record on human rights is extremely poor. Myanmar's 50 million people continue to suffer from poverty and public health challenges, wrought largely by the government's longstanding economic mismanagement. Widespread and systematic attacks on civilians in eastern Myanmar have been carried out with virtual impunity.1 Despite prodding from its neighbours in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), renewed communication with domestic political opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and various foreign critics (chief among them the United States), and another round of United Nations (UN) visits and resolutions, the government has not meaningfully improved the country's human rights situation. As this report conveys, there are real reasons to fear that the 2010 elections will intensify the already severe repression of political critics, in particular those from the country's large and diverse population of ethnic minorities.


Amnesty International's research demonstrates, with greater detail than previously available, that Myanmar's ethnic minorities have played an integral role in much of the political opposition against the government's repressive conduct. Myanmar's government has exacted a heavy price from peaceful critics from ethnic minorities: among other violations, arbitrary arrests, imprisonment, torture, and extrajudicial executions of activists are documented. With the 2010 elections looming, and the government's intolerance of any group challenging its legitimacy, policies, and practices increasing, Amnesty International is concerned that the country's ethnic minorities will suffer even worse violations.2


The last time the country's military government held general elections, in May 1990, it was defeated by the National League for Democracy (NLD) and a coalition of smaller opposition parties seeking to represent the country's sizeable population of different ethnic minorities. The authorities responded by ignoring the election results and arresting scores of opposition leaders and parliamentarians. The most prominent detainee was the NLD's leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has remained in some form of detention for over 15 of the past 21 years.3 More than 2,100 political prisoners languish behind bars in Myanmar. For Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD, and much of the country's ethnic minority opposition, their thwarted victory in the elections of 1990 forms the basis of their claim that the current government is not legitimate. The current government, by extension, views this year's elections as a means to toward strengthening its claim to legitimacy and blunting internal and external criticism. It is highly unlikely that the government will repeat the conditions of 1990, when relatively open campaigning and voting led to a government defeat.