Myanmar: The repression of ethnic minority activists in Myanmar

February 16, 2010

Myanmar: The repression of ethnic minority activists in Myanmar

This report covers the two-year period from August 2007, six months before the government announced that it would stage national elections, through July 2009. It draws on testimonies and information provided by or about at least 700 members of ethnic minorities who faced human rights violations as a result of their actual-- or sometimes, merely perceived--opposition to the Myanmar government. Amnesty International conducted more than 50 interviews, 34 of which were with activists who were themselves victims, the others with relatives, friends, neighbours, or witnesses. Amnesty International gathered this information in November 2007 in China, and throughout 2009 in Malaysia and on the borders Myanmar shares with Bangladesh and Thailand. In China, Thailand, and Bangladesh especially, Amnesty International sought out and interviewed activists who had fled Myanmar under grave threat and remained in dangerous and sometimes desperate situations. Most had never spoken to a human rights organization or fully recounted their experiences. Additional information was obtained via other sources inside Myanmar and confirmed independently by Amnesty International.10 Some names and other personal information have been changed or omitted at the request of the interviewees in the interest of their security; some names are genuine, and have been included at the insistence of the interviewees, who wanted to be identified on the record.


The government of Myanmar violates the human rights of ethnic minority political opponents and activists in a myriad of ways, including torture and other ill-treatment; discrimination on the basis of religion and ethnicity; unlawful killings; and arbitrary detention11for short periods or imprisonment.12 All of those detained or imprisoned were or remain among Myanmar's large population of political prisoners (hovering around 2,100 prisoners)--detained because of their political, religious or other conscientiously held beliefs, ethnic origin, language, national or social origin, birth, or other status. Most are prisoners of conscience; they have expressed their beliefs peacefully.13 Many such political opponents and activists told Amnesty International that they faced government repression as part of a larger movement, as in Rakhine State during the 2007 Saffron Revolution, while others said that the authorities pursued them for specific actions, such as organizing a small anti-dam signature campaign in Kachin State. Even relatively innocuous expressions of political dissent, as when Karenni youths were detained for floating small boats on a river with "No" (to the draft constitution) written on them, faced repression.


In view of Amnesty International's findings, it recommends that the government of Myanmar, among other measures:


  • Lift restrictions on freedom of association and assembly in the run-up to the elections, including by refraining from penalizing peaceful political activities.


  • Release immediately and unconditionally all political prisoners arrested solely on the basis of their peaceful political activity, ethnicity, or religion.


  • Remove restrictions on independent and objective media, including international journalists, to cover the campaigning and election process.



1.1 Myanmar's obligations under international law