Myanmar: The repression of ethnic minority activists in Myanmar

February 16, 2010

Myanmar: The repression of ethnic minority activists in Myanmar

  • Freedom of expression--limited restrictions on which (for security, public order, the reputation of others) were not applicable to the cases documented in this report--including freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers (Article 19);20


  • Freedom of peaceful assembly and association--whose restrictions are similar to those on freedom of expression, and which were not applicable to the cases contained in this report (Article 20).21


Four other provisions are also shown to have been violated:


  • The right to equal protection against discrimination (Article 7);


  • The right to not be subjected to arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home (Article 12);


  • The right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of self and family, including food (Article 25);


  • The right to participate in the cultural life of the community (Article 27).




For the past 22 years, Myanmar's internal political affairs, as well as its interaction with the international community, have been dominated by occasional mass eruptions of protest against the military government. Largely peaceful and spearheaded by students and monks, protests in 1988 led to the emergence of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD as the torch-bearers of political opposition both domestically and internationally. Because these protests involved such large numbers of people--at least 3,000 of whom were killed by security forces--the activism of 1988 remains a defining moment of Myanmar's post-colonial history, just as the government's rejection of the subsequent 1990 elections has remained as a rallying call against the government.


Internationally--although not domestically--much of the attention to these events has focused on Myanmar's ethnic majority Burmans (also known as Bamar). This is partly because the 1988 demonstrations were concentrated in, although not exclusive to, the urban areas of Myanmar's central region22where ethnic Burmans form the majority. The movement's participants, leaders, and victims--and subsequently exiles and defenders--were mostly ethnic Burmans. This was equally the case during smaller but still sizeable demonstrations in Yangon following the elections in 1990 and again in 1991, 1995, 1996, and 1998.


This international perception changed slightly in August and September 2007, when protests of a similar origin and nature to those of 1988 erupted in Myanmar, as one of the main flashpoints was the capital of Rakhine State, populated mostly by an ethnic minority of the same name. However, when the authorities again cracked down on the demonstrators, nearly all images seen globally on the internet and television were from Yangon, and the overall effect was a reinforcement of the reading that political opponents and activists are mostly ethnic Burmans.