Case report: the September 2007 Uprising in Burma
Burma is a country rich in energy resources – including gas, oil and hydroelectric power. According to the latest information, the gas in Shwe field in the Bay of Bengal could bring in US $2 billion annually for at least the next 25 years. The A-1 and A-3 blocks of the Shwe field, about 60 Kms off the Arakan coast near the port of Sittwe, hold as much as 7.7 trillion cubic feet (220 billion cubic meters) of recoverable gas, source from South Korea’s Daewoo International company. Natural gas reserves are much higher at about 16 trillion cubic feet. The energy ministry’s director-general of planning, Soe Myint, claimed during the Singapore seminar that Burma has onshore oil reserves of more than 500 million barrels and another 100 million barrels under the sea (William Boot).
However, Burma’s junta government has allegedly mismanaged the country’s natural resources and the nation’s budget. One example of misuse is the high cost of building the junta’s new capital city, Naypyidaw, which will merely serve as a safe haven for the junta from which to prolong their dictatorship. An ugly truth, the ministry Soe Myint said, “Our dream is that Myanmar will eventually become a major energy supplier in this region.” Of course, Burma has the potential to become a major bio-fuel producer and exporter. And it is possibly amongst the world’s top 10 holders of gas resources (William Boot).
Paradoxically for a gas and oil rich country like Burma the gas and oil prices rose suddenly. This led to nation-wide public demonstrations starting from September 19, 2007. The rise in gas and oil prices was the result of a deliberate mismanagement of public policy and an act clearly ignorant of the people’s livelihood needs. There was shock amongst the public at fuel price increases between 100 and 500 percent (William Boot).
September 2007 uprising
Original of September uprising from Pakokku…. When the government physically beat protesting monks on 5 September at Pakokku, where monastic opposition began, monastic protest spread through the country. Ultimately,
monasteries at Mandalay, the most important monastic center in the country, called on all monks to refuse donations from the families of the military elite, which effectively meant that they could not earn merit in Buddhist belief. Soon, monks led peaceful protest marches in the capital (Michael W. Charney, p197). According to the Associated Press and Canadian press, up-to 100,000 people joined marches and protested in Burma. A similar report from ‘The Nation’ claimed that tens-of-thousands took to the streets in protest last week. The protests were spread out in various parts of Rangoon. In such places as the Traders Hotel, the Thein Gyi and Anawratha and Sule Pagoda road there were about 10,000, 50,000 (newsdeskspecial.co.uk) and 20,000 people respectively (english.dvb.no). Protests also occurred in Pinnya Ramika temple in Botahtaung Township amongst other places.
Outside of Rangoon, in the other states of Magawe and Bago, about 50 miles away from the capital, nearly 1,000 monks marched peacefully to the Shwemawdaw pagoda (AP), and an additional 200 monks protested in the Chauk Township (mizzima.com). A protest took place in the small town of Bogale of Ayerwady division (Hla Hla Htay). It can be called as a nationwide protest, when, eventually, ethnics places were protested, that hundreds of Shan in boarders are protested, also there are significantly protested in Rakhine state and the rest of ethnic states as well (Aung Hla Tun).
The protesters are made up of students, religious groups, activists and ordinary citizens, and are mostly led by the monks. This nationwide protest is a significant expression of a public bitter at the country’s long decades of military’s rule. It is doubly significant that the majority of protesters is of Burmese ethnicity and is devotees of Buddhism which the junta also claims to adhere to. In much of the wider world such peaceful protest and open public outcry is considered a natural part of civil movement and freedom of expression in a democratic society. That the September 2007 protests involved such large numbers is a very serious indication of a public highly dissatisfied with military rule.
The September 2007 uprising is also a national issue because the military junta’s alleged ignorance and lack of concern for the public, indicated by causing the deliberate 500% increase in fuel prices in the midst of an economic crisis, is unacceptable for the society. It is clear that the public’s interests were mismanaged by the government as a result of the wrong policy being implemented and as a result an injustice was done to the people. Additionally, the protests highlight the illegitimacy of the military ruling system in place since the confiscation of the people’s constitution in 1962. Indeed the military government is one of undemocratic rule not representative of the people. Moreover, poor handling of the economy, a record of human rights abuses and a history of conflict and war have discredited the junta. It can be seen that the country’s ruling system itself is failing, as made apparent by failures in different sectors such as education, the environment and social responsibility, amongst many more. It can be assumed that Burma’s systematic failure in these areas is the cause of man-made political disasters.
Human Rights violation
The crack down against the protesters by the Burmese military regime was an egregious violation of human rights such as freedom of movement and assembly, religious freedom, freedom of expression, and public communication rights. It is also a crime against humanity being both barbaric and cruel.
Torture, cruel and inhumane treatment
According to Canadian Press, Police in riot gear fired warning shots to disperse protesters and more than 100 Buddhist monks, and they also chased some of the monks and about 200 of their supporters during the September 2007 uprising. Furthermore, 100 soldiers armed with assault rifles were deployed around the Mahamuni Paya Pagoda, erecting a barricade and barbed wire at the gate. The demonstrators were beaten and dragged away into trucks and dozens were arrested (newsnow.co.uk). On Monday, September 24, the demonstrators and Monks come out around Myay Nee Kone were beats, arrests and shooting tear gas to disperse protesters in the south gate of Rangoon. Soldiers along with USDA (now USDP) and Swan Arr Shin groups, the de facto military’s civic groups, beat and arrested monks, nuns and other people involved in the demonstration (newsnow.co.uk).
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), at least 4,000 people, including more than 1,000 monks, suffered from swollen heads and bruised bodies. 40 monks in the Insein prison were beaten to death and subsequently burned. Those monks who had failed to escape disguised as civilians were locked in their bloodstained temples. 2,000 monks are being held in the notorious Insein Prison or in university rooms acting as cells (norwaypost.no). In a direct attack on the protestors the crowds at Sule Pagoda had a water canon turned on them (newsdeskspecial.co.uk). The soldiers and statebacked militia beat up both monks and civilians even though their demonstration had been peaceful (news.bbc.co.uk). The actions of the military and Para-military groups in their crackdown against the demonstrators are cruelly unreasonable acts and a kind of
torture. The authorities denied adequate food, water and sanitary facilities to arrested protestors and kept detainees in “dog cells” (Amnesty International).
According to Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘no one shall be subjected to torture’, this includes a limit, on human rights grounds, of the amount of force that can be used to restrain a person, the period of duration the police may detain suspects and the punishment imposed. Present time, the proscription of torture becomes part of customary international law(ROD MORGAN). Burma is in crisis, the number of shootings, beatings, burnings and other acts of oppression conducted by the authorities is a kind of torture, inhumane and degrading to the Burmese people, and it is in direct violation of international law regarding human rights. These alleged direct attacks have left hundreds of people dead including foreigners.
Death, arrest and disappearance
According to Amnesty International, more than 150 people have been detained during the protests, although Military State media said that just 56 people had been arrested (Reuters). There are thousands more political prisoners in detention including at least 15 individuals sentenced to prison terms of up to nine and a half years (Amnesty International); in the Mingladon military prison, there are 1,000 detainees, including 600 monks. But the Burmese government claims there are only about 80 monks arrested (The Associated Press). There were marksmen atop military trucks and bridges using live ammunition to target individual demonstrators during the crackdown resulting in the death of at least two students and the serious wounding of others (Amnesty International). Also, a Japanese photojournalist was killed (Agence France-Presse). It has to be said that many secret, military slaughters remain unknown.
Moreover, the junta militias widely used disappearances as a tactic against the protesters to cut down the rising death toll. According to an Amnesty report there are at least 72 individual disappearances since the crackdown (Amnesty International). For example, there six protesters were seen being taken away by pro-junta supporters in cars (Aye Aye Win). According to a former intelligence officer, Hla Win said, hundreds of monks had simply “disappeared” and thousands of protesters are dead and the bodies of hundreds of executed monks have been dumped in the jungle.
Another ugly truth is that the authorities prohibited and ordered the clinics not to treat the victims from the protest (Amnesty International). The authorities were even taking protesters’ family members and friends as “hostages”. This threat to private life is a kind of inhumane treatment. Instead of protecting the people, the government is acting as the perpetrator of inhumane attacks upon its own citizens.
Crime against humanity
The crackdown against the protesters during the September 2007 uprising is a crime against humanity perpetrated by Burma’s military government. Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Article (7) Burma’s military government committed a “crime against humanity,” by killing, murdering, burning, exterminating, torturing and performing various other inhumane acts of persecution
against the protester group, including being responsible for the unexplained disappearances of many protestors.
In particular, the Burma military’s direct attacks against the civilian population which resulted in a member of the public’s death violated Rome Statute Article (7) paragraph 1[a], “murder.” In addition the Burma authorities failed to give access to food and medicine to prisoners, an act calculated to bring about the destruction of part of the population; this constitutes a kind of “extermination,” according to Rome Statute Article (7) paragraph 1[b]. The military’s actions in attacking protestors by shooting, burning or beating can be considered torture, as any act intended to inflict severe pain or suffering, whether physically or mentally, is considered “torture,” according to Rome Statute Article (7) paragraph 1 [e]. And lastly, the forced arrests made by the militia, the detention and abduction of protesters and the unexplained acts of “disappearance” are also in violation, according to Rome Statute Article (7) paragraph 1[I]. All of these violations are part of a larger crime against humanity.
Who’s responsible for September 2007 violation?
In the September uprising, the perpetrators are the military junta, and its para-militias and its de facto civics group USDA and Swan Arr Shin. And the victims are the ordinary civilians, students, religious leaders and monks who participated in the demonstration. Also the protestor’s relatives should be included amongst the victims because the authority threatened them. In this case, the Burmese military junta Government itself has the responsibility to rectify the violation. The government is the sole holder of power and only it has the capacity to stop the violent attacks, human rights violations and crimes against humanity such as those which took place during the September 2007 uprising.
One of the worst tragedies is that Burma’s government prevents investigation into the scale of the September massacre in the rest of the country. It is clear that the Burmese military are directly responsible for killing the protesters. Since the beginning of the conflict several decades ago, the army or paramilitary forces have patrolled in ethnic regions and been responsible for many human rights violations that have forced many people to leave their homes. They are living a sub-human life(Bangkok Post - Nov 11, 2007).
Consequences of violation
There are many consequences resulting from the crackdown against the peaceful protesters in Burma; a large number of innocent people have been killed, there have been arbitrary detentions, hostages have been taken, beatings and torture inflicted on those in custody and enforced disappearances. In addition, there were deaths in detention due to severe beatings and other forms of torture. These are cruel and inhumane acts. Furthermore many people have risked their life as displaced refugees in the jungle and in neighboring countries.
Displaced and refugee
There are already at least half a million internally displaced persons (IDP) in Burma and around 95,000 others forced to hide out in jungle and refugee camps in border areas. Every day there are Burmese people whose lives are in risk and who have to search for a safe place. So they are as displaced people and refugees. In the September 2007 crackdown against peaceful protesters, many more people had to leave their homes. Some of them manage to reach refugee camps in border areas in Thailand and other countries. The displaced protestors included many monks, students, politicians, and even actors and some military officers left their home and began seeking for asylum(Rolleiv Solholm).
It is certain that the military junta’s oppression is nothing more than a fundamental human rights violation which affects all people, regardless of wealth or status, including the famous movie star, Ko Kyaw Thu. In this various deterioration of human rights and humanitarian situation in Burma made the people have no way to approach for their safety, but to seek asylum in exile.
Since Burma is a member of United Nations, there should be an immediate investigation into the human rights violated areas. And it is necessary that human rights teams are able to access all the incident areas. The authorities should allow them to undertake their investigations unhindered and cooperate with UN, international and regional human rights organizations in order to ensure the future protection of human rights. However the Burma government is very poor cooperation with human rights investigations in the past.
All the different sectors in Burma are deteriorating, this includes the destruction of social and living standards. If the government is really concerned for the nation, it is also need to solve out economic crisis for the long-term. At the same time, it is clear there is a need for a system of democracy, a full civilian ruling system. And then, Burma’s government could stop mismanaging the public’s budget through such actions as unnecessary arms building and increasing military size.It is certain that all of these problems are due to the absence of a democratic governing system
in Burma. As the protests were conducted peacefully by the demonstrators, instead of direct attack by armed force, Burma’s government should have opened a dialogue and dealt appropriately with the demonstrators in a democratic way in accordance with the stand point of international human rights. Moreover, the necessary of political will is required to change from the military dictatorship ruling to the democratic system. Freedom of association and assembly, media freedom is important issues in Burma. According to Geoffrey Nyarota, Laureate of the 2002 UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize, free media in any genuinely democratic political environment can be a catalyst for political, social and economic change (UN). Of course, it is necessary for the Burmese people to think of their own appropriate ruling system and governing form. The failure of human rights in Burma is purely due to a need for a ruling system and structural adjustment. Federal democracy may be able to incorporate Burma’s multicultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic population in a political system which will foster lasting peace. As of now, we are in need of both the regional and international community support. Lastly, as a member of the UN, Burma should implement human rights as per the international norm. It should be taken as an obligation of being a UN member.
After a critical study of the September 2007 uprising case, it is found that the Burmese military junta was neither patriotic nor the nations guardian. Paradoxically oil and gas rich Burma country turned into very high oil prices, which subsequently lead to public demonstration, and which military authority responds by brutal attacked and committed crime against humanity and human rights violations. Surely, these resources will not go towards bringing the Burmese people prosperity and will not fulfill the needs of the people, rather they will benefit the military junta only.
Activits protest in-front of Myanmar’s Embassy in Seoul
Members of All Ethnics Democracy and Human Rights Network protest on the annual event of “September Uprising” day