1st Aug 2015
A new report, jointly released by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners and Burma Partnership, documents the
challenges faced by human rights defenders across the country. Based on 75 interviews, ‘How to Defend the Defenders?’ is a sad
reminder of the climate of fear among those working on human rights and social justice.
In Burma, as promises of reform have stagnated, the state apparatus is both directly and indirectly closing the space for defenders
to operate safely and without fear of reprisal.
Various legislative provisions are broadly applied to unjustly arrest and detain human rights defenders. In recent years, the Right
to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Law has been widely used as a tool of repression and targeted activists nationwide.
While the law typically applies to mass protests, it has also been used to bring criminal charges against lone protesters. Myint
Khaing* was arrested last year in Mandalay for making an innocuous call for national unity, and charged under Article 18 of the
Assembly Law, a provision that requires prior permission for all acts of ‘assembly.’ He was the sole person present at the site of
the alleged protest.
Both the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights firmly protect the right
to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Both also protect fair trial rights and due process in the judiciary.
As one human rights lawyer interviewed in the report noted: “Only 0.01% of cases are free. The whole judicial system is under the
control of the Government. The recent events at the Letpadan court indicate that there is no rule of law. Students were summoned at
night instead of during official working hours… .people don’t receive any protection from the laws, and the judges ignore them in
When the judiciary is either directly or indirectly implicated in persecuting human rights defenders for the legitimate exercise of
fundamental rights, it will never provide those safeguards necessitated by international law.
In recent months, the democratization process in Burma has been backsliding. In these last weeks alone, we have borne witness to a
state-sponsored campaign to crackdown on the very legitimate exercise of freedom of speech. The government has actively targeted
student rights defenders in repeated efforts to silence any perceived criticism of the ruling administration. With over 50 students
remaining in jail today on trumped up and politically motivated charges aimed at stifling any form of dissent, where is the
credibility in this so-called reform process? At what point will the rhetoric of reform begin to coincide with reality on the