(New York) - Many more people were killed and detained in the violent government crackdown on monks and other peaceful protesters in September 2007 than the Burmese government has admitted, Human Rights Watch said today in a new report. Since the crackdown, the military regime has brought to bear the full force of its authoritarian apparatus to intimidate all opposition, hunting down protest leaders in night raids and defrocking monks.
The 140-page report, “Crackdown: Repression of the 2007 Popular Protests in Burma,” is based on more than 100 interviews with eyewitnesses in Burma and Thailand. It is the most complete account of the August and September events to date.
Human Rights Watch research determined that that the security forces shot into crowds using live ammunition and rubber bullets, beat marchers and monks before dragging them onto trucks, and arbitrarily detained thousands of people in official and unofficial places of detention. In addition to monks, many students and other civilians were killed, although without full and independent access to the country it is impossible to determine exact casualty figures.
“The crackdown in Burma is far from over,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Harsh repression continues, and the government is still lying about the extent of the deaths and detentions.”
Human Rights Watch found that the crackdown was carried out in part by the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a “mass-based social welfare” organization with more than 23 million members that the Burmese military is grooming to lead a future civilian government. It operated alongside the Swan Arr Shin (Masters of Force) militia, soldiers and riot police in beating and detaining protesters.
The report documented the killing of 20 people in Rangoon, but Human Rights Watch believes that the death toll there was much higher, and that hundreds remain in detention. Human Rights Watch was unable to gather information on killings and detentions from other cities and towns where demonstrations took place.
At a news conference in the new capital at Naypidaw on December 3, National Police chief Major General Khin Ye stated that, “Ten people died and 14 were injured during the monk protests from 26 to 30 September. The security members handled the situation in accord with the procedures.” Human Rights Watch has information that Khin Ye personally supervised the brutal arrests, beatings and killings of monks at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon on September 26.
The ruling State and Peace Development Council (SPDC) claims that overall 2,927 people, including 596 monks, were “interrogated,”and almost all have been released. It says that nine people have been sentenced to prison terms, while 59 lay people and 21 monks remain in detention.
Human Rights Watch said that hundreds of protesters, including monks and members of the ’88 Generation students, who led protests until being arrested in late August, remain unaccounted for. Human Rights Watch noted that before the protests there were more than 1,200 political prisoners languishing in Burma’s prisons and labor camps.
“The generals unleashed their civilian thugs, soldiers and police against monks and other peaceful protesters,” said Adams. “Now they should account for those killed and shed light on the fate of the missing.”
Human Rights Watch called for greater international action, including by the United Nations Security Council, to press the Burmese government to undertake major reforms. On December 11, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, will present his findings on the crackdown to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Human Rights Watch criticized the lack of action by countries with good relations and influence on Burma, such as China, India, Russia, Thailand, and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations members. China has made it clear that it will not allow the UN Security Council to take up Burma in any meaningful way. Despite the killing of a Japanese journalist by Burmese security forces, Japan has reacted timidly.
“It’s time for the world to impose a UN arms embargo and financial sanctions, to hurt Burma’s leaders until they make real changes,” said Adams. “Countries like China, India and Thailand have the responsibility to take action to help hold the generals accountable and to end this long nightmare of military repression.”
Selected Eyewitness Accounts from “Crackdown”
“The raid at the monastery was around 1 a.m. The soldiers shouted to open the monastery gates, and then broke the gate open by hitting it with their truck when no one came to open. Shouting loudly, they were throwing teargas and firing their automatic guns into the buildings of the monastery, and used their batons to beat the monks whenever they saw them. Many monks ran away, climbing into the trees nearby and escaping by hiding in the houses of the neighborhood. I was injured in the head when I was hit by baton charges. I saw pools of blood, shattered windows, and spent bullet casings on the floor when I came back to the monastery in the morning. We found about 100 monks missing out of 230 monks. They took our money and jewelry, and other valuable things they found at the monastery.” – U Khanda, a monk describing a raid on his monastery, September 27
“We were so frightened. My two friends were crying loudly, and I was so frightened that the soldiers would find us. Then the informers pointed to the grass. Seven young people were hiding there. They got up and ran, but the soldiers started firing into their backs. They were only able to run six or seven steps before they fell. Three or four of the young boys aged around 20 to 22, were gunned down straight away. The others tried to run but were caught and taken away in the military cars.” – Thazin Aye, describing killings at Tamwe No.3 High School on September 27
“After the warnings, the soldiers in the first row shot teargas into the crowd. Five soldiers shot the teargas. They began shooting immediately after the announcement. People ran in all directions. Twenty soldiers came over the barricade, climbed over, and started beating the people. Two people died. … It was not like in the movies. When the soldiers beat those people, they were trying to kill them. They beat them on the head and the abdomen. The soldiers pulled them by their legs over the barricade … they put the two bodies next to their trucks.” – Zaw Zan Htike, describing an incident on September 27 in downtown Rangoon
“At the time, a girl wasn’t sure whether to lie down or stand up. A riot police [officer] hit the girl on the side of her face with his baton. The girl collapsed. She was in her 20s – there was blood running down her face, and her skull might have been broken. I’m not sure if she died. No one was able to help her. If we put our heads up, they would hit us and kick us with their boots.” – Htun Kyaw Kyaw, describing arrests on September 27
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