In Burma, there has been a string of attacks by the Burmese police on peaceful civilians in recent weeks. On August 14th, nearly 50 police personnel in the Mandalay Region shot at a group of around 200 farmers from Nyaung Wine Village in Singu Township. Across Burma, farmers are facing such vexing problems, where their land has been taken forcibly taken from them by the military. The farmers’ attempts to cultivate their land is being met with brutal crackdown by the military battalions, the courts and now even police shootings.
The farmers were protesting against the fact that over 6,000 acres of their land was confiscated in 1991 by the 121 Logistic Battalion of the Burma Army – without any compensation being provided – by continuing to plough their fields. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a 30-year-old mother of two, Ma San Kyin Nu, is allegedly one of the victims, and has been admitted to Mandalay General Hospital for urgent medical treatment as a result of her injuries.
The AHRC said in a statement that ‘’this pattern of land grabbing and violent followup to the original crime, without any possibility of legal recourse for the victim farmers, and this most recent shooting, indicates that there is not even a vestige of the rule of law in Burma.’’ The rights group condemns the violence displayed by the police to intimidate the citizens, and insists that the government sets the farmers free immediately. It also urges the government of Burma to solve these land problems in a peaceful way and uphold the farmers rights to their land. Burma must make these changes if it would like to make a claim of being a democratic and free nation.
According to the Burma Partnership, after the police violence, the protesting farmers prevented police from making any arrests; however, later, another 100 police arrived and blockaded the entire village. Local residents then took matters into their own hands and briefly detained about 40 police officers, angered at the brutal approach of the police to the land conflict. Although the policemen were eventually released after negotiations, the organization says that the dangers and risks of uncontrolled police violence and impunity are evident: ”blood has been shed and anarchy has prevailed.” The organization says that even if police allegations that the protesters were armed with slingshots is true, under no circumstances is the use of live ammunition by police or other state security forces on civilian protesters proportionate or justified.
Additionally, on May 14th, All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) member Kaung Htet Kyaw was allegedly beaten by police during a suppression of a farmers’ protest in Thegon Township in Pegu Region. Kaung Htet Kyaw sustained severe head injuries and was charged with participating in an unauthorized protest.. ABFSU responded by releasing a statement denouncing police mistreatment. On May 22nd a group of students gathered to demand justice for Kaung Htet Kyaw. The group alleges to have been assaulted by more than 60 police officers after the rally. “We demand the release of the farmers who are in detention, and that all charges against them and our member, Kaung Htet Kyaw, be dropped,” said Min Thwe Thit of ABSFU.
The AHRC also reports that on July 4th, police in Bago No. 1 Police Station arrested a 37-year-old man, Zin Aung, without an arrest warrant or court order, and without notifying an administrative officer, on grounds of stealing bottles of motorcycle fuel. While in custody for three days, he was allegedly tortured, and subsequently died of his injuries. According to the AHRC, police have now been threatening the relatives of the deceased. This case follows on the heels of other custodial torture cases which implicate the Burma Police Force, such as those of Kyaw Nyunt, Than Htun, and Myo Myint Swe.
Moreover, the Network for Human Rights Documentation-Burma (ND-Burma) has published its periodic Report on the Human Rights Situation in Burma covering the first half of 2014. ND-Burma’s report focuses on 103 documented cases of human rights violations in Burma from January to June 2014. There are many serious human rights cases highlighted in the report, including ones of torture, extra-judicial killing, illegal arrests and detentions, forced displacement and rape. Many such cases clearly entail the collusion or actual involvement of the Burma police force or enforcement agencies.
ND Board member Salai Bawi Pi said that “Many human right defenders and activists have been arrested under repressive laws such as Section 18.” As an example, he drew attention to the recent case in Chin state where eight Chin activists were charged under Section 18 of ‘The Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act’ for protesting without permission. These activists requested permission, but were refused by local authorities. Their protest was related to an incident that allegedly occurred on June 10th, when a 55 year-old woman from Rezua sub-township, in the Matupi township area of Chin State, was brutally beaten during an attempted rape by a Burma Army soldier.
The Burma Partnership says that these cases show that there is a long way to go in terms of reforming the Burma police force. ‘’Rather than protecting people from violent crime, the police are perpetrating violent crime; rather than respecting people’s human rights, they are abusing them; rather than enhancing security, they are undermining it; rather than supporting the judiciary, they are using it to do their dirty work, or even by-passing it altogether; and rather than assuaging the fears of communities around the country, they are exacerbating those fears,’’ the organization says.
The European Union (EU) has been working with the Burma Police Force on its police reform program. The EU states that “it has decided to support the reform of the [Burma] police force in the areas of crowd management and community policing with a €10 million (approximately $13.3) package. Improving respect by the police for human rights and the accountability of the police to Parliament, civil society and the media will be at the heart of this action.”
In order to tack police impunity properly, the Burma Partnership says that the Burmese government needs to show political will, especially when it comes to reforming the judiciary, so that victims of police brutality will start to develop confidence in the system and feel that they have a genuine avenue to redress for such brutalities and rights abuses. The organization warns that if the police force remains unaccountable and impunity is not tackled, then police brutality will not only continue but the impunity will become more entrenched – however many millions the EU pours into its police reform programs.
Burma Partnership also maintains that the police require intensive, rigorous, principled training on effective policing and human rights compliance throughout the country. Disciplinary procedures need to be implemented at all levels of the police force.
In response to this crackdown on farmers, last Wednesday, about 1,000 farmers gathered in Burma’s northern Sagaing region to demand that authorities drop charges against fellow farmers.