Human Rights Day: Myanmar's silent strike, UN condemns rights abuse
By Robin Gomes
As countries across the world celebrated United Nations Human Rights Day on Friday, opponents of Myanmar’s military rule held one of their biggest nationally coordinated protests in months. Organizers successfully called on people across the country to shut their businesses and stay at home on Friday.
The “silent strike” was staged in cities and towns from 10 am to 4 pm and came at a time of increasing violence in the political crisis triggered by the army’s seizure of power in the 1 February coup that ousted the legitimate government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Protesters wearing black attire, as suggested by strike organizers, marched silently in the streets. People at home also dressed in black and held up three fingers in a gesture of resistance.
Min Han Htet, co-founder and spokesperson of the Alliance of Student Unions Yangon, said the strike by itself might not make a significant difference. But in terms of unity and solidarity, he said, the strike was a success for the people who are waging a psychological warfare against the military dictatorship.
Massacre of civilians
Also on Human Rights Day, the UN’s human rights office said it was appalled at the alarming escalation of grave human rights abuses in Myanmar, including the horrendous massacre of civilians in Salingyi, in Sagaing region on Tuesday. U.N. human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva that security forces killed and burned to death 11 people in the incident, including 5 children.
In a separate incident on Sunday, security forces in Kyimyindaing Township, Yangon, rammed a vehicle into unarmed protesters and then fired on them with live ammunition, leaving several casualties.
Junta’s rights abuse
“These attacks are heinous, completely unacceptable, and disregard common values of humanity”, said the UN official, noting they are far from isolated. “More than 10 months since Myanmar's military overthrew the democratically elected government in a February coup,” Colville said, “the country’s human rights situation is deepening on an unprecedented scale, with serious violations reported daily of the rights to life, liberty and security of person, the prohibition against torture, the right to a fair trial, and freedom of expression.” Colville commended the courage and resilience of Myanmar’s people for having marked Human Rights Day by showing their opposition to the coup with a universal silent protest.
Friday’s “silent protests” came just after a court on Monday sentenced Suu Kyi to two years in prison for incitement against the military and flouting coronavirus restrictions during elections her party won last year. The military has a raft of charges against her including violating the official secrets act, corruption and electoral fraud. The 76-year-old leader had previously served almost 15 years of house arrest under the military, starting in 1989.
Call for ICC probe
Meanwhile, the Myanmar Accountability Project (MAP), a UK-based human rights group, has submitted evidence to the International Criminal Court (ICC), accusing coup leader and head of the country's military-installed government, Senior General Min Aung Hlain, of crimes against humanity. In a statement on Friday, MAP said it has urged the ICC to open a criminal investigation into the widespread and systematic use of torture as part of the violent crackdown against the protest movement in Myanmar, in what a UN Rapporteur has characterised as “a brute force terror campaign.”
“The leader of the illegal coup is criminally responsible for the security forces under his command committing mass atrocity crimes,” said MAP Director, Chris Gunness. “The prospects of a conviction are good and we believe that grounds for issuing an arrest warrant against Min Aung Hlaing are overwhelming.”
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a rights group that documents and compiles fatalities under the military coup, over 1,323 people have been killed so far and some 10,800 have been arrested.