Protests in Burma


Protests in Burma

October 10, 2007

For the past two weeks in Burma, a nation that has endured nearly half a century of political repression and human rights abuses, activists have been subjected to beatings, detention and intimidation by the country’s military government. Protestors are continuing to take to the streets in Burma’s most sustained and largest demonstrations in a decade.

AJWS is troubled by the use of violence and intimidation against activists, particularly women, holding these peaceful demonstrations. AJWS recognizes the courage of the hundreds of women and men who are nonviolently protesting Burma’s repressive regime, and salutes the tenacity of its grantees, who are working to bring an end to Burma’s conflict and ensure that displaced communities have access to health care, education, and livelihoods.

Protests began on August 19, with citizens gathering on the streets of Rangoon, Burma’s largest city, to speak out against the sharp and sudden increase in fuel prices initiated by the regime. The price hike, in which cooking gas prices were raised by more than 500% and petrol prices were doubled, had immediate repercussions as Burma’s already impoverished people found themselves struggling to cook or travel to work. A ripple effect caused a substantial rise in the cost of basic commodities such as clothing and food.

In response, the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has hired unemployed people, prisoners, and “special police” to attack and harass civilians. Planned marches have been obstructed; homes have been raided; and over 100 people have been arrested. The attacks and jailings have not deterred the crowds, however, and citizens of Burma are continuing to demonstrate both in Rangoon and in other parts of the country.

Women have been at the forefront of Burma’s resistance movements and are again taking a leading role to show their defiance against the regime’s unlawful acts and injustice. Aung Sun Suu Kyi, leader of Burma’s pro-democracy movement and the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner, is just one of many courageous women who are speaking out for peace and justice.

Reports from the protests indicate that the SPDC-hired thugs are using physical and verbal abuse against women activists as forms of intimidation. The SPDC frequently uses gender-based violence, particularly rape, as a tool of war. “We are deeply concerned that SPDC will use sexual violence as a weapon through its ‘special forces’ in cracking down now on women political activists inside Burma,” states the Women’s League of Burma, an umbrella organization of women’s organizations that includes AJWS grantees Kachin Women’s Association Thailand, Karen Women’s Organization, Palaung Women’s Organization, and the Shan Women’s Action Network.

AJWS grantmaking fosters women’s leadership and political participation in Burma’s democracy movement and empowers displaced communities from Burma to provide for their basic needs, education, health and economic development. Currently, AJWS supports 15 community-based organizations that are working towards these goals.

Over one million refugees have fled the conflict in Burma, while 500,000 remain internally displaced in the war zones in the eastern part of the country. More than 3,000 ethnic minority villages have been destroyed or forcibly relocated by the regime over the past decade. To learn more about the history of conflict in Burma and AJWS' response, please click here and here.