Repression in Burma

In September 2007 thousands of Burmese monks and citizens came out onto the streets to demonstrate against grinding poverty and the military dictatorship.

Burma had not seen a social and political protest on this scale since 1998. But the repressive response of the ruling military junta was as fierce as it was brutal. At least 110 people were killed, thousands more were wounded by bullets or beaten with clubs and truncheons. There were countless arrests.

(Hnin Si, 26 years old, teacher, witness to the violent repression of 26 September 2007)

“They came out of the Eastern Gate and met the military, who stopped the monks. The monks said we just want to go out there for a peaceful protest so please let us go.
“But the army responded with violence. They opened fire, shooting teargas and beating the protestors.
“I wasn’t beaten myself, but my eyes filled with teargas. I saw students and monks being beaten. Some were hit on the head, some on the arm, and some on the back. Many people were killed, injured or arrested”.

Thousands of Burmese have taken refuge just over the border in Thailand in the last few months, fleeing the repression. Here in Mae Sot they have joined the refugees who preceded them, such as this family who fled from forced labour and brutality.

(Maung Win & Naw Ber Byu, a farming family from the Karen state. They fled the forced labour and brutality in Burma in April 2007.)
(male) When I lived in my village, I was a farmer. Because of the military activity in our village, I didn’t have time to work. I was forced to work as a labourer and a porter. There were taxes. We were afraid of the military, so we came here.
(female) the military camps were built near our home. We were forced to work everyday…
(male) Everyday.. and we had to take our rice as well”.
(both) We had to build the fence, the barracks, and dig the trenches, and the bunkers and cut the bamboo”?
(female) “In our village, when the soldiers got drunk, they forced the married women to have sex. They beat. … Rape? For sure, and when the women ran away to another house, they were chased and beaten on the head with rifles”.

Mae Sot on the Thai border is a hub for legal, and illegal, trade with the junta. The people live in poverty, but several big multinationals and some governments, such as China, India and Thailand, continue to fill the regime’s coffers.

(Nilar, 28, ex- tour guide for a small tourism firm in Rangoon)
‘For example, when tourist planes arrive at the airport, only tour companies connected to the junta can enter the terminal to meet tourists. They have much greater advantage.
“Civilian companies like ours are not allowed to enter. So in this way they get the meat and we get the bones”

(Hari, 27, masked for fear of repression against his family)
“They (the junta) are killing people like chickens and birds
I would like to request the world to use economic sanctions and every means possible until human rights are restored in Burma”

Taking up the appeal of the independent Federation of Trade Unions – Burma, the ITUC urges companies to stop investing in Burma. The ITUC also calls on the international community to apply stronger and more targeted economic and financial sanctions, particularly on oil and gas, to bring the regime to its knees, in line with the request of the Burmese democracy movement.

(Maung Maung, General Secretary of FTUB)
“This is what we’ve always told the international community; especially the apologists for the regime, when they are saying that sanctions hurt the people.
That is why we’ve been saying that we have been asked… it’s not our decision. We have been asked by the people in the country to have sanctions on the regime, especially on the industries, the ventures, that create money directly for the regime and its cronies”

(Hari, 27, masked for fear of repression against his family)
“I’m ready to join the struggle for Burmese freedom and to fight for food, clothing and shelter for the people.
and fight for the basic rights of the people by every possible means”

(Maung Maung, General Secretary of FTUB)
“What we have been told by people from the very ground level, the factory workers, the people on the work floor, that have said: “look, just shut it down. May be we’ll all go hungry for a month. But it’s better to change the system now than go suffering for ever like this”.

April 2008 –ITUC-CSI –

Produced by Parachute Pictures (David Browne, Niranjan Racha, Kittichai Sae-ngow, Kim Goii)