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The Saffron Revolution: A Call to International Action

During the peaceful demonstrations in 2007 which marked Myanmar's 'Saffron Revolution', thousands of monks participated in democratic rallies against the military rule across Myanmar. Despites a government crackdown on internet and mobile links to the outside world, images were shown worldwide of mass arrests and indiscriminate government-violence upon peaceful civilian protesters.

We, the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) thus strongly condemns the widespread brutality, systemic use of torture, solitary confinement, enforced disappearance and cruel and degrading treatment undertake by this illegitimate regime. These acts aim to delegitimize the inalienable human rights of pro-democracy, peaceful clergymen and women.

According to a report by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) (AAPP), as of August 2011, Myanmar is verifiably home to 1,998 political prisoners; a third of whom remain imprisoned for participating in the Revolution, many monks and nuns among them. Rounded up and sent to prison camps and make-shift detention compounds in remote northern regions, many hundreds of Myanmar’s well-esteem monks – ‘saffron’, the color of their robes – were forcibly disappeared, others killed. According to a UN special report, at least 31 people died, up to 4,000 were arrested and 1,000 remain in detention. Human Rights Watch concluded that “first-hand accounts…demonstrate that many more people were killed than the Burmese authorities are willing to admit, and sheds new light on the authorities’ systematic, often violent pursuit of monks, students, and other peaceful advocates of reform in the weeks and months after the protests.”

Similarly, many of those monks who participated in protests during the 1980s and 1990s remain unaccounted for. Many others are subject to torture, even death at the hands of junta officials, in the Yangon Government Technological Institute, the Kyaikkasan racetrack and the notorious police battalion no. seven compound while a number of them are forced into labor under grievous conditions. Many families continue to suffer without knowledge of the wellbeing or whereabouts of their loved ones.

There has yet to be any forms of investigation into these matters; indeed, the government of Myanmar continues to harbor an astonishing degree of impunity. Human Rights Watch reiterates that members of the police, as well as other regime forces including the Swan Arr Shin and the USDA, conduct such crimes without fear of reprisal. While opposition members and activists face severe sentences, members of SPDC-backed institutions enjoy all but complete immunity from prosecution. Thus, a thorough, independent investigation of perpetrators of the violence remains a priority. We ask that a mechanism be set up to investigate such crimes, with view to bringing about an end to impunity of state officials which stands contrary to the pursuit of justice and peace. We acknowledge that investigations must be conducted with the support of the international community in an independent, impartial and credible manner, to create real and lasting change.

Thus we call on the international community to support a UN Commission of Inquiry into these acts of state-sponsored violence, and in doing so fulfill their mandate to prevent further violations of human rights. This includes not only an end to the conflicts and violations of rights against civilians in ethnic areas, but the prevention of enforced disappearances, improved prison conditions, an elimination of all forms of forced labor and immediate, unconditional release of all political prisoners.

We recall that Myanmar's fragile parliamentary system serves at the behest of the Burmese people, and thus should be encouraged to address human rights of its people. In May this year, the AIPMC welcomed minor steps in this direction, with the government’s announcement that all current prison sentences were being reduced by one year. Despite this fragile optimism, we re-iterate our calls upon the government of Myanmar to demonstrate a steadfast commitment to human rights by ensuring the release of all political prisoners.

We see this as a key moment in Myanmar's history, where there arise real opportunities for positive and meaningful developments to improve the human rights situation, and bring about a genuine transition to democracy. We fear, however that the regime has yet to be dissuaded, and continues to demonstrate both an utter disregard for human rights and a more democratic transition to civilian rule. Thus we ask that ASEAN postpone ASEAN chairmanship for Myanmar in 2014, until the government intensifies its efforts to advance justice, democracy and freedom by first addressing the urgent need for the release of the political prisoners.

Eva Sundari , MP (Indonesia) President
Charles Chong, MP (Singapore) Vice-President
Kraisak Choonhavan (Thailand) Vice President
Lim Kit Siang, MP (Malaysia) Vice President
Lorenzo Tanada, MP (The Philippines) Vice President
Son Chhay, MP (Cambodia) Vice-President
Teresa Kok, MP (Malaysia) Secretary

The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) is a network formed in an inaugural meeting in Kuala Lumpur, on 26-28 November 2004 by and for Parliamentarians from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. The aim is advocating for human rights and democratic reform in Myanmar/Burma.  Its members represent both the ruling and non-ruling political parties of countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines and Cambodia.