A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AS-231-2007), September 23, 2007.
The protests that began in Burma during August to voice public frustration and discontent over sharp price rises have in the last week fast accelerated–under the guidance of the Buddhist clergy, the Sangha–towards an uprising to end the country’s military dictatorship.
The monks leading the latest events have declared the formal “overturning of the alms bowl” boycott of the military regime successfully completed–it must be initiated within a three days–and have called upon the monkhood to implement the boycott in accordance with its disciplinary code until lifted. This means a total ban on all religious activities relating to the military government: no donations, no preaching, no funeral rites, nothing.
Meanwhile, members of the public have come out in increasing numbers, despite attempts by some in the Sangha to discourage them for their own safety, to support openly the monks’ demonstrations. In recent days monks in main cities walking through flooded streets chanting verses to spread loving kindness (metta), have been joined by human chains on either side of the road, and elsewhere around the country by crowds of delighted onlookers. In the ancient city of Amarapura around one thousand were met by elderly citizens who tearfully paid their respects and called upon them to lead them out from the poverty and misery induced by the nation’s “bad kings”–a reference to one of the five enemies against which refuge is sought when paying religious homage.
The monks are being joined by more and more prominent persons from other walks of life. The famous comedian Zarganar is reported as saying that the entertainment industry should also back the protests. Important writers have joined his call. And on September 22 hundreds marched to the front of the house of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy leader who has been under house arrest since 2003, where she was able to come outside the gate and speak briefly to at least one monk. A monks’ group has in a statement of September 21 also urged all citizens, including farmers, workers, soldiers and civil servants to join in a new phase of protest beginning from 1pm on September 24.
For the first time since over two decades ago, the cry of “our aim!” is being heard on the streets of Burma. Whatever happens next, the facade of national and religious unity that the regime has sought to build up over the past two decades, since last cracking down on protests by monks in 1990, has come crashing down. Seventeen years of reorganisation, repression and manipulation have utterly failed. Neither it nor its supporters and apologists can go on pretending that it has any legitimacy upon which to take a place at the world table, or speak with any sincerity or authority on behalf of the population that it has utterly impoverished and degraded for so many years, and is utterly sick and tired of it.
In view of the recent dramatic developments in Burma, the Asian Human Rights Commission again calls on the international community to recognise the significance of what is happening there today, and lend meaningful support– not mealy-mouthed words–to the aspirations of its people for real, lasting change. To do so now will be of benefit not only to the people of Burma but also to people throughout Southeast Asia, the wider region and indeed the entire world.
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