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13 March 2015

We, the undersigned organizations, strongly condemn the latest instance of brutal and indiscriminate assault by the police and vigilante groups against the students, monks, and residents in Letpadan who have been peacefully exercising their civil and political rights. We further call on the Burmese government to immediately stop the violent attacks, harassment, and arrest of students peacefully protesting against the National Education Law, which centralizes power over the education system, hampers academic freedom, and was approved without proper public consultation.

Since 20 January, hundreds of students have been marching from Mandalay to Rangoon to demand changes to the National Education Law, passed by Parliament in September 2014. The students’ 11 demands for changes to the law include ensuring the freedom to form student unions, mother-tongue language instruction in ethnic areas, greater autonomy for universities, and the allocation of 20% of the national budget to education.

On 2 March, students resumed their protests after the government failed to meet their demands to amend the law by 28 February. A group of students in Letpadan, Pegu Division, were subsequently blocked at a monastery and prevented from marching to Rangoon. In a show of solidarity, students and other supporters in Rangoon and other parts of the country also held peaceful protests at the beginning of March.

On 5 March, police in Rangoon violently cracked down on students peacefully protesting in front of Rangoon City Hall, injuring several and arresting eight protesters, including women’s rights activist Nilar Thein. On the morning of 6 March, police in Letpadan also violently dispersed the student demonstrators held near a monastery and their supporters. Police arrested five students. These detained protesters have since been released.

On 10 March, after the protesters in Letpadan were initially allowed to go to Rangoon, police and members of vigilante groups surrounded the peaceful and unarmed protesters and proceeded to brutally attack them. Injured students, monks, and Letpadan residents who had gathered to express their support were then taken away by the police.

We strongly condemn the use of excessive force and violence against the peaceful protesters by the police.[1] The government must take responsibility for the unlawful and aggressive actions of its security forces against the peaceful protesters. These aggressive actions are reminiscent of the tactics of past military regimes that have been infamous in using lethal violence against students and crushing any form of dissent. Of particular concern is the cooperation between police forces and vigilante groups, who participated in the crackdown and used excessive force against these young women and men.

If President Thein Sein is serious about making educational reform one of the priority measures of his government, it is in his interest to take an inclusive approach by having a dialogue with the students, including leaders of the National Network for Education Reform (NNER) and other student groups in the formulation of education policy.

The violent crackdowns against student protesters further intensifies the backslide on the government's efforts to transition to full democracy and reveals the government’s continuing reliance on repressive actions. They substantiate the critique that the Burmese government is merely putting up a façade of democratic reform for the sake of gaining political legitimacy and economic engagement from the international community.

We, the undersigned organizations, urge the Burmese government to:

- immediately cease and desist using excessive force and violence against the peacefully protesting students, monks, activists and residents and ensure that security forces exercise the highest degree of restraint in any interactions with the protesters who are exercising their civil and political rights.

- continue to hold the next hearing sessions for the draft law amending the National Education Law with the representatives of the diverse student movement, including those from ethnic and religious minorities, and to provide the students with an effective avenue to voice their concerns and propose solutions on these matters.

- prevent any actions that violently repress the right of the students to be heard on issues that directly affect them. This includes protecting the students from the violent actions of vigilante groups that have been harassing them. We condemn the Letpadan police’s threat of using the provisions of the Peaceful Assembly Law against the right of the student demonstrators to freedom of speech, and peaceful assembly.[2]

- investigate and hold accountable those responsible for the violence, and institutionalize nationwide measures to prevent recurrence of similar incidents.

- drop all charges against the arrested students, and unconditionally free any students still in detention.

- amend without delay the National Education Law in line with students’ demands to ensure authentic educational reforms that address the needs and concerns of the stakeholders.

Signatories:

1. Action Committee for Democracy Development, Burma/Myanmar
2. Actions Birmanie , Belgium
3. Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh
4. All Arakan Students' and Youths' Congress, Burma/Myanmar
5. Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma
6. Article 19
7. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
8. ASEAN Sogie Caucus
9. Asia Democracy Network
10. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development
11. Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition
12. Assistant Association for Political Prisoners, Burma
13. Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters, Burma/Myanmar
14. Association Suisse-Birmanie, Switzerland
15. Ayerwaddy Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
16. Backpack Health Worker Team, Burma/Myanmar
17. Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha, India
18. Burma Action Ireland
19. Burma Campaign UK
20. Burma Issues, Thailand
21. Burma Link, UK
22. Burma Medical Association
23. Burma Partnership
24. Burma-Initiative, Stiftung Asienhaus, Germany
25. Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
26. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association- ADHOC , Cambodia
27. Centre for Human Rights and Development, Mongolia
28. Child Rights Coalition Asia
29. Chin State Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
30. Christian Solidarity Worldwide
31. Civil Authorize Negotiate Organization, Myanmar
32. Civil Rights Defender
33. Coalition for Refugees from Burma (USA)
34. Colorful Girls, Burma/Myanmar
35. Directorio Democratico Cubano (Cuba)
36. Empower Foundation Thailand
37. Forum for Democracy in Burma
38. Free Burma Campaign, South Africa
39. Globe International Center, Mongolia
40. HAK Association, Timor Leste
41. Hong Kong Coalition for a Free Burma
42. Hong Kong Committee for Children’s Rights
43. Htoi Gender and Development Foundation, Burma/Myanmar
44. Human Rights Foundation of Monland, Burma/Myanmar
45. Human Rights Working Group, Indonesia
46. Imparsial, Indonesia
47. Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), Indonesia
48. Info Birmanie (France)
49. Interfaith Cooperation Forum
50. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), France
51. Just Associates Southeast Asia
52. Justice for Women, Burma/Myanmar
53. Kachin Peace Network, Burma/Myanmar
54. Kachin State Women Network, Burma/Myanmar
55. Kachin State Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
56. Kachin Women Peace Network, Burma/Myanmar
57. Kachin Women’s Association Thailand
58. Karen Community of Canada
59. Karen Human Rights Group, Thailand
60. Karen Women Organization, Thailand
61. Karenni National Women’s Organization
62. Kayan New Generation Youth, Burma/Myanmar
63. Knights for Peace International, Philippines
64. KontraS, Indonesia
65. Lanna Action for Burma, Thailand
66. Law and Society Trust (LST), Sri Lanka
67. Magway Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
68. Malaysians against Death Penalty and Torture, Malaysia
69. Mandalay Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
70. MARUAH, Singapore
71. Migrant Forum in Asia
72. Mindanao Action Group for Children’s Rights & Protection, Philippines
73. Mon State Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
74. Myanmar ICT for Development Organization
75. Myanmar Teachers Federation
76. National Youth Congress , Myanmar
77. Natural Resources Accountability Myanmar
78. Network for Democracy and Development, Burma
79. Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma
80. Norwegian Burma Committee
81. Pago Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
82. Palaung Women’s Organization, Burma/Myanmar
83. Panzagar , Myanmar
84. People’s Empowerment Foundation, Thailand
85. People’s Watch, India
86. People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), South Korea
87. Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, India
88. Pergerakan Indonesia, Indonesia
89. Philippine Alliance for Human Rights Advocates
90. PILIPINA Legal Resources Center, Philippines
91. Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy (PODA), Pakistan
92. Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, India
93. Pusat KOMAS, Malaysia
94. Radanar Ayar Rural Development Association, Myanmar
95. Rakhine State Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
96. Right to Know Campaign, South Africa
97. SAARC Youth Association
98. Sagaing Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
99. Shan State Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
100. Shwe Gas Movement, Burma/Myanmar
101. Society for Threatened Peoples, Germany
102. South East Asian Committee for Advocacy
103. Students and Youth Congress of Burma
104. Suara Rakyat Malaysia
105. Swedish Burma Committee
106. Taiwan Association for Human Rights
107. Taiwan Free Burma Network
108. Tanintharyi Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
109. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines
110. Tavoy Women’s Union, Burma/Myanmar
111. Tavoy Youth Organization, Burma/Myanmar
112. Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma, Thailand
113. Thai Volunteer Service Foundation
114. The Life Skills Development Foundation
115. The Seagull, Myanmar
116. Think Centre, Singapore
117. Union of Karenni State Youth, Burma/Myanmar
118. US Campaign for Burma
119. Universities Teachers Association
120. Vietnam Association for the Protection of Children’s Rights
121. Voluntary Internship Program, Myanmar
122. William Nicholas Gomes, Human Rights Ambassador for Salem-News.com, UK
123. Women Peace Network Arakan, Burma/Myanmar
124. Women’s League of Burma
125. World Merit, Myanmar
126. World Student Christian Federation – Asia Pacific
127. Yangon Youth Network, Burma/Myanmar
128. Yayasan LINTAS NUSA Batam, Indonesia
129. Yayasan SEJIWA, Indonesia
130. Zo Indigenous Forum, India

[1]http://www.irrawaddy.org/burma/students-activists-allege-violence-in-rangoon-protest-crackdown.html
[2]http://www.irrawaddy.org/burma/students-activists-allege-violence-in-rangoon-protest-crackdown.html