Freedom From Fear

by Hlaing (Harry) Than

What is Democracy? Why do people want to fight for a democracy, and why do they want it? People are yelling out "freedom" and sacrificing their lives to get freedom, it indicates that they want human rights. What is "human rights" and how do we understand it?

According to Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by UN General Assembly Resolution 217 A of 10 December 1984, "Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…" In which it is simply stated that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Everyone has the right to freedom to opinion and expression. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

History will not ever be disappeared in Burma. It was the unforgettable moment that we, Burmese people, respectfully bow to those who have sacrificed their lives struggling for democracy and human rights. Twelve years ago, on 13th March 1988, the peaceful demonstration of Rangoon Institute of Technology (RIT) students was brutally cracked down by the ruling authorities led by General Ne Win who took the power by force on 2nd March, 1962. We still remember those days, the days our students fought for democracy, and we remember the death of RIT students and the blood they shed on the street and around the White Bridge beside the Inya Lake. Some of the students were arrested and sent to Insein Prison. Some of them died in prison. Moreover, many innocent people died for democracy during the demonstration in 1988. In retrospect, we all were tired of watching the military government taking every privilege. Students who were fed up with the government and with the mismanagement of education didn't want to take their abuses anymore. As a result, there was a nationwide struggle for democracy and fundamental human rights. People wanted to fight for justice. Unfortunately, too many of us died. Today, it has been for 12 years since the day we were stopped by military government. We need to break down the military government and build a democracy. That begins with our understanding of our history.

January 4th 1946, British declared Burma an independent nation. Every year, we commemorate our country's Independence Day because we understand the value of freedom and wish to honor and remember those good citizens, men and women, who gave their lives for the cause. Even though we have Independence Day, we don't really have freedom at all. Only when we have democracy will we have freedom. True independence (freedom) is priceless now. It is something that every citizen is entitled to. Legally, basic human rights that operate as our defense must be equally enjoyed by all. A country in which one group misuses power and oppresses and crushes the people according to its wishes and desires is not a truly independent or free country. Everyone who is a citizen, big or small, far or near, should not suffer discrimination. All will be as of one flesh and one blood. No one will have more. No one will have less, no one will be higher, and no one will be lower. We will be equals. We will not act unjustly to others and will not suffer injustice from others. We will guard freedom with our lives. We will respectfully adhere to our laws. Finally, we will unite as one and march in accordance with the principles laid down by our great leader Bogyoke Aung San who procured independence for us. In order to get democracy all the people must be united and in accord. If united, anything is possible. If disunited, nothing will change.

Since an army coup overthrew Burma's last democratically-elected government in 1962, military-run or dominated regimes in Burma have been among the world 's worst violators of human rights. An already serious level of abuses climbed higher after the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) seized power in September 1988. The Junta removed all pretense of civilian administration and marked its arrival by massacring thousands of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators in Yangon and other Burmese cities and towns.

According to Amnesty International annual reports stated that " In 1988, Burma's army faced allegations of serious human rights abuses, especially in its campaigns against ethnic groups along the country's borders."

These gross violations are added to ongoing suppression of other fundamental freedoms. In 1988, a massive and peaceful "people power" movement demanded an end to dictatorship. The army reacted fiercely to preserve its rule. On September 1988, a new junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), seized direct power to quell the democracy movement. Crowds of peaceful protesters were machine-gunned by troops; thousands died. For a few days, events in Burma captured world headlines.

As people wanted to fight for justice, Suu was asked to help intermediate between the military regime and the people as the daughter of Burma's most admired independence hero, General Aung San. Despite chaos in the country, people strongly believed that she was the only one who could promote democracy and help create a unity of purpose in the people of Burma. She accepted saying, "As my father's daughter, I felt I had duty to get involved in this struggle,"(Suu 56) after making up her mind to give up her idyllic life at Oxford University. Since then, she has dedicated her life in non-violent movement to bring democracy to the Burmese people.

The National league for Democracy became the people's favorite party where Aung San Suu Kyi served as secretary. The NLD party went on to win colossal electoral victory n 1990 taking 392 of the 485 seats contested but the military junta refused to transfer power to a civilian government as it had promised. The military government should relinquish their power to the elected part. Instead, They put her under house arrest till today, and arrested students. During this time, she received Nobel Peace Prize. In addition, she has been awarded numerous prestigious international awards for her courageous leadership in a non-violent struggle to bring justice, freedom and democracy to the people of Burma.

The SLORC pledged that elections would be held after "peace and tranquillity" were restored in Burma. Moreover, the junta's response to the overwhelming defeat was simply to change the rules. It declared the election was not for a parliament, but for some members of a constituent assembly to consider a new constitution. (Suu 89)

Now, the military authorities are claiming that they are working towards democracy- this must be a fantasy. How can authorities who are so afraid to grant basic democratic rights to people build or construct democracy. The fact is that the present military authorities are in great fear of people power. Their minds seem to be set on the idea that only by keeping the people crushed and subjugated they can exist. Such people can never construct democracy. If they had the guts, instead of saying that they are constructing democracy they would be saying " we will never give you democracy'". Suu (95)

"Journal of Law: Equality, Wealth and Political Stability in Burma" reports that " The U.S should also call a session of the U.N Council to pass a resolution condemning Burma's continued failure to transfer to the winners of the 1990 election, and further undermining the State Law and Order Restoration Council's in the eyes of its own people" (Posner 13).

Burma's political future is now critically poised. There is no doubt that most people in Burma are struggling to survive and need a change. Without transferring the power to the elected party, our country will never reached its development stage. In fact, People of Burma are expecting the help from the International Communities and the United Nations to intermediate the truth about 1990 general election between the elected party and the military government.


This essay submitted by a Burmese expatriate now living in the US.