Human Rights Day ‘Silent Strike’ to protest junta abuses brings Myanmar to a halt

Protesters called the action ‘one of the loudest expressions by the people’ against the military.
2021.12.10
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Nearly all businesses were closed Friday, particularly those in the regions of Yangon, Mandalay, Sagaing, Magway and Irrawaddy, as well as Kachin and Chin states. (RFA photos)

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Most public areas - including marketplaces - were cleared of people beginning early in the morning, sources said.

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Nan Lin, a spokesman for the University Alumnus Association, said the Silent Strike was one of the most effective expressions of opposition against the coup since February.

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San San Win Maw, a clothing store owner in Yangon, said she joined the strike because there are increasingly few protections for human rights in Myanmar. “We now hate the military, which has shown no kindness to the people,” she said.

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The junta threatened to act against those who closed their shops, but it did not deter them.

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In some areas, authorities threatened to “punish” vendors if they didn’t show up to market. Despite the threats, no major clashes were reported.

Citizens across Myanmar marked International Human Rights Day by joining a “Silent Strike” on Friday as a public boycott of junta rule, leaving towns and cities throughout the country eerily quiet. 

Nearly all businesses — particularly those in the regions of Yangon, Mandalay, Sagaing, Magway and Irrawaddy, as well as Kachin and Chin states — were shuttered, and residents avoided any form of public interaction, emptying the streets.

Protest leaders told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the action was meant to mourn the loss of human rights under military rule and the people’s opposition to the Feb. 1 coup that saw the junta seize power from the country’s democratically elected National League for Democracy government.

Originally scheduled to take place from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Friday, most public areas — including marketplaces — were cleared of people beginning early in the morning, sources said.

Nan Lin, a spokesman for the University Alumnus Association, said Friday’s Silent Strike was one of the most effective expressions of opposition against the coup since February.

“We’d staged a ‘Silent Strike’ on March 24 that was noted by the international media when millions of people participated in the program … and now, nine months later, we are having another, but the situation is different,” he said.

“Living conditions have become much more difficult. People have returned to their daily lives not because they have accepted military rule but for the sake of survival … Today’s Silent Strike will show that we, the people, will dictate how we live our lives and that we will not let them rule us.”

In the weeks and months since the coup, security personnel have committed blatant human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, rape and killings. At least 7,916 civilians have been arrested and 1,325 killed by junta authorities since February, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, mostly during non-violent protests of the coup.

A participant in Friday’s strike named Yin Yin, who lives in Yangon’s Hmawbi township, told RFA that she was doing her part to protest the junta’s rights violations.

“I feel bad now that I couldn’t do anything for the young people who are risking their lives fighting back against the junta and, therefore, I am taking part in today’s protest,” she said.

“Young people think we have lost interest in their cause. I’m here to show that my blood hasn’t run cold yet.”

Other protesters in Yangon’s Kyeemyindine township said recent violence by the military, including the burning massacre earlier this week of 11 teenagers and adults in Dontaw village, in Sagaing’s Salingyi township, go beyond simple “human rights abuses.”

San San Win Maw, a clothing store owner in Yangon, said she joined Friday’s strike because there are increasingly few protections for human rights in Myanmar.

“We now hate the military, which has shown no kindness to the people,” she said.

“Some people have been arrested and ended up dead the next day. I feel broken as a parent. We have empathy for the people. We don’t want to hear any more of these incidents. Do we have anything called human rights here?”

Residents of the city said the junta urged people to carry on with their lives as usual without taking part in Friday’s strike and have threatened to act against those who close their shops, but it did not deter them.

Residents avoided public interaction, emptying the streets. (RFA)
Residents avoided public interaction, emptying the streets. (RFA)

‘Heinous’ attacks

Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, highlighted rights abuses in Myanmar in a statement issued to mark Human Rights Day, saying the U.N. is “appalled” by their recent escalation and congratulating the public for standing up against the junta.

“The country’s human rights situation is deepening on an unprecedented scale, with serious violations reported daily of the rights to life, liberty and security of person, the prohibition against torture, the right to a fair trial, and freedom of expression,” he said.

“Today the courageous and resilient people of Myanmar have marked Human Rights Day and their opposition to the coup with a universal silent protest.”

The rights agency called recent attacks on civilians “heinous” and urged a swift and firm international response to pursue accountability for the junta.

Dr. Tay Za San, one of the leaders of the strike movement in Mandalay, suggested that human rights had “gone completely extinct” in Myanmar and urged the public to unify to get them back.

“We have already fallen into complete darkness. Our lives that were previously bad have now turned to worse,” he said.

“You cannot even speak freely under an authoritarian rule. Dictatorships will not give us human rights willingly. So, we must fight for it.”

He called the nationwide Silent Strike “one of the loudest expressions by the people” against the junta’s violence and human rights abuses.

Residents of the city said the junta urged people to carry on with their lives as usual without taking part in Friday’s strike. (RFA)
Residents of the city said the junta urged people to carry on with their lives as usual without taking part in Friday’s strike. (RFA)

Government response

Attempts by RFA to contact junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun about the protest went unanswered Friday.

In some towns, residents reported that military and police tried to thwart the protest by urging them via loudspeakers to conduct business as usual and vowed to “protect the people from threats and attacks.” In other areas, authorities threatened to “punish” vendors if they didn’t show up to market. Despite the threats, no major clashes were reported.

Aung Myo Min, human rights minister for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), said the rights situation in the country had completely collapsed under the junta.

“The 73rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets out 30 articles on human rights. Myanmar has violated all 30 articles. From the coup to the murders, the arrests of innocent people and destruction of homes — these were all violations,” he said.

“We can say the situation in Myanmar is such that all human rights are in jeopardy. There had been weaknesses during the previous governments. But since the latest coup, the few human rights we had were all taken away.”

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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