One Year After Violent Crackdown in Myanmar

One Year After Violent Crackdown in Myanmar

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar’s military junta claims its recent release of several political detainees and about 9,000 other prisoners marks the dawn of a new political era and another milestone in its roadmap to “disciplined democracy”. At least four other prominent former members of the NLD were also released. The mass release of prisoners has come as a surprise to diplomats and residents in Yangon.

Win Min, the country’s longest serving political prisoner and a veteran journalist and political activist, among those freed last week, says that the release probably signals the start of Junta’s preparations for the national elections in 2010.  The mass release of prisoners has come as a surprise to diplomats and residents in Yangon.  Suu Kyi, however, remains under house arrest in the Yangon residence where she has spent more than 13 of the last 19 years, with no sign she will be freed any time soon.

However, according to Human Rights Watch, repression in Burma has increased since the ruling military government crushed pro-democracy protests a year ago.  A report released by Human Rights Watch last week, says some 2,100 political prisoners are in Myanmar’s jails while “pseudo-political reforms” go on.  It also accuses the international community of failing to demand real reform and accountability from Myanmar’s military junta.

The crackdown that began on September 26, 2007, was a brutal response to growing protests in Myanmar.  Buddhist monks in Rangoon, Mandalay, and other towns across Myanmar staged peaceful marches to protest government policies and poor living standards.  “Last September, the Burmese people courageously challenged their military rulers, and they were answered with violence and contempt,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The repression continues. While a handful of political activists have been released, more are being arrested and thousands remain in prison.”

The group acknowledges that seven political activists were among thousands of prisoners recently released by Burmese authorities.  But it says about 39 political activists were arrested in August and September alone.  It also says the authorities have done nothing to bring justice to the perpetrators of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests and torture during last year’s crackdown.

For more information, please see

Asia Times – False dawn in Myanmar – 27 September 2008

BBC – Burmese gloom one year after protests – 25 September 2008

BBC – No progress in Burma, says group – 25 September 2008

Human Rights Watch – Burma: One Year After Violent Crackdown, Repression Continues – 26 September 2008

Bus Attack Kills Soldiers in Lebanon

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

TRIPOLI, Lebanon – On September 29, a bomb exploded in Tripoli, killing several Lebanese soldiers and civilians.  Explosives, mixed with nuts and bolts, detonated as a bus carrying Lebanese Army soldiers passed, killing five and wounded at least 17 others.  The dead included four soldiers. 

Officials state that the bomb was stored in a stationary car and that it was detonated as the bus passed.  The detonation occurred at 8:00am, local time.  The bus was carrying soldiers, as well as civilians, to work.  The police immediately cordoned off the area and forensic experts began collecting evidence.

This is the second attack in the past two months that has targeted the Lebanese military.  On August 13, a suitcase bomb exploded as a bus carrying Lebanese Army soldiers passed, killing at least 15, including 9 soldiers.  In the earlier attack, explosives were also mixed with nuts and bolts.  It was the deadliest in Lebanon in more than three years.

The September 29 attack occurred two days after an alleged suicide attack targeted Syrian security forces in Damascus.  According to Syrian authorities, the car, packed with explosives, crossed into Syria from a “neighboring Arab country.”  Some have placed blame on Sunni militant groups in the region and claim that sectarian tensions in neighboring countries, such as Iraq and Lebanon, are spilling over into Syria.

Tripoli has been the site of a number of sectarian battles, with dozens of people killed or wounded in recent fighting between pro-government Sunni fighters and pro-Syrian Shias.  Despite the recent reconciliation agreement, sectarian tensions are still high. 

For example, last month Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian President, stated that Sunni extremists were destabilizing north Lebanon.  Then, two weeks ago, Assad deployed thousands of Syrian troops along the north Lebanon border.  The official reason cited by the Lebanese Army is to fight smuggling.  However the deployment triggered fears in Beirut of a possible incursion.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Blast Hits Lebanese City of Tripoli – 29 September 2008

BBC – Analysis: Lebanon-Syria Attacks Linked? – 29 September 2008

New York Times – 4 Soldiers Killed in Lebanon Bombing – 29 September 2008

Reuters – Car Bomb Hits Bus Carrying Troops in Lebanon, 5 Dead – 29 September 2008 

The Times – Six Dead and Seventeen Injured in Tripoli Car Bombing – 29 September 2008

Deadly Car Bomb in Syria

By Yasmine S. Hakimian
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – On September 27, a car bomb explosion killed at least 17 people and wounded 14 others. The victims included women and children. The attack is one of the deadliest in Syria in more than a decade.

The intersection where the explosion occurred leads to an important Shiite shrine in the Syrian capital. The al-Sayyida Zeinab shrine is one of Syria’s holiest sites. The shrine is a popular pilgrimage location and attracts tens of thousands of Shiites from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon each year.

Muhammad Abdul-Sattar al-Sayyid, Syria’s Minister of Religious Endowments, is shocked that such an attack occurred so close to Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan. General Bassam Abdul-Majid, the Syrian Interior Minister, believes the bomb was a terrorist act. A counter-terrorist unit is currently working to find the perpetrators.

According to the Middle East Times, the bombing may be the work of extremist groups or part of a “struggle between security forces.” Although, there are many speculations about who is responsible for the bombing, authorities are heavily investigating Islamist militants. Islamist groups were responsible for similar attacks during the 1980s when authorities fought an uprising by Muslim militants.

Fawaz Najia, an Arab political analyst, links the attack to growing Sunni-Shiite tension in the region. Najia also believes the Sunnis fear Iran’s Shiite infiltration of predominantly Sunni Arab countries. Sunni militants have clashed with pro-Syrian gunmen in the Lebanese city of Tripoli for the past several months. According to Najia, a Syrian study centre reported that Iran was pouring millions of dollars into Syria to convert Sunnis to Shiism.

Syria is currently at a political crossroad. In the last few years, there have been numerous clashes with security forces killing Islamist militants and arresting hundreds more. In addition, there has been recent unrest with Islamist prisoners in Syrian jails.

Despite efforts to talk, tension remains between Syrians and Israelis. The clash involves Syria’s support for groups like the Palestinian Islamist movements, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah.

The UN Security Council has stressed the need to bring the “perpetrators, organizers, financiers, and sponsors of this reprehensible act of terrorism to justice” and has urged all states to actively assist the Syrian authorities.

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera – UN Condemns Deadly Syria Attack – 28 September 2008

Jerusalem Post – Syria Says ‘Terrorists’ Coming From Outside Border – 28 September 2008

Middle East Times – Syria Hunts for Damascus Bombers – 28 September 2008

BBC – At Least 17 People Have Been Killed By a Car Bomb on the Outskirts of Syria’s Capital Damascus, Officials Have Said – 27 September 2008

CNN – Syria: Car Bomb Kills 17 in Damascus – 27 September 2008

Fiji Interim PM Indefinitely Delays Democratic Elections

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – Despite harsh criticism from the Pacific community, Fiji’s interim prime minister has told the United Nations that democratic elections will not be held next March as originally promised.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the interim prime minister, addressed the UN General Assembly in New York, saying that for democratic elections to occur, he must first rebuild his country. According to Bainimarama, a democratic election system cannot coexist with the “evils of self-interest, incompetence, intolerance, and greed.”

In addition, Bainimarama claims that his duty to rebuild his country may necessarily take precedent over adhering to Fiji’s constitutional laws:

“To-date, my Government, which remains in effective control of governance in Fiji, has done all within its power to adhere to the current Constitution. We recognize that this is the supreme law of our nation. At the same time, we have come to also recognize that the very foundation, on which we have been seeking to build our nation, has been shaky and weak.”

In his address, the prime minister also criticized Australia and New Zealand for imposing travel sanctions on Fiji following Bainimarama’s bloodless coup of the Federal government in 2006. Bainimarama explained that the sanctions hurt Fiji’s progress toward building a more democratic election process.

Last month, the Pacific Forum, a peacekeeping group of Pacific Nations, threatened to suspend Fiji from the union if the country did not follow through with its democratic elections in March 2009.

Last week, Bainimarama wrote the Pacific Forum asking for reinstatement. The Forum has yet to reply.

For more information, please see:
Fiji Times – Deeper into the quagmire – 29 September 2008

Radio New Zealand International – Fiji interim PM says he has done his best to adhere to constitution – 28 September 2008

ABC, Radio Australia – Fiji urges UN to help remove coup culture – 28 September 2008

UN News Centre – Fijian leader tells UN that planned parliamentary elections must be delayed – 27 September 2008

Musharraf Faces Charges of Human Rights Violations

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pervez Musharraf resigned the Pakistani presidency on August 18, 2008 under the pressure of impeachment from the coalition government and is now in the midst of facing charges, including treason and various human rights violations.  In May 2008, Human Rights Watch reported that human rights concerns in Pakistan included “arbitrary detention (including of lawyers and human rights defenders); lack of fair trials; mistreatment, torture and enforced disappearances of terrorism suspects and political opponents; harassment, intimidation and censorship of the media; violence against women; and discrimination against religious minorities. Since November 2007, the Government has severely interfered with democratic institutions and dissolved the independent judiciary.”

“A failure to hold Musharraf and the army responsible will only result in those abuses continuing and hamper Pakistan’s development into a full democracy,” said Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch.

Musharraf is currently facing two criminal charges:  murder and treason.  Khalid Kwaja petitioned the Islamabad High Court to try Musharraf for the murder of rebel leader, Nawaz Akbar Bugti, which occurred at the army assault on the Red Mosque which occurred in 2006. Bugti’s death occurred while hiding out in a cave that collapsed during the assault.  A former judge stated that it is improbable that he will be convicted for this crime since he does not bear direct responsibility.

If convicted of treason, Musharraf would face serious consequences.  Musharraf himself has acknowledged that he violated the constitution by imposing a state of emergency in order to remove judges from the Supreme Court, who were in the process of ruling if he could legally serve another five year presidential term.  If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of death.

Musharraf may also face charges for the enforced disappearance of hundreds of terrorist suspects.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan:  Human Rights Watch’s Submission to the Human Rights Commission – 5 March 2008

MSNBC – Musharraf Unwinds with Tennis After Resigning; Much Speculation on Whether Ex-President Will Face Treason, Other Charges – 20 August 2008

Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization – Balochistan:  The Case Against Musharraf – 22 September 2008