Education International
Education International

Myanmar: trade unions condemn the terrible crackdown on students

published 13 March 2015 updated 16 March 2015

Education International has demanded that Myanmar’s public authorities stop the violent crackdown on student protests calling for changes to the National Education Law, and include them along educators’ representatives in the parliamentary discussions.

Education International (EI) and other international unions and human rights organsiations have also endorsed a statement urging Myanmar’s national government to “immediately cease and desist using excessive force and violence against the peacefully protesting students, 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”. The other signatories are the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Alternative Asean Network on Burma (the International Federation for Human Rights’ national affiliate), and Myanmar’s education unions, the University Teachers’ Association and the Myanmar Teachers’ Federation.

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. 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 per cent of the national budget to education.

Strong demands

The statement’s signatories also urge Myanmar’s government to:

  • Hold the next hearing sessions on the draft law amending the National Education Law with the representatives of the student and educator movement, including those from ethnic and religious minorities, and to provide the students and educators with an effective avenue to voice their concerns and propose solutions.
  • Prevent any actions that violently repress the right of the students to be heard on issues that directly affect them.
  • Investigate and hold accountable those responsible for the violence, and implement institutionalise 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 and educators’ demands to ensure authentic educational reforms that address the needs and concerns of the stakeholders

National Education Law needs to change, say students

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 locked in 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.

On 5 March, police in Rangoon violently cracked down on students protesting peacefully 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.

Earlier this year, the President of the Myanmar Teachers’ Federation, Dr Ko Sai, was transferred to a University nearly 700 km away from Yangon due to his trade union engagement.