Activists Call for Official Recognition of Human Rights Day

By Rric Randolph 13 March 2013

RANGOON — Activists have called for March 13 to be made a public holiday in Burma as they held a 25th anniversary memorial for the first martyrs of the 1988 uprising.

For a quarter of a century, March 13 has been informally known as Human Rights Day or Phone Maw Day, in commemoration of the Rangoon Institute of Technology (RIT) student who was shot dead during protests by Burmese soldiers on this day in 1988.

His death, along with that of another student, Ko Soe Naing, who died from his injuries a few days later, inflamed the protests against military rule and helped forge the modern democracy movement in Burma.

The deaths have never been acknowledged by the military government, who said at the time that Phone Maw had been stabbed with a sharp stick in a fight with local youths.

Although one commemoration was held in 1989, subsequent attempts to mark the event were broken up by police. For the first time, activists were allowed to hold a public commemoration last year, and now activists are demanding official recognition of the day.

The organizers set out a list of demands that also included an end to military involvement in politics, freedom to protest, and freedom for student unions and civil society groups to operate without government interference.

“The military have never accepted what they did in the past,” said Myo Aung, a former political prisoner and one of the organizers of the meeting. “In truth, we think the military will never agree with us because they are dictators, not democrats.

“But we must continue to fight for them to take responsibility and seek true democracy and peace.”

The event at the Royal Rose restaurant in Rangoon included emotional speeches from members of Phone Maw’s family, NLD co-founder Win Tin and 88 Generation leader Min Ko Naing.

“We are not here for revenge, just recognition of history,” said Win Tin.

However, in an interview with the Washington Post published today, the 83-year-old firebrand reiterated his misgivings about the close relationship his party, including leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has established with the military-backed government.

“Some of us would like to push the military into the Bay of Bengal,” he told the paper. “She [Suu Kyi] only wants to push them into Kandawgyi Lake,” a reference to a lake in central Rangoon.

“She thinks she can persuade all the military leaders to become her friends and come to her side. But people suffered a lot. Without pushing the military out, we won’t achieve any democracy, any human rights.”