Civil Rights Key for Democracy, Says 88 Gen

By Lawi Weng 8 November 2012

The 88 Generation Students have made it their mission to ensure civil rights are made strong in Burma in order to guarantee that all of society enjoys real democracy and peace, claims a leading member.

While Burma is undergoing a political transition and reforms are being made towards embracing democracy, the civil society organization says that much work must be done towards safeguarding liberty.

There are many issues that must be resolved, according to Pyone Cho, a senior member of the 88 Generation, as the government needs more transparency and to take responsibility for the peace process during this critical transition period.

The 47-year-old, who was incarcerated for 20 years for leading student demonstrations opposed the former military regime, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that Burma faces lots of challenges, especially the ongoing fighting in Kachin State.

“We have been working a lot and for a long time for peace, but we are still not satisfied as we have found that there is still not enough commitment from the government towards that goal,” he said during an interview in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.

The 88 Generation has a collective leadership and lack a traditional top-down structure as different individuals take charge of certain topics. Nevertheless, Min Ko Naing usually handles the most important issues as the group’s most senior figure.

“When there is a problem to solve, all leaders of the group discuss it together and we help each other,” said Pyone Cho. The 88 Generation Students will not form a political party until civil rights become strong in Burma, he revealed, adding that the group does not have a strict timeframe for their work.

During the current transition period, the group wants to forge a space for public debate as Burma has been denied this for decades. When civil rights come to the people, the political process will be richer as a consequence, said Pyone Cho.

“Stable democracy must be based on participation by all the people,” he added.

The 88 Generation intends expanding the political ground outside Parliament in order to give a forum for people’s voices on the ground and encourage grassroots participation in national reconciliation. The group wants Burma’s new Parliament to enact changes that bring about a true democracy based on public consent.

Pyone Cho said that there are many things his group wants to achieve and even increasing awareness regarding civil rights is difficult. “There are some people who understand the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but there are also many who do not know about it,” he added.

Pyone Cho said that it is the duty of all people in Burma to work hard to ensure they finally gain their long-overdue civil rights during the transition period. “If needs be, they have to walk out onto the street to protest for their rights,” he said.