On the 25th anniversary of the pro-democracy uprising in 1988, Burma Campaign UK is calling on President Thein Sein to reveal the exact role he played in suppressing the uprising. Thousands of students and protestors died when the military and security forces crushed the uprising.
Thein Sein has never publicly spoken about the exact role that he played in supressing the uprising.
A leaked US embassy diplomatic cable dated 20th October 2004 said Thein Sein ‘distinguished’ himself cracking down against the 1988 uprising.
It stated: ‘Major Thein Sein served as commander of Light Infantry Division (LID)-55, one of the elite organizations loyal to the Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP). In that capacity, he distinguished himself, as did Soe Win, in the crackdown against the 1988 uprising in support of democracy.’
More than 20 years later, on 30th March 2011, in his first speech to Parliament after becoming President, Thein Sein praised the actions of the military in crushing the uprising in 1988, stating: “Also in 1988, the Tatmadaw government saved the country from deteriorating conditions in various sectors and reconstructed the country.”
In an interview with a French television station in February 2013, Thein Sein also stated that the dictatorship installed after crushing the uprising was a ‘good policy’, which was ‘for the good of the people’: he stated: “From our point of view we have acted for the benefit of the people. The opposition might think that we have done wrong but we think it was for the good of the people. So it was a good policy. Nobody can say who was right or who was wrong.”
The issues of justice and accountability are totally absent from the current reform process. Thein Sein does not acknowledge human rights abuses have and continue to take place in Burma. He also oversaw the drafting of the undemocratic 2008 Constitution, which grants immunity from prosecution for any government official for past crimes.
On one of the rare occasions that Thein Sein was asked about his own role in past human rights abuses, Thein Sein accused the United Nations of fabricating evidence:
20th May 2013, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour:
“The Human Rights Special Rapporteur, back in 1998, said that when you were a military commander, of the eastern state, there were orders to confiscate about 13 plots of land and rice field, to increase the amount of land for the military, for the military base, what do you say about that?”
Thein Sein: “I was serving as the commander of the eastern command in 1996, but during my time serving as the commander, there was never a problem of confiscating land. I have never taken land against the will of the people. There was no major issue of land-grabbing in that area while I was serving as the commander. Some of the reports were fabricated. So I have to say there were no major problems.”
“Thein Sein spent forty years as a soldier in one of the world’s most brutal military dictatorships, including during the crushing of the uprising in 1988”, said Anna Roberts, Executive Director of Burma Campaign UK. “It is time Thein Sein acknowledged past human rights abuses and came clean about his own role in past abuses. These abuses need to be investigated and those responsible held to account. At the same time it must be remembered that in Thein Sein’s Burma abuses are not a thing of the past, they are a daily fact of life. The international community should be paying more attention to the fact that despite reforms, serious human rights abuses have continued since Thein Sein became President.”
A background briefing on Thein Sein is available here.