There has been a flood of reports of alleged brutal killings, disappearances and arrests as the military in Myanmar stamped out the anti-government protests of the last week. At least 1,000 people have been arrested in Yangon alone, the majority of them monks. Arrests are also reported from towns and cities across the country. This is in addition to at least 150 other persons arrested in August at the onset of the protests. Numerous key figures in the National League for Democracy, the main opposition party, and other activists are among those arrested. However, it remains extremely difficult for anyone to confirm details about who has been arrested, where they are held, why and under what circumstances. This uncertainty is partly as a consequence of restrictions on internet and phone use.
In this critical situation, the world expects a more meaningful reaction from the Indian government. The government must increase the pressure on the Myanmar government if the mounting human rights crisis in the country is to be reversed and further bloodshed averted. The Indian government should immediately suspend the supply to Myanmar of all direct and indirect transfers of military and security equipment, munitions and expertise, including transfers claimed to be ‘non-lethal’. They should maintain these cessations until the Government of Myanmar takes concrete independently verified steps to improve the democratic situation, including the release of all prisoners of conscience. India has many-a-times visited other countries of concern, most recently Nepal, in the similar manner. Why should it not do the same for people in Myanmar whose rights have been trampled upon so long?
Myanmar needs a comprehensive arms embargo. Since 25 September 2007, Myanmar security forces have raided monasteries, beaten and arrested hundreds of protesters including monks and other public figures, used tear gas, baton charges and warning shots to disperse protesters and fired at fleeing protesters and journalists. At least nine people have been killed Monks were injured in the beatings and one monk suffered a gunshot wound to his head. There is a grave risk that the military and security forces will react with escalating violence to continued mass protests by those calling for democratic reforms.
The government of Myanmar and its military, security and police forces of around 400,000 personnel have a well documented record of serious human rights violations. China has been the principal source of arms supplies to the Myanmar security forces, followed by India, Serbia, Russia, Ukraine and other countries. Indian government should come clean at this moment as they have a very dubious track record on arms transfer in the recent past.
In January 2007, the Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee promised to give a “favourable response” to the Myanmar Government’s request for military equipment ( Bruce Loudon, ‘India to snub US on Burma arms embargo’, The Australian, 23 January 2007; ‘India to supply military equipment to Myanmar’, The Hindu, 22 January 2007) and in April 2007 it was reported that Indian and Myanmar security forces were “conducting joint military operations along the 1,643-km Indo-Myanmar border to neutralise insurgent groups.” (‘Defense Relations With Myanmar Surge; Progress Made During Vice Admiral Thane’s Visit’, India Defence, 3 April 2007, http://www.india-defence.com/reports/2996). India has not reported on any arms transfers to Myanmar to the UN. Myanmar military co-operation with the Indian Government in dealing with these groups has been reportedly linked with an Indian government offer to supply a variety of military hardware such as tanks, aircraft, artillery guns, radar, small arms and advanced light helicopters. (‘Indian Navy to Transfer BN2 Maritime Surveillance Aircraft to Myanmar’, India Defence, 12 May 2007, http://www.india-defence.com/reports/3179; Rahul Bedi, ‘Indian training missions underline desire for greater strategic influence’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 9 May 2007.) Amnesty International, Saferworld and a number of other non-governmental organisations in the European Union published a report in July 2007 outlining in detail concerns about the potential transfer from India to Myanmar of such attack helicopters which are highly likely to contain components, technology and munitions originating from member states of the European Union and the USA.
The European Union (EU) and the USA imposed arms embargoes on Myanmar in 1988 and 1993 respectively. In 1996, the EU strengthened its arms embargo on Myanmar to become an EU Common Position, and noted with concern “the absence of progress towards democratization and at the continuing violation of human rights in Burma/Myanmar”. The embargo was renewed in 2002 and again in 2006. The EU arms embargo is legally-binding and requires all EU Member States to implement and enforce its provisions at the national level. The EU embargo also bans the direct and indirect provision of technical or financial assistance, brokering and other services related to military activities and military and related material. Indirect transfers of military components are covered within the scope of the EU embargo, yet there is no comprehensive EU-wide control system in place to ensure that governments can effectively implement and enforce their embargo commitments.
The current situation demands resolute interventions to prevent the massive repression. Stopping all Indian military support and the involvement of their agencies, companies and nationals in the direct or indirect supply to Myanmar of any military, police or security equipment will a first concrete step in support of the democratic movement of Myanmar.