Remembering the 8888 Protests in Burma

August 8, 2013 marks the 25th anniversary of the 8/8/88 uprising in Burma, when the Burmese military brutally suppressed pro-democracy protesters. Student leaders initiated the demonstrations in Rangoon to protest corruption, government mismanagement, and the lack of economic reforms. The demonstrations spread nationwide as monks, ethnic nationality leaders, and others joined.

Soldiers, following orders, shot directly into crowds of unarmed demonstrators. Over the course of the protests, the crackdown took thousands of lives. After delivering her first speech in August 1988, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi quickly became a known as a staunch advocate of democracy and openly spoke about Burmese military authoritarianism to the western world. The protests continued until September 1988, when the Burmese army took power and enforced repressive military rule.

Twenty-five years after the brutal crackdown on protesters, the government of Burma has made significant moves toward democracy. However, severe human rights violations persist, as Burma’s military, or Tatmadaw, continue attacks on ethnic minorities, including the Kachin – an ethnic group that has fought against the central government since a ceasefire dissolved two years ago. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has documented crimes against ethnic minorities committed by the military as well as by fellow civilians; PHR experts documented a massacre of Muslims in Meiktila, Mandalay Division, where police stood by as dozens of people were killed. The recent examples of anti-Muslim violence in Meiktila and elsewhere, as well as the rampant hate speech and racism against minorities, stand in the way of building democracy in Burma.

Remembering the violence of 8/8/88 offers not only a moment to pay respects to the victims of that day’s violence, but it is also a time to recognize that the protests represented a riot for freedom, democracy, and fairness. Above all, it was a call for unity. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi stated in her speech:

“While I am on the subject of unity may I speak for a while on the union of states of which Burma is composed. The different peoples of Burma should also remain united. The majority people of course remain the Burmese. They must strive with ever-increasing efforts to live in this accord and amity.”

The generation of 8/8/88 must remember Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s words and remain tireless advocates for democracy for all. Leaders of 8/8/88 should understand that true democracy requires protecting the human rights of all people. The 8/8/88 generation should help build unity among the Burmese people and end the generations of silence that have allowed for continued violations against minority groups.

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