This year, Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) and partners continue to hold the annual campaign of #MonthOfTruth to highlight all the progress and process of truth-seeking centred on and around victim participation from the Asia-Pacific region. Leading up to the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Violations and for Dignity of Victims on 24 March as well as to close the campaign, AJAR also joined hands with civil society in Myanmar to share reflections on conflict our experiences of working with survivors. The campaign this year is also momentous, since the month February also marked the one-year anniversary of the coup – where we echoed the call with the people of Myanmar to demand justice.
Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) always stand in solidarity with the people of Myanmar, who are still enduring great suffering from the brutal acts of the military junta. More than a year after the coup took place, we continued to support them through various nonviolent actions, especially to commemorate the International Day for the Right to Truth concerning Gross Violations and Dignity of Victims.
On 23 March, in collaboration with the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), we produced a video titled “Life in Hell: Dehumanization”, that explained the continuous human rights violations endured by the political prisoners in Myanmar at present. These political prisoners endure beating, violence, and abuse daily in custody while forced to work at the prison. The video illustrates the latest situation that has continued to worsen ever since the military assumed power on 21 February 2022. When the public started to protest to resist the military junta, thousands were murdered and detained, including journalists and activists.
The Right to Truth Day on 24 March was then commemorated through our joint #CollectiveTruth campaign. A panel discussion was organised and live-streamed through AJAR’s own Facebook page and Mizzima TV channel social media, all moderated by Ye Hein Aung, the Executive Director of the Myanmar Cultural Research Society.
In the panel discussion, Ting Oo from the All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress reiterates the importance of talking about the truth and justice in Myanmar, giving examples of the current situation in the Rakhine state.
“We need justice and truth for the survivor. The perpetrators are being spared. These things are happening like a tradition. Victims also need freedom and justice. In Burma, only one side is affected. The laws need to be reformed and Security System Reform” – Ting Oo
Lway Poe Ngeal from the Women’s League of Burma disclosed the use of rape as a weapon of war by the Burmese military. Their report documented that the military junta raped at least nine women since 1 February 2021. The actual number of rape and sexual assault is estimated to be much higher as – during the fear of reprisal, threats, and system breakdown–rape and sexual assault cases are significantly under-reported. Often the military will come to a village to arrest people, during the arrest, some women and girls would then be raped and sexually violated.
Mu Angela from the Union Karenni State Youth recounted the situation of the conflict in the ethnic areas – Chin State, Kachin State, Karen State, Sagaing Region, Shan State, and especially the Karenni State. As of 3 January 2022, she quoted, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs documented at least 162,000 people from Karenni and Karen State, including women and children, remain as internally displaced persons (IDP) after fleeing their homes since May 2021.
Apart from the panel discussion, the #CollectiveTruth campaign also gathered submissions from our friends all over Asia – we received many photos of them posed in t-shirt emblazoned with “Let’s Tell the Truth to Get Justice”, all with the emblematic three-fingers salute. Myanmar citizens and public figures were also on board – such as the singer Novem Htoo who posted a picture of himself and a group of people wearing the T-shirt while raising his fist. The post gained huge reactions on Facebook.
One participant from Lashio Region in Myanmar remarked,
“Human rights violations are a daily occurrence in our area. There are many armed groups. Coup forces have committed violations, as have other armed groups. We are also afraid of SAC hostilities in Shan State and other Shan military violence too. But it is not enough to be afraid, we have to expose their violation. The text on the current T-shirt is indefinable. It also has to do with the present. We need to tell the truth in order to get justice for the victims.”
Organising resistance against the military junta is not easy, albeit conducted through digital means. Most of our friends are aware of the danger that may entail, yet still eager to join the campaign–to uncover the truth and release it to the world. Another audience in Yangon talked about the challenges of holding this campaign, they said,
“It is very difficult for us to make a T-shirt campaign. But we have to keep it a secret. Most want to be part of the T-shirt campaign. T-shirts were made at home, but not much was produced. We have to be very careful about the security for producing 50 T-shirts. It is also very difficult to distribute T-shirts. we had to take a car to go to share the T-shirt. But despite the difficulties, we were able to produce it. Although we were producing 50, we took turns wearing T-shirts and more than 100 people joined the main campaign. Most of the participants were active protesters on the streets. It was difficult to post on our own Facebook page, including the victims. Let’s talk about our violation together.”
Concluding the campaign was the launching of our #CollectiveTruth video series. Produced in collaboration with All Arakan Students’ & Youths’ Congress, Burma Civil War Museum, Ta’ang Civil Society Organization, Union of Karenni State Youth, and human rights defenders from Sagaing Region, the four-video series tell the plight of Myanmar people in speaking truth to power.
On this International Day of Truth, our campaign all points out one message: amidst the ongoing military conflict and violence, civilians – whose voice and truth are often unheard of – are the ones who suffer the most. Our series of resistance may start the discussions and discourses of the reality on the ground — hopefully, it will ignite the flame of solidarity and create more concrete and systematic actions to stop the atrocities.