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Human Rights Watch: Burmese Government Lies About Crackdown Death Toll


The U.S. group Human Rights Watch accuses Burma's military government of lying about the number of people killed when soldiers used guns and batons to disperse peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators in September. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from our Southeast Asia Bureau in Bangkok.

Human Rights Watch says it has documented evidence that considerably more people were killed in the crackdown than Burma's ruling generals admit.

The specific numbers being given are still small. Last month, U.N. human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro visited Burma and said official information showed at least 15 people had been killed. Human Rights Watch now says that at the very least, the number killed is 20.

However, Human Rights Watch, along with diplomats in Burma at the time of the crackdown and Pinheiro afterward, all say there is reason to believe the real death toll is much higher.

In a statement Friday, Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams says the crackdown is far from over. He says harsh repression continues and the Burmese government is still "lying about the extent of the deaths and detentions."

Burma's rulers say only 80 people remain in prison following the September crackdown, but diplomats and the families of those detained again say the figure is far higher.

The U.S. Chargé d'Affaires in Burma, Shari Villarosa, told reporters in Bangkok last week that she is still getting reports of people being picked up on an almost-daily basis. The U.S. diplomat says the continuing arrests indicate the military government is not interested in true reconciliation.

"It seems to me that if you wanted a real dialogue, instead of arresting people you would be releasing them and talking to them," said Villarosa. "I do know that the people they arrested were peaceful, nonviolent people who are very patriotic, believe in their country, and want a better country, and they have some ideas, and they want to talk about them."

Burma's national police chief on Monday said 2,927 people, including 596 Buddhist monks, were arrested during and after the protests. He said 80 people, including 21 monks, were still in prison.

In her remarks last week, however, Villarosa said the streets of Rangoon and its monasteries remain devoid of monks, and the government has yet to account for their absence. Witnesses in the country say many are in hiding, but a large number remain in prison.

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