Later this year, Burma will be holding local and national elections; the first elections held since 1990 when Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and a coalition of ethnic minority parties resoundingly won national elections, but were not allowed to take power. Aung San Suu Kyi has been under some form of detention for over 15 of the last 20 years.

The repression of freedom of association, expression and assembly is an ongoing and serious concern in Burma, where anyone who speaks or acts out, or is affiliated to actions against the government is at risk of arbitrary arrest, torture, imprisonment and extrajudicial executions.

With elections in Burma expected sometime towards the end of 2010, it is highly likely that this repression will intensify.

Repression in Burma

Burma has been expressing political repression for many years now.

For more information see Burma: Decades of repression and Burma: Two decades later... same situation

Currently, in Burma there are more than 2,100 political prisoners detained in deplorable conditions, living in appalling conditions. Many of these political prisoners are ethnic minority activists.

The important role that ethnic minorities play in the political opposition in Burma is often overlooked, however, a recent Amnesty International report highlights the role that these groups play within Burma and the violations they face. The report draws on accounts from more than 700 activists from the seven largest ethnic minorities, including the Rakhine, Shan, Kachin, and Chin.

Ethnic minorities constitute some 35-40 percent of the country’s population, and form the majority in the seven ethnic minority states. Each of the country’s largest seven ethnic minorities has engaged in armed insurgencies against the government, some of which continue to date.

Ethnic minorities being arrested, imprisoned, and in some cases tortured or even killed by the authorities, some groups also face extensive surveillance, harassment and discrimination when trying to carry out their legitimate activities.

Due to concerns around increased repression as a result of the upcoming elections, Amnesty International has warned the Burmese authorities to halt its repression of ethnic minority activists before the national and local elections, to lift restrictions on freedom of association, assembly and religion, to release all prisoners of conscience unconditionally and immediately, and to remove restrictions on independent media to cover the campaigning and election process.

Although the 2010 Burma elections raise serious concerns over increased rights violations, they may also be an opportunity to exert pressure on the authorities in Burma to respect the rights of freedom of association, assembly and expression. However, this will only be able to be achieved if the global human rights community works together in support of the human rights of the people of Burma.