In an open letter addressed to foreign governments, leaders and scholars, the Committee of Public Movement for Thanlwin Bridge (Chaung Zone) called on the international community to pressure the National League for Democracy (NLD) government to respect the rights of minority ethnic groups. The letter was mailed to foreign embassies and emailed to other foreign bodies on April 24, days before the controversial bridge was opened, without ceremony, early on the morning of April 27.
The letter accuses the NLD government of abusing its substantial parliamentary majority to ram through an insensitive and unnecessary bill renaming the Mon State bridge for General Aung San.
“Even though the winning party has the right to form a government and to dominate parliament, the party must respect the Right of Ethnic Minorities. However, the acts of the NLD parliament do not seem to indicate that they respect these rights.”The group specifically alleges that the government’s decision to rename the bridge for General Aung San violates laws that enshrine the political and cultural rights of the country’s 135 minority ethnic groups, including the 2015 Ethnic Rights Protection Law. Many in Mon state want the name to reflect Mon heritage, rather than General Aung San, who came from the majority Burman ethnic group.
The letter was sent to the American, French, Norwegian, British, Chinese, German, Italian, Japanese and European Union Embassies in Yangon (Rangoon), and was emailed to many others, as well as NGO and United Nations offices. In part, the committee sought to broaden the conflict, arguing that the government is in violation of not just Myanmar, but also international principles human rights.
“According to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, the Mon ethnic people have fully the right to exercise their rights to self- determination and to preserve their national symbols. Neglecting the voices of the indigenous people is a violation of the Minorities Rights that have been approved by the International Community and upheld in international law.”
The committee listed three “recommendations and demands” for the international community:
“The international community must pressure the NLD government to respect Ethnic Minorities Rights and to listen to the voices of the indigenous people during this period of democratic transition and Nation-building.
“To facilitate local transportation, the bridge must be opened as soon as possible with a name that is amenable to the local people. The international community must pressure the government to organize a dialogue between government officials and local representative.
“The international community must pressure the elected NLD government to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Ethnic Minorities Rights.”
Min Aung Mon is a member of the executive committee of Public Movement for Thanlwin Bridge (Chaung Zone). He says that even as the committee works to build international support in the fight against the name change, it is also pursuing a petition campaign to try to sway the government.
“We formed the Committee of Public Movement for Thanlwin Bridge (Chaung Zone) after the protest in March and we are also collecting the signatures of Mon people throughout Mon State,” he told the Mon News Agency on April 26.
The controversy surrounding the bridge has been a major thorn in the side of the NLD, which was once popular throughout Mon State. But since the NLD-controlled parliament voted in March to rename the bridge over local objections, the party’s support has been slipping. In an April 1 parliamentary by-election in Chaungzone township, voters rebuked the NLD by awarding the seat to its main national rival, the Union Solidarity and Development Party.
As of April 25, the committee has collected more than 120,000 signatures in support of changing the name back to Than Lwin Bridge (Chaung Zone). By the following night, though, workers were affixing the name General Aung San to the bridge under cover of darkness.