Freedom of Assembly and Association



There are those who echo foreign claims about a lack of democracy and human rights violations in Myanmar [Burma] ... the USDA was formed specifically with the objective to fill the role of strengthening national unity ... acts of anarchy prevailed during the events of 1988 and that the USDA was formed to prevent similar events in the future and to promote the observance of law and order among the general public.

— Gen Than Swe, Myanmar TV, 7 March 1994


The Union Solidarity Development Association is a new “social organisation” formed on 15 September 1993 by SLORC to gain legitimacy and mass support. The reasons for this country-wide organisation, run locally by many former BSPP leaders, and for the SLORC's haste in building the USDA up have not been made completely clear, though it will probably be used to avoid a referendum on the new SLORC constitution. The regime has already stated that all USDA members automatically and unanimously support the new constitution, with USDA speakers repeatedly speaking in praise of the national convention. SLORC may also be planning to use the USDA as a way of winning a rigged election and, in fact, the first three of USDA’s aims are identical to “Our Three Main Aims” of SLORC. Eventually a political party might be built up out of the USDA along Indonesia’s Golkar Party.


Townspeople are rousted out of their homes by soldiers and forced to go; villagers are bussed in from surrounding areas. Attendance is not spontaneous. Students and civil servants are told to march to USDA rallies or face consequences, such as being dismissed from university or state jobs. Villagers and townspeople are also threatened or fined if at least one member of the household does not show up. Often, people are forcibly kept at rally sites by armed soldiers, leading to subhuman conditions and even violent incidents. Some examples:


Every house in Ye Da Shi Township was forced to contribute 100 Ks toward the 22 January 1994 rally of the USDA held in Taungoo, Pegu Division. Villagers were ordered that only one person in each household could stay behind to watch the house, while everyone else had to go to the rally. Any households which failed to comply were fined 200 Ks. Villagers from the surrounding townships of Yay Pa Shi, Oki Twin, Taungoo, Pyu, and Kyauk Kyi were forced to march to the rally. Soldiers in the area began inducing and threatening the villagers to go to the rally 3 to 4 months before it occurred. When the time for the rally came, people from far-flung areas had to leave home the day or night before the rally in order to make it there on time. The fee to join the USDA is 25 Ks person. SLORC officials are now forcing former NLD members in the area to join the USDA. [source: ABSDF/KNU/NLD-LA]


In Prome, the villagers were forced to gather one night in advance to attend the USDA rally in the next morning. They were forced to wait in the field guarded by armed soldiers. As the ground was very hot, they could no longer sit there anymore. They were not given any water or allowed to go to toilets. When they tried get outside, they were beaten by the soldiers and when the crowd rushed to leave the rally in panic, many were injured as they were trampled upon by the crowd. Two of the injured taken to the hospital later died of their injuries. [source: ABSDF]


SLORC officials fined people who could not or did not attend USDA mass rally in Moulmein, Kyeikhto and Thaton area. 3 people died while they were going to attend the rally; one drowned, another one fell from a car, and the last one died from exhaustion. [source: ABSDF/Inside sources]


On 23 January, a USDA mass rally was held in Monywa, Sagaing Division. For that mass rally, at least 2,000 people from each township in Monywa District were forced to show up at gunpoint. Those who could not attend had to pay a fine of 50 Ks per person, and households which failed to send someone from outside the household were also threatened with the shutting off of water and electricity. Other restrictions imposed on that day included prohibition of wearing Pin Ni (cloth woven from fawn-coloured cotton), or a traditional Burmese coat, and the Kachin sarong (longyi) and of shopping at nearby shops. Some households were also forced to send two family members, and those who attempted to stay at home on that day were forced out at gunpoint to the rally. The rally was held in the football field of Monywa, with all the entrances locked during the entire rally. Those who tried to go out were beaten with belts, while those children were subjected to beatings with bamboo sticks by SLORC troops.


SLORC announced from the loud speakers that for any person who was absent, effective actions would be taken. As the people were herded like animals and locked into the stadium in Monywa, some people lost consciousness because of the crowded conditions, unable to receive fresh air to breathe and had injuries because they were stepped on by other people. Most of them run for their lives, leaving even their slippers. On the following day, many slippers were found in the stadium. All the students at the high school or college/university level were forced to join the USDA while local people were subjected to do so on a compulsory basis. At least one household member each was forced to join the USDA. [source: ABSDF]




[The following are the translations of several letters sent to the BBC Radio Burmese language service (which, together with the Voice of America Burmese service, forms the only source of real news to people inside Burma) from people living in various parts of the country, expressing their real views about the USDA and the rallies. These letters were transcribed from BBC Radio broadcasts.]


Letter #1 (broadcast on 21 February 1994)


In our town of Prome, people were all brought into a sandy compound at 9 p.m. on the night before the rally. After sitting for several hours on the sandy ground, which had been sprayed with water, some people began to ask permission to go outside the compound to answer nature's call. The security forces, the guards around the compound, refused to allow them to go out, and a conflict broke out. Many people began to climb up the fences to try to get out. The guards began to beat them with pieces of bamboo and sticks.


In the middle of the resulting rush, many men, women and children fell down on the ground. Two men were trampled to death. Twenty people were wounded – one of them lost one of his eyes. Two women had their backs broken.


But this information was never reported on Radio Myanmar. Why? To let everyone know the true story of the Union Solidarity Development Association, I must write this letter to the BBC.


                                                                                                                                       A Civil Servant

                                                                                                                                       Prome Town

                                                                                                                                       Pegu Division


[Note: Outside sources indicate that there were probably several thousand people in the compound. The rally was held as planned the following day, on 7 February.]


Letter #2 (broadcast on 21 February 1994)


In our Mandalay city, the SLORC announced on loudspeakers that anyone who did not participate in the rally meeting would have their water and electricity cut off, and would be fined 100 Kyats each. So 90 percent of the people dared not disobey their command. It is just like the Burmese proverb about lovers, which says, "Even though she dares not participate, she is forced to play the game from beneath. He forces her to receive his kiss against her will, and she is forced to follow behind him like a wife."


                                                                                                                                       Ko Myint Aung



[Note: The proverb relates to the "woman" (the people) being forced to have sex with the "man" (SLORC), and walk behind him even though she hates him, as the wife must walk behind the husband in Burmese custom.]


Letter #3 (broadcast on 21 February 1994)


The reports on the BBC Burmese program of 13 February regarding the rallies of the Union Solidarity Development Association were correct.


In our northern Shan State the USDA public rally was held on Friday January, Twenty-first. The number of people participating in the rally did not exceed 10,000, but Radio Myanmar announced that 210,000 people attended the same rally. As for the students, their teachers warned them that each and every one of them must attend the rally and take along a package of food, and that if they failed to act accordingly they would be caned 15 times each. Government workers were threatened that if they failed to attend the rally, they should know what the consequences would be.


The entire population of Burma is against this sort of rotten tactic by SLORC. SLORC may be able to gather people, but they can never obtain their respect or their sympathy.


                                                                                                                                       U Sai Lone

                                                                                                                                       Northern Shan State


[Note: The "consequence" to government workers not attending clearly means the loss of their jobs.]


Letter #4 (broadcast on 6 March 1994)


I want to tell you how the SLORC is bluffing the people about the Union Solidarity Development Association. They announced that over one hundred thousand people came to the USDA mass meetings from many townships, divisions and states. This is a lie. For over 30 years now the military junta has been oppressing the civilians like this, forcing them to join mass meetings. They always force everyone, young or old, and students and workers too.


                                                                                                                        Ko Than Lwin

                                                                                                                        Htan Ta Bin Town, Pegu Division

                                                                                                                        January 30, 1994


[Note: The past mass meetings he refers to were for Ne Win's Burma Socialist Programme Party.]


[see also under “Eye-witness Accounts”, interview 112]