SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Hundreds of Myanmar nationals, many wearing red or t-shirts with the word “No”, gathered outside the Myanmar embassy in Singapore on Sunday to protest against the country’s proposed new constitution.
Myanmar nationals queue to vote, outside the embassy of Myanmar in Singapore April 27, 2008. Hundreds of Myanmar nationals gathered outside the embassy in Singapore on Sunday as they waited for their turn to vote in the country’s constitutional referendum. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash
Public protest is rare in Singapore, where all outdoor demonstrations are banned and a public gathering of more than four people requires a permit.
According to Myanmar nationals outside the embassy, citizens living in Singapore can this week vote on whether to accept or reject a constitution written by the country’s military leaders.
But they said most of them were turned away because they lacked documentation such as a form certifying that they had paid their taxes.
“We are here to cast our votes. We will wait until we can vote,” said one of the waiting crowd, who said he was a student called James.
A female companion with him, who declined to be named, said the organizers provided the red t-shirts as well as drinks and snacks to people waiting outside the embassy.
The group, which at one point raised their Myanmar passports in the air to demonstrate their nationality, was well-organized, and largely peaceful, following instructions from the Singapore police to make way for passing traffic and clearing rubbish from the ground.
Police officers stand outside the gates of the embassy of Myanmar in Singapore. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash
Myanmar nationals hold up their passports outside the embassy of Myanmar in Singapore. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash
Some monks were seen walking through the crowd.
An official from the Myanmar embassy declined comment when contacted, while Singapore police on the ground declined to speak to Reuters.
“We have the impression they don’t want us to vote,” said an organizer of the event who identified himself as William Thein. “People are very sure the junta will cheat. We can only wear these caps and t-shirts to show that the people are overwhelmingly against this unfair referendum.”
Myanmar’s opposition National League for Democracy has called for a rejection of the constitution, drafted over the last 14 years by an army-picked committee.
Other underground opposition groups are also pushing for the former Burma’s 53 million people to reject the charter. At least 60 people have been arrested in Myanmar for wearing t-shirts urging people to vote “No” in the May 10 constitutional referendum.
Al Jazeera English 10 Oct 2007 – Part 1
Burma’s military junta has spoken: there will be no role for the United Nations in determining the course of the country’s political transition to what it calls a “disciplined democracy.”
This is the message that the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) sent to the international community and the Burmese people through its treatment of the UN special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari.
The Nigerian diplomat, who has just completed his fifth visit to Burma, proposed a more inclusive process of political change in the country, and offered to send monitors to ensure that the outcome of the junta’s planned referendum on a draft constitution is accepted as legitimate. The junta said no to both suggestions.
Gambari met with National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi twice during his five-day trip, but was denied a meeting with the junta’s supreme leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe. Instead, he met with members of the regime’s “Spokes Authoritative Team,” consisting of Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, Foreign Minister Nyan Win and Culture Minister Maj-Gen Khin Aung Myint.
There were also brief meetings with other NLD leaders, representatives of ethnic groups, and officials from the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and National Unity Party (NUP).
As he did during Gambari’s last visit to Burma in November 2007, Kyaw Hsan used the occasion of his latest meeting with the UN representative to send a clear message that the junta does not appreciate international interference in its affairs.
The state-run mouthpiece, The New Light of Myanmar, published the full text of Kyaw Hsan’s indignant reaction to Gambari’s role in releasing a statement from Aung San Suu Kyi following his last visit.
“Sadly, you went beyond your mandate,” said the information minister in his carefully worded reproach. “Some even believe that that you prepared the statement in advance and released it after coordinating with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” he added.
He went on to accuse the UN envoy of trying to “frame a pattern desired by western countries.”
Kyaw Hsan also took issue with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s calls for a more inclusive constitution-drafting process, pointing out that the NLD walked out of the National Convention two years after it first convened in 1993.
The constitution, finally completed last year, is in no further need of revision, insisted Kyaw Hsan. “The majority of the people do not demand to amend it,” he told Gambari. But analysts say that most of delegates at the convention were handpicked by the junta and only a few representatives from political parties were allowed to attend the convention. Before the NLD walked out of the National Convention in November 2005, only 99 of the 702 delegates were elected officials.
After meeting with Kyaw Hsan’s team, Gambari met with a member of the commission responsible for holding the referendum, Thaung Nyunt, who flatly rejected a proposal for international monitoring of the forthcoming referendum in May.
“U Thaung Nyunt replied that holding the referendum for the constitution is within the State sovereignty. Besides, there were no instances of foreign observers monitoring events like a referendum,” said a report in The New Light of Myanmar.
U Lwin, secretary of the NLD, told The Irrawaddy on Saturday that Gambari explained to his party that he came to Burma with a mandate from the UN Security Council.
“He also told us about his meetings with the regime officials on previous days,” said U Lwin, who declined to provide any further details.
Meanwhile, observers in Burma said that the junta’s snub of Gambari showed that the generals were not interested in listening to the international community.
“It is very clear that they [the junta] will do everything their own way. No matter what the international community says, they negate all voices,” said a Burmese political observer in Rangoon, adding that the chances of a national reconciliation talks taking place now are non-existent.
“It is time for Burma’s people to decide how to react to the junta,” he added.
Other observers said it was time for the international community to send a stronger message to the junta through a UN Security Council resolution.
Aye Thar Aung, an Arakan leader, told The Irrawaddy on Saturday that the military junta will only cooperate with proposals which support their stands. “Dialogues between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta official, Aung Kyi, were just a kind of cosmetic approach under pressure from Burmese people and the international community,” he said.
“The UN Security Council should really do something,” he added.
Larry Jagan, a British journalist who specializes in reporting on Burmese issues, also said that the junta has clearly demonstrated its indifference to international opinion.
“It is clear from Kyaw Hsan’s lecture that the regime is little interested in the international community’s concerns,” Jagan told The Irrawaddy on Saturday. “The UN is not being imaginative enough to try and expand a UN role around Mr Gambari. So I think the UN role in Burma in the area of mediation is effectively finished,” he said.
“What they would be worried about is the Burma issue will be raised again in the United Nations Security Council,” Jagan added.
Al Jazeera English 10 Oct 2007 – Part 2
The mission of the UN special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, which began with high hopes nearly two years ago, is now over.
That much is clear after this, his fifth visit since May 2006.
After a break of almost a year, Mr Gambari returned to Burma last September, armed with the full weight of the international community’s revulsion over the scenes of unarmed demonstrators being gunned down by Burmese soldiers on the streets of Rangoon.
His mission was backed by all UN member states, even China, which has long rejected putting outside pressure on the military government. It is hard to imagine a stronger mandate.
Mr Gambari had three main objectives. The first was to get a dialogue going between the generals and opposition figures, especially Aung San Suu Kyi who has been kept in complete isolation in her home in Rangoon since 2003.
This, he hoped, would eventually lead to a more credible process of democratisation than the military’s tightly-controlled Seven Stage Roadmap to Democracy.
He also pushed for the release of all political prisoners, including those detained during the September uprising, and he asked for the UN to be allowed to set up a joint poverty alleviation drive with the government.
Reeling from the blast of international outrage, the generals appeared to be willing to accommodate Mr Gambari at first, designating the admittedly low-ranking Labour Minister Aung Kyi to liaise with Ms Suu Kyi, and releasing some detainees.
But this conciliatory mood lasted less than a month.
On his next visit in late October, Mr Gambari was shunned by Senior General Than Shwe, the key decision-maker in the ruling military council.
It was a bad sign. The meetings between Aung San Suu Kyi and the labour minister went nowhere, and then stopped altogether.
Mr Gambari remained upbeat, and said he had been given a promise by the generals that he could return to Burma anytime he chose.
But for the next four months they stonewalled him. And now we know why.
The Seven Stage Roadmap, which, with no timetable, had always seemed like a military-fabricated illusion, suddenly got one.
Without warning, the government announced that there would be a general election by 2010, with a referendum on the new constitution it has spent the past 14 years drawing up no later than May this year.
This was unexpected. And it left Mr Gambari with no hand left to play when he was finally allowed back this month.
Critics were quick to point out the obvious flaws in the military’s plan.
The constitution was drawn up by about 1,000 appointed delegates, who were confined to a purpose-built convention centre during the long drafting process.
The public had no input, and details of the constitution were still unclear even when the referendum was announced.
What is known is that the charter will reserve 25% of the seats in a new parliament for the armed forces, and that Aung San Suu Kyi will be specifically barred from holding government office because she was once married to a foreigner.
Criticising the draft constitution is punishable by up to 20 years in prison; criticising the referendum could get you three years behind bars; and about 2,000 political prisoners remain in captivity.
It is impossible to conceive how a free vote could take place in such conditions.
But that hardly matters to Than Shwe and his colleagues. Now the government has something it can flourish in the faces of those who insist it takes concrete steps towards democratic rule.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon gamely urged the generals to make their roadmap to democracy and its constitution more inclusive, but over the weekend they threw his suggestion back in Mr Gambari’s face.
“It is impossible to review or rewrite the constitution,” said Information Minister Kyaw Hsan, who is usually the mouthpiece for the more hard-line thinking inside the government.
He then went on to accuse Mr Gambari of bias, lashing out at him for carrying out a letter from Aung San Suu Kyi last November.
The diplomat who was supposed to represent the will of the international community was being publicly scolded by a pariah regime.
It was a telling sign of how little clout the UN envoy now carries.
His proposals to include the opposition in the political process, and to have international observers monitor the referendum, were instantly rejected.
Despair and resignation
This could well be Ibrahim Gambari’s last visit. It is hard to see why he would wish to put himself through such humiliation again. So what will happen in Burma?
After miscalculating the results of the 1990 election, which they lost by a huge margin to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, the generals are unlikely to leave much to chance this time.
The date of the referendum will only be announced 21 days beforehand.
There will be no discussion of the constitution’s merits. There will be heavy mobilisation in support of it by the military’s political wing, the USDA.
They may even make identifiable boxes for yes and no votes at the polling stations, to intimidate opponents.
Then they have two years in which to prepare for the election – two years in which the opposition will continue to be harassed and jailed.
Some opposition figures are now debating whether it is worth continuing to confront the military, at such high cost.
They argue that perhaps the best option is to use the generals’ willingness to embrace change, however limited, and try to push a little further.
There is a sense of despair and resignation, after the brief euphoria last September.
There is of course always the possibility of unexpected events interfering with the military’s plans – a power struggle at the top, or another mass uprising driven by economic desperation.
But recent history will have taught the Burmese people that they cannot count on such miracles.
The 88 Generation Students group on Monday called for an international boycott of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, including a boycott of products sold by Olympic sponsors, according to group leaders.
The Rangoon-based activist group released a statement urging international activists to launch campaigns to boycott the Beijing Olympics and to pressure the Chinese government to stop its unqualified support of the Burmese military government.
“In response to China’s bankrolling of the military junta that rules the country with guns and threats, we call for each and every citizen around the world not to watch the Olympic ceremonies on television,” said the statement.
Tun Myint Aung, a member of the 88 Generation Students group, told The Irrawaddy from his hiding place, “We [the Burmese people] lack democracy and human rights. So, to help our struggle for democracy in Burma, we want people around the world to cooperate with us and boycott the Chinese Olympics.”
The group called for a boycott of Olympic merchandise, and products from China and its Olympics sponsors during the time of the Olympic games.
The statement added, “We urge people of conscience throughout the world—including the hundreds of thousands of Burmese in dozens of countries—to pledge to not watch or support in any way the Beijing Olympics.”
The Burmese junta remains in power partly because of China’s support, said the statement.
China is a major trade partner, arms supplier and defender of the junta in the international arena, especially in the United Nations Security Council.
The group called on the Chinese government to pressure the Burmese regime for democratic change by using its influence over the junta.
A Web site located at www.beijingolympicsboycott.com cites 10 reasons to boycott the Beijing Olympics, including China’s involvement in Darfur and its human rights record.
Beijing, however, has repeatedly denounced efforts to link the Olympics and politics, saying it is playing a positive role and that it is wrong to criticize it for what is happening in other countries.
Recently, well-known film director Steven Spielberg withdrew as artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics because of China’s policy over Darfur.
China will open the Beijing Olympics on August 8, 2008, the date of the 20th anniversary of Burma’s 1988 uprising, in which an estimated 3,000 people were killed following the regime’s refusal to honor the results of a democratic election.
NUS exchange student Pia Muzaffar Dawson did the unthinkable last November.
Along with two exchange students, the 22-year-old took her chances with Singapore’s tough laws against public protests by marching down Orchard Road into an area guarded by about 1,000 armed police and soldiers.
Together with Daniel Babiak and Mark (who did not want to reveal his last name), Dawson entered the city area where the Association of South East Asian Nations leaders’ summit was being held.
The trio, dressed in red T-shirts and holding lighted candles, were protesting against Asean’s inaction toward Burma’s junta after the country’s bloody military crackdown on demonstrations led by Buddhist monks.
In an e-mail interview with The Observer on Jan. 08, Dawson spoke about her experience with the university administrators that called to warn her against protesting and about what she thinks of NUS students.
She has since completed her semester as an exchange student at NUS and returned to England, where she is studying international relations and development studies at the University of Sussex.
Campus Observer: Have you ever protested in England before?
Dawson: Yes, but not very much. I don’t have much history of activism. It’s only recently that I’ve been inspired to participate in protests, specifically regarding education in the UK, anti-war, the occupation of Palestine, and the gradual erosion of our civil liberties in England.
Campus Observer: What inspired you to protest that day?
Dawson: First and foremost, the continuing political repression in Burma, the strong links between Singaporean elites and Burmese military rulers and drug barons, and the relative silence in Singaporean media on both these issues.
It would have been awful if the Burmese junta could be seen to just turn up in Singapore and not be held accountable for their actions — especially given the recent violent crackdown on monks and others.
Secondly, the repressive environment in Singapore, which restricts free speech, free assembly and free press. With the government silent and civil society groups facing massive restrictions, we thought that we could use our status as international students to highlight this issue.
Thirdly – and I am speaking for myself here — it is becoming increasingly clear to me that protest and political participation are vital to maintaining any semblance of democracy and political accountability. This is something that one generation of Singaporeans knew well, but has been stifled in contemporary Singapore. Knowing full well that a public assembly of more than four people does not necessarily degenerate into violence and chaos, we wanted to demonstrate this in Singapore.
Campus Observer: It was reported that administrators from NUS called to warn you of Singapore’s laws. What exactly did they tell you?
Dawson: The provost and dean of students spoke to some of us. They had managed to print out our Facebook event details and explained that the wording of our appeal made it clear that there was intent to hold an assembly of more than four people, even if the protest was conducted in smaller groups.
They didn’t want us to unwittingly break the law and were concerned that as foreign students we were not aware of local law. They even offered us the Central Forum as an alternative venue to stage a vigil.
Campus Observer: Why did you still decide to go ahead with the protests?
Dawson: Because our reasons for protesting remained the same, and we were concerned that this kind of muting of our plans would have much less of an impact and carry our message much less far.
We were also lucky because we knew that any sort of legal action or arrest would not affect us in the same way that it would affect a Singaporean student and their future career prospects (unless we want to work in Singapore, that is).
Campus Observer: Were you afraid when security officials and the police stopped your group of protesters?
Dawson: I wasn’t afraid, because we had expected to encounter police in that area, and we knew that we hadn’t broken any law. We also knew that the police would not mistreat us in the presence of so many international journalists. The main reason I wasn’t afraid, however, was that a successful protest usually relies on good planning, and our group had collectively decided that we would not confront the police or try to defy their warnings. So when the moment came, we were all prepared to disperse peacefully.
Campus Observer: I see that you were using your handphone in one of the photos. Who were you calling?
Dawson: Journalists from all over the world had been calling me non-stop that day.
Campus Observer: Were there any friends, well-meaning or otherwise, who tried to dissuade you from joining the protests? Could you recount one such experience?
Dawson: Yes, one law-student friend tried to dissuade us and managed to dissuade some others. One other friend was not comfortable with the fact that we would have no control over how our protest would be represented in the media, and he was very worried that we would be cast as troublemakers, or that reporters would focus on us and not on the issues that we were trying to publicise. He didn’t come, in the end. Luckily, his fears didn’t come true.
However, I had no problem with the fact that some people didn’t want to participate, because it’s not right to do those things without being comfortable with your actions. Also, other people’s criticisms were totally legitimate and meant we had many excellent discussions in the days before the protest, which ultimately prepared us much better for the day.
Campus Observer: Daniel was quoted by Bloomberg: “A lot of people wanted to come, but they were afraid of the repercussions.” What were these people’s reactions after the protests?
Dawson: They were relieved, I think, that no harm came to us. But I think their fears were totally valid, especially given the way the university, police and local media attempted to scare us out of participating. Hopefully, people will be more encouraged the next time such an opportunity arises.
Campus Observer: What do you think has been the effect of the protests on Singapore’s political scene?
Dawson: I don’t know. I think it’s important to highlight that the next day, 40-50 Burmese residents of Singapore were able to stage a rally, even holding banners and placards. I hope this will encourage even more Singaporeans to become active in civil society. I know that there are many Singaporeans who feel disillusioned with politics, seeing it as a sphere outside and above their control. For me, politics is something everyday and ubiquitous, and I believe we can empower ourselves without the permission of those who are supposedly in authority.
Campus Observer: Describe your opinion of NUS students in three words.
Dawson: Overworked, competitive, and de-politicised!
BANGKOK, Dec 22 (IPS) – For nearly 30 years Cambodians have grappled with a question that no one in the country could answer with certainty: will the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime face justice for the genocide they perpetrated on their own people in the mid-1970s?
The wait may be over in the New Year. Events through 2007 suggested that the special war crimes tribunal established to try the Khmer Rouge leaders for killing nearly 1.7 million men, women and children is expected to open in 2008. Significant in this regard was the arrest this year of five major leaders of that extreme Maoist movement that ruled the country during 1975-79.
The hunger for justice among ordinary Cambodians, who lost relatives to Khmer Rouge brutality, was evident in late November when large crowds gathered at the special court on the outskirts of Phnom Penh to hear the bail hearing of Kaing Khek Eav, also known as ‘Duch.’ He headed the notorious Toul Sleng prison, where nearly 14,000 people were tortured before being executed. Duch’s bail application was rejected by the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal.
But such events are rare on South-east Asia’s political terrain. Acts by most of the ten governments in this region during the year confirm that a greater priority is placed on state security than human security. And those who campaigned for human rights and political and civil liberties were often at the receiving end of rough, and at times brutal, measures unleashed by elected and non-elected governments.
‘’Human rights have deteriorated across this region in 2007. Even the few signs of hope have vanished,’’ Anselmo Lee, executive director of Forum-Asia, a Bangkok-based regional rights lobby, told IPS. ‘’Governments are still interested in protecting themselves at the expense of the rights of their people.’’
Consequently, activists like Lee are pursuing a wait-and-see approach to judge the move by the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-member bloc of the countries in the region, to improve its human rights record through a new regional charter. At a summit in Singapore in November, government leaders backed the new ASEAN constitution’s call to protect and promote human rights and to create a regional human rights body.
‘’The inclusion of human rights in the charter and the plan to create a regional human rights body are positive developments. They offer a window of opportunity,’’ says Lee. ‘’But we have to wait and see how serious this language is and how effective the new human rights mechanism will be.’’
ASEAN’s members include Burma and Thailand, which were under the grip of military juntas, Singapore and Malaysia, which are one-party states where opposition voices are kept in check through harsh laws, and Brunei, which has an absolute monarchy.
The region also accounts for Laos and Vietnam, which have repressive communist regimes; and Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines, which have varying shades of democracy hampered by a culture of impunity that has enabled abuse of power by some quarters, including the military and officials in government.
Military-ruled Burma, in fact, emerged as a human rights embarrassment for the region, following a harsh crackdown of peaceful street protests in September. The anger in some South-east Asian capitals was palpable as officials, normally known for bland diplomatic statements, opted for sharp language to criticise their regional neighbour.
Vietnam escaped a similar rebuke despite Hanoi unleashing the police on anti-government protestors in Ho Chi Minh City in July. Thousands of uniformed and plainclothes policemen were used to crush a movement led by farmers demanding compensation for lands that were seized by officials for new ‘development’ projects.
Malaysia, one of the region’s more affluent countries, did not take too kindly to rare protests by the country’s ethnic Indian minority in November. Their complaints of economic, educational and cultural discrimination were met by police using batons and tear gas. Kuala Lumpur accused the leaders of this marginalised community of having ‘’terrorist’’ links and arrested them under the country’s harsh Internal Security Act, a British colonial-era relic that enables the authorities to keep detainees behind bars indefinitely.
The Philippines, on the other hand, was the subject of worry among human rights monitors for the spate of extra-judicial killings that continued unabated through the year. In November, a special U.N. investigator released a report that accused the country’s armed forces of killing leftist sympathisers in an effort to wipe out communist insurgents and left-wing activists.
The death toll in 2007 was 68 people, a dramatic drop from the 209 victims who were murdered in 2006 in that archipelago. At the beginning of this year, Filipino human rights groups like Karapatan revealed that over 830 people had fallen victim to extra-judicial killings since 2001, when the current president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo began her term in office.
Indonesia, an emerging beacon of democracy after ending a 30-year-long dictatorship in the mid-1990s, had a mixed record in trying to deepen its human rights culture. Jakarta won some praise by human rights groups for progress on two international human rights treaties, the 1996 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The region’s largest country took steps to implement both documents this year.
Yet Indonesian human rights activists castigated their government for dragging its feet on investigating rights violations and for failing to go after perpetrators while marking World Human Rights Day on Dec. 10. ‘’We can still see a lot of impunities; there’s no significant improvement in human rights protection in the country,’’ Soetandyo Wignjosoebroto, a leading human rights activist, was quoted as saying during the occasion in an issue of ‘The Jakarta Post’ newspaper.
And the prospect of the region having a better record in the New Year appears remote because governments are reluctant to broaden the language of human rights, says Sinapan Samydorai, president of Think Centre, a Singapore-based rights lobby group. ‘’There is very little human rights education in the South-east Asian schooling system.’’
‘’It is a way of preventing people to know what their rights are,’’ he added, during a telephone interview from the city-state. ‘’And I don’t mean only political rights, but labour rights, economic rights and the rights to information.’’
Although civil opposition to the Burmese military junta might appear to have subsided, a report released this week claims that the “Saffron Revolution” is not yet over and the desire for change among the Burmese people is “greater than ever.”
The report released by the International Federation for Human Rights and the International Trade Union Congress calls on the UN Security Council to pass a binding resolution against the military government in Burma and urges the international community to act and help the people of Burma in achieving their goal of democracy and rule of law in the country. The FIDH is an apex body of 155 human rights bodies from nearly 100 countries, while the ITUC is the world’s largest trade union federation.
In its 50-page report titled “Saffron Revolution Is Not Over,” the FIDH-ITUC concluded that the violent repression, particularly against revered monks leading peaceful demonstrations, has deeply antagonized Burmese society and has further alienated the population from its current military leaders.
“The level of fear, but also anger amongst the general population is unprecedented, as even religious leaders are now clearly not exempt from such violence and repression,” the report states. This is different from the pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988, when monks were not directly targeted. In present-day Burma, all segments of the population have grown hostile to the regime, including factions within the military’s own ranks, it stated.
Observing that the “desire to change is greater than ever,” the report asserted that the future of Burma will depend on three factors: the extent to which the population will be able to organize new rounds of social movement; the reaction of the State Peace and Development Council; and the influence the international community—the UN in particular—can exert on the junta.
The Burmese authorities were forced to accept the good offices mission of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, while UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro was allowed access to the country for the first time in four years. In addition, Aung San Suu Kyi and members of the National League for Democracy were given permission to meet with each other for the first time since May 2003.
“Yet these positive signs are still weak: a genuine process of political change has not started yet,” the report states. “Such a process, involving the democratic parties and ethnic groups, is fundamental to establishing peace, human rights and development in Burma. To achieve that, the international community must keep its focus on Burma, and maximize its efforts and capacity to help bring about political transition.”
There are four key principles and four key leverage points to influence the SPDC regime, which, if implemented, should force the regime to negotiate a peaceful transition, in which the military would become a professional body in charge of defending the country against external threats, and not a tool for repression in the hands of a dictatorship.
These principles could loosely be defined as: keeping Burma a priority; acknowledging that increasing pressure on the junta is useful and not harmful; accepting responsibility for Burma instead of passing the buck; and implementing a two-pronged approach in order to influence the regime and encourage the people of Burma.
Leverage points include: a binding Security Council resolution based on the responsibility to protect and the fact that Burma is a threat to peace; cutting the SPDC’s economic lifeline (comprehensive sanctions, in particular, on the key priority sectors of oil and gas, timber, gems and financial services, with due consideration for exceptions on justified humanitarian or similar grounds); and efforts to prepare for transition, the report stated.
Observing that the demand for reform in Burma is profound and insistent and that the determination of the democratic movement is strong, FIDH-ITUC urged the international community to seize the opportunity of ending military dictatorship in Burma.
“A business-as-usual approach to the current situation is no longer defensible; nor can it succeed in contributing positively to change. Instead, clear benchmarks should be set for a transition towards democracy, and progress towards this objective must be closely monitored,” it said.
If the military government fails to take key positive steps within a reasonable time, the international community should draw the required conclusions from the absence of progress, it said. In that case, an agenda of escalating demands should be pushed forward.
The international community cannot take the risk of losing the current window of opportunity, according to the report, which said, “The widespread and persistent human rights violations committed in Burma put the willingness of the international community to the test. It is our collective capacity to effectively realize and promote peace, human rights and democracy, which is at stake. The lives, human rights, dignity and future of Burma’s 54 million people require concerted and focused commitment from the international community now, and not at some undetermined time in the future.”
I borrowed quite a chunk of the banner above from the United Nations’ Human Rights Day 2007 website.
On Human Rights Day, 10 Dec 2007, Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations’ Secretary-General, and Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights, will launch a year long celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The anniversary campaign is symbolized by the UDHR60 logo, which depicts a human shape standing with arms wide open. The yellow and red symbol represents liberation and equality. The yellow is a sign of peace and warmth. The symbol is set on a solid block which represents the foundation of human rights. The earthy red colour of the block reinforces human rights as a foundation stone and as humankind’s common heritage. (Source)
The UDHR60 logo comes with words that encapsulate the promise of the Declaration: “Dignity and Justice for all of us”. It reinforces the vision of the UDHR as the first international recognition that fundamental rights and freedoms are inalienable and inherent to all human beings, that every one of us is born free and equal. The phrase also serves as a rallying call, for the promise of dignity and justice is far from realized for everyone. The UDHR is a living document that matters not only in times of conflict and in societies suffering repression, but also in addressing social injustice and achieving human dignity in times of peace in established democracies. Non-discrimination, equality and fairness – key components of justice – form the foundation of the UDHR. And no matter where you live, how much money you have, what faith you practice or political views you hold, all the human rights in the Declaration apply to you, everywhere, always. (Source)
Many more people were killed and detained in the violent government crackdown on monks and other peaceful protestors in September 2007 than the Burmese government has admitted, Human Rights Watch said today in a new report. Since the crackdown, the military regime has brought to bear the full force of its authoritarian apparatus to intimidate all opposition, hunting down protest leaders in night raids and defrocking monks.
The 140-page report, “Crackdown: Repression of the 2007 Popular Protests in Burma,” is based on more than 100 interviews with eyewitnesses in Burma and Thailand. It is the most complete account of the August and September events to date.
Human Rights Watch research determined that that the security forces shot into crowds using live ammunition and rubber bullets, beat marchers and monks before dragging them onto trucks, and arbitrarily detained thousands of people in official and unofficial places of detention. In addition to monks, many students and other civilians were killed, although without full and independent access to the country it is impossible to determine exact casualty figures.
“The crackdown in Burma is far from over,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Harsh repression continues, and the government is still lying about the extent of the deaths and detentions.”
Human Rights Watch found that the crackdown was carried out in part by the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a “mass-based social welfare” organization with more than 23 million members that the Burmese military is grooming to lead a future civilian government. It operated alongside the Swan Arr Shin (Masters of Force) militia, soldiers and riot police in beating and detaining protestors.
The report documented the killing of 20 people in Rangoon, but Human Rights Watch believes that the death toll there was much higher, and that hundreds remain in detention. Human Rights Watch was unable to gather information on killings and detentions from other cities and towns where demonstrations took place.
At a news conference in the new capital at Naypidaw on December 3, National Police chief Major General Khin Ye stated that, “Ten people died and 14 were injured during the monk protests from 26 to 30 September. The security members handled the situation in accord with the procedures.” Human Rights Watch has information that Khin Ye personally supervised the brutal arrests, beatings and killings of monks at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon on September 26.
The ruling State and Peace Development Council (SPDC) claims that overall 2,927 people, including 596 monks, were “interrogated,”and almost all have been released. It says that nine people have been sentenced to prison terms, while 59 lay people and 21 monks remain in detention.
Human Rights Watch said that hundreds of protestors, including monks and members of the ’88 Generation students, who led protests until being arrested in late August, remain unaccounted for. Human Rights Watch noted that before the protests there were more than 1,200 political prisoners languishing in Burma’s prisons and labor camps.
“The generals unleashed their civilian thugs, soldiers and police against monks and other peaceful protestors,” said Adams. “Now they should account for those killed and shed light on the fate of the missing.”
Human Rights Watch called for greater international action, including by the United Nations Security Council, to press the Burmese government to undertake major reforms. On December 11, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, will present his findings on the crackdown to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Human Rights Watch criticized the lack of action by countries with good relations and influence on Burma, such as China, India, Russia, Thailand, and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations members. China has made it clear that it will not allow the UN Security Council to take up Burma in any meaningful way. Despite the killing of a Japanese journalist by Burmese security forces, Japan has reacted timidly.
“It’s time for the world to impose a UN arms embargo and financial sanctions, to hurt Burma’s leaders until they make real changes,” said Adams. “Countries like China, India and Thailand have the responsibility to take action to help hold the generals accountable and to end this long nightmare of military repression.”