[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 21/3/08
- Referendum: "no" vote gaining momentum - Saw Yan Naing
- Referendum sub-commissions formed by local authorities
- ILO to discuss forced labour in Burma
- New group formed to oppose referendum
- Veteran Burmese writer banned from writing again
- Myanmar strengthens cooperation with GMS member countries
- Envoy disappointed with Burma trip
- Burmese friends of Thailand
- Off the radar
- Burma's rocky roads
- Policy Paper: Vote "no," we will win
- Members of the Committee Representing the People's Parliament (CRPP)
- Detainee on hunger strike to protest ill-treatment
Referendum: "no" vote gaining momentum - Saw Yan Naing
Irrawaddy: Thu 20 Mar 2008
A vote "No" movement is gaining momentum throughout Burma as the May referendum date - still yet to be announced - draws near.
Various activists and citizens in Rangoon, Mandalay and Kachin and Arakan states are urging the public to take a stand against the military-crafted draft constitution, which has still not been made public.
The military regime announced on February 9 it would hold a national referendum on the draft constitution in May and a multi-party election in 2010.
Public reaction to the referendum has been colored by the 2007 uprising, in which the UN said at least 31 protesters including monks were killed by security forces.
Nyi Nyi, a businessman in Sittwe in Arakan State, said, "There is no reason to support the junta. I will not vote "Yes" in the referendum because there is no justice."
A resident in Mandalay, the second largest city, predicted that almost all Mandalay citizens would vote "No" in the referendum.
"It's not because they don't understand the constitution," he said, "but because they dislike the military regime."
Even government staffers are saying they will vote 'No,'" he said.
An elderly housewife in Sittwe was coy when asked by The Irrawaddy how she would vote. "I've decided to vote, but it is early to tell," she said. "Let's see when we vote. You will realize what I mean."
In Myitkyina, many residents told The Irrawaddy that they would vote "No," while others said they would boycott the referendum.
Ma Brang said, "I will vote 'No.' Many people - almost all - in Myitkyina think like me."
Another Myitkyina resident said, "I will not vote in the referendum. If authorities try to talk to me, I'm ready to complain to them."
He said the constitution process was a "fake" and it failed to guarantee the rights of ethnic groups in Burma. The constitution will only guarantee that the junta is able to hold on to power, he said.
A Rangoon resident told The Irrawaddy that most of his friends are prepared to vote "No" while others they will boycott the referendum.
"For me, I will not support the referendum for sure. I'm deciding whether to vote "No" or not to vote."
Meanwhile, Burmese activists in Rangoon have launched new anti-government campaigns against the national referendum, urging people to boycott the referendum.
Activists have also distributed VCDs filled with jokes aimed at the junta's referendum by the well-known a-nyeint comedy troupe, Thee Lay Thee & Say Young Sone.
Meanwhile, the Burmese regime has launched its own publicity campaigns in support of a "Yes" vote on the referendum.
In early March, local authorities in Rangoon, including the Township Peace and Development Council and the Ward Peace and Development Council, were ordered to lobby residents to vote "Yes" by the chairman of the Rangoon division of the Peace and Development Council, Brig-Gen Hla Htay Win, and Home Minister Maung Oo, according to sources in the former capital.
Local authorities in Rangoon and other regions, especially in ethnic states, have also offered temporary citizen identification cards to adults while urging them to vote "Yes," sources said.
Some residents who have openly spoken out against the referendum have been threatened by authorities, sources told The Irrawaddy.
The regime recently enacted a new law that calls for up to three years imprisonment and a 100,000 kyat (US $91) fine for anyone convicted of making anti-government statements or distributing posters opposing the referendum. The law also bans monks and nuns from voting.
Despite the restrictions, a Burmese migrant worker in Singapore, who asked for anonymity, said, "I will vote in the referendum because if I don't vote, I will loose my vote. But I will vote "No."
Meanwhile, the All Burma Monks Alliance released a statement this week calling on all citizens and Buddhist monks to remember the September 2007 crackdown and to boycott the May referendum and the state-run religious examinations to be held this month.
Referendum sub-commissions formed by local authorities - Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Thu 20 Mar 2008
Burma's military government has organized township sub-commissions to prepare for the referendum on the constitution in May, staffed mainly with officials from the townships' ruling councils and regime supporters, USDA sources say.
The junta did not include executive members of its mass organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), on the local sub-commissions.
USDA sources told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that local authorities formed sub-commissions recently made up of the head of each Township Peace and Development Council and Village Peace and Development Council. Officials of township administrations will serve as secretaries of sub-commissions across the country.
Sources said USDA executive members from townships were told by authorities they would not be named to the sub-commissions, but regular USDA members would be appointed instead.
Officials from immigration offices and other government services would also be included on the sub-commissions, a source close to the USDA said.
Authorities have still not released any detailed information about the May referendum voting process to sub-commission members, said the source.
The regime's main referendum commission is chaired by Aung Toe, the chief of justice and head of the constitution drafting committee.
According to a news report in the state-run Myanma Alin on Thursday, a central secretary of the USDA, Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, who is also the information minister, met with members of the USDA from Mingalar Thaung Nyunt Township in Rangoon.
The election commission and sub-commissions appointed during the 1990 nationwide election included local residents and ordinary citizens. Local observers say the current sub-commissions do not represent a cross-section of the public.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Special Envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, briefed the UN Security Council on March 18 on his latest trip to Burma. He expressed disappointment in the outcome but vowed to keep the crisis on the Security Council's agenda.
"Whereas each of my previous visits produced some results that could be built upon, it is a source of disappointment that this latest visit did not yield any immediate tangible outcome," Gambari told the 15-member council.
The UN's proposals for Burma included an inclusive national reconciliation process with UN involvement; genuine dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi; and measures to address political, human rights, economic and humanitarian issues. The ruling junta snubbed the UN proposals during Gambari's visit.
The US Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, told reporters, "We are disappointed by the lack of any concrete achievement." Gambari's visited to the Southeast Asian country from March 6 to 10.
ILO to discuss forced labour in Burma - Htet Aung Kyaw
DVB: Thu 20 Mar 2008
The International Labour Organisation will hold a forum on Burma tomorrow at its Geneva headquarters to discuss forced labour issues and the extended agreement with the Burmese regime to stop the practice.
Kari Tapiola, executive director of the ILO Standards and Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Sector, said the meeting would focus on three main topics.
"One of them is of course the extension of the trial period [of ILO cooperation with the government], which we are reporting and explaining that during the next year, issues like education, information and publication should take place and we should be able to extend our activities," he said.
Tapiola said the forum would also look at people in detention and the need for the Burmese government to make a clear political commitment to stop using forced labour.
He also mentioned the case of U Thet Wei, the National League for Democracy chairperson in San Chaung township who was arrested for possession of reports on forced labour to be passed to the ILO.
"The case of Thet Wei was provisionally solved. We trust that the government will honour its commitments and will not harass him any more," he said.
Steve Marshall, the ILO liaison officer in Rangoon, said that the ILO's agreement with the Burmese regime gives him the right to investigate the complaints he receives.
"The understanding gives people the right to complain. It also makes provision that people exercising that right to complain have got protection from harassment," he said.
"It also gives me the right, on receiving a complaint, to travel around the country as required, to assess those complaints, to decide whether they are actually a justifiable complaint which I should then raise with the government."
Marshall stressed the need for people to report forced labour complaints to the ILO so that he could begin to take action.
"Now the critical issue is that people understand they have the right to complain, and the protection under this agreement to complain," he explained.
"But the first point is that somebody must actually make a complaint to us. Then I have the authority to assess that complaint and take it further on their behalf."
New group formed to oppose referendum - Naw Say Phaw
DVB: Thu 20 Mar 2008
A statement from a group called the People's Movement Committee (National League for Democracy) said the group would lead people's movements across Burma to fight against the military dictatorship.
The statement said the PMC-NLD was formed in response to the military government's failure to honour the promises they made to the Burmese people when they seized power in 1988 by ignoring the results of the 1990 elections.
"The SPDC government has completely failed to comply with the international community's efforts to solve problems in Burma, abusing the power they hold and announcing plans for a sham national referendum," the statement said.
" The PMC-NLD vows to lead people's movements across Burma to fight against the military dictatorship, for a development of democracy and to achieve a tripartite dialogue on discussion of the results of the 1990 elections."
The PMC-NLD is not known to be linked with the official NLD party, but does share some members.
Ko Khin Htun, youth coordinator of the NLD (Lower Burma) said that he was not involved with the group.
"I heard about the statement but am not going to claim any responsibility for it," he said.
Khin Htun said there were some NLD youth members and township level organising committee members involved in the new group but that he did not want to comment on other people doing what they believed was right.
"But I assume this might bring us some unnecessary attention from the government authorities," he said.
U Aye Thar Aung, secretary of the Committee Representing the People's Parliament, said he did not know much about the group, but shared their aims.
"We heard about the forming of the NLD People's Movement Committee but we don't know the details yet," he said.
"But I would say we don't intend to make any arguments about it since they have said they are against the national referendum, which is the same as our opinion."
Veteran Burmese writer banned from writing again - Nem Davies
Mizzima News: Thu 20 Mar 2008
The infamous Burmese censors are at work again and have banned veteran Burmese writer Ludu Sein Win from publishing his works. The writer who has faced several bans in the past has once again been targeted.
Ludu Sein Win, who has been critical of the Burmese military junta, was banned from publishing his articles in two of Rangoon's Weeklies - 'Akhwint Alan Journal' and 'Weekly Eleven Journal' - sources in the Burmese literary community said.
The authorities might have targeted him for his recently circulated audio file in which he spoke critically of the ruling junta, the sources said.
"That is the most likely reason for banning his works. His articles were not included in both the journals. But Saya [Ludu Sein Win] did not say anything about it," an editor of a local journal told Mizzima.
In early March, Ludu Sein Win, in his letter to revolutionary comrades, said there are no dictators who abandon power by themselves and urged the people to uproot the legacy of military rule in Burma.
While the Burmese censorship board has not sent a notice to Ludu Sein Win banning his articles, Ludu Sein Win said that he is unshaken by the junta's acts, sources in the literary community said.
Many literary figures in Burma express their gratitude and respect for Ludu Sein Win, who is known for his outstanding works as well as commitment to adhere to the truth.
"Saya always stands for truth. We in the literary circle praise him and admire him for his work and his stance. We support his stand because he is always so upright," a Burmese writer, who wished not to be named, told Mizzima.
In a similar instance, Ludu Sein Win was banned from publishing his writings for a month for contributing an article, titled 'The Burmese People Can't Wait Much Longer', to the International Herald Tribune, in May 2006.
Roundup: Myanmar strengthens cooperation with GMS member countries
Xinhua via COMTEX: Thu 20 Mar 2008
Myanmar, a member of the six- country Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS)-Economic Cooperation, has worked for closer economic ties together with other members of the grouping by taking part in the implementation of the GMS program.
Myanmar Prime Minister General Thein Sein is due to attend a two-day Third GMS Summit scheduled for March 30-31 in Vientiane, Laos. Together with other heads of government, Thein Sein is expected to consult sharing of efforts in boosting economic cooperation among the GMS member countries.
Initiated by the Asian Development Bank, the GMS-Economic Cooperation was founded in 1992 to bring together China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam along the Mekong river.
Since then, Myanmar has joined in signing several GMS agreements, under which the six participating countries have prioritized some 100 projects in eight sectors including investment, trade, transport, tourism, telecommunications, energy, environment and human resources development.
Covered by the Mekong project in the transport sector, Myanmar has built some major roads in its border areas such as Lashio-Muse road, Lashio-Hsipaw-Loilem-Kengtung road, and Tachilek-Kengtung-Mongla road.
Aimed at developing the international passenger and cargo transportation, trade and tourism on the Lancang-Mekong river, Myanmar joined three other countries located in the upper reaches of the Mekong river - China, Laos and Thailand, in signing a commercial navigation agreement in April 2000 in Myanmar's Tachilek.
Under the agreement, which provides for vessels of any signatory country to sail freely between Simao in China and Luangprabang in Laos. Myanmar opened two ports along with three other signatories for the move. The Lancang-Mekong international waterway was officially opened to commercial navigation in June 2001.
As part of its bid to boost arrivals of world tourists and those from the third countries visiting the two border areas, Myanmar had the Wan Pon port checkpoint in Tachilek upgraded in January 2007 along with the Ban Muang Mom checkpoint from the Lao side to meet international standard.
With regard to cross-border transportation, Myanmar also joined five other GMS nations in signing an agreement and a protocol in April 2004 in Phnom Penh.
Moreover, Myanmar has been engaged in a plan to build a bridge crossing the Mekong River to link Laos. The bridge, which will be the first connecting the two countries, is projected near Kengkoke on the Myanmar-Lao border linking with the R-3 road section connecting Thailand's Chiangmai and China's Kunming.
Similar to the R-3 section, the R-4 section connecting Kunming and Myanmar's Lashio and Kengtung provides access for the GMS countries to cross into Myanmar.
Envoy disappointed with Burma trip - Edith M. Lederer
Time Magazine: Thu 20 Mar 2008
Ibrahim Gambari was rebuffed when he suggested that the military junta amend its "roadmap to democracy" to include input from the country's pro-democracy movement and other political parties.
The junta also rejected a U.N. role in its referendum in May on a new constitution, which is to be followed by a general election in 2010, key steps in the seven-point roadmap.
Gambari told the U.N. Security Council that his five-day visit did provide an opportunity to prod the government to engage the opposition to move forward toward "a peaceful, prosperous, democratic Burma with full respect for the human rights of its people."
But during Gambari's visit, which ended on March 10, the junta again rebuffed his efforts to meet with its chairman, Senior Gen. Than Shwe - just as it did during his last visit in November. The U.N. had described a meeting with Than Shwe as one of the main goals of his visit.
While Gambari met twice with detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the military rulers turned down U.N. suggestions that they free political prisoners including Suu Kyi and accelerate a dialogue with her to foster political reconciliation. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has been detained for 12 of the past 18 years.
Burma has been ruled by the military since 1962. The current junta seized power in 1988 and refused to honor the results of a 1990 general election won by Suu Kyi's party.
Gambari expressed regret that he was not able to meet Burma's senior leadership, the 88 Generation Students group whose street protests ignited last year's massive pro-democracy demonstrations that were put down by the army in September, representatives of ethnic minorities and the 1990s MPs-elect.
"Moreover, whereas each of my previous visits produced some result that could be built upon, it is a source of disappointment that this latest visit did not yield any immediate tangible outcome," Gambari said.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad expressed disappointment at "the lack of any concrete achievement" during Gambari's visit.
He called the constitutional process and referendum seriously flawed - stressing that the draft constitution hasn't been circulated and can't be debated because of laws that prohibit the right to assembly.
While the text has not been made public, the guidelines on which the constitution is based were drawn up by a convention established by the military and include clauses that would bar Suu Kyi from public office and perpetuate the army's leading role in politics.
Khalilzad said the United States plans to introduce a new draft statement to the council "based on our concerns and the lack of progress with regard to the key issues," including the upcoming referendum.
Burma's U.N. Ambassador U Kyaw Tint Swe told the council that "no Security Council action is warranted with regard to Burma."
Expressing admiration for Gambari, he insisted the National Convention that laid down the principles for the constitution was "inclusive" - with 635 delegates from ethnic nationalities, representatives of political parties, and 17 insurgent groups "that have returned to the legal fold."
The government, he added, "has come a long way and has made significant strides in our seven-step political roadmap."
Swe said he was "gratified that many of our neighbors, who see the situation as it really is, acknowledged the progress made in this recent visit."
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya, whose country has close ties to Burma, said "I think real progress is being made and many council members argue that it is not up to the council to dictate to other people whether they should have an election or referendum "
"Definitely, the seven-stage proposal from the authorities represents a good progress," Wang said. "But it is not perfect. It can be improved. So, definitely, I think we all want a more inclusive process."
Burmese friends of Thailand - Aung Zaw
Irrawaddy: Thu 20 Mar 2008
Newly elected Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's kind words on Burma's leaders drew mixed reactions from people in the military-ruled country. While the generals in Naypyidaw were undoubtedly delighted to hear their own words coming out of Samak's mouth, most other Burmese were appalled by his ignorant assessment of the personal virtues of their nation's brutal rulers.
Samak's take on the endearing qualities of his hosts during his recent visit to Burma didn't play very well at home, either. An editorial in the Bangkok-based English-language daily, The Nation, described Samak's comments as evidence of "Thailand's naiveté and its leader's foul mouth."
While Thais may be queasy about Samak's fulsome praise of Burma's ruling generals, Burmese taking refuge in Thailand have the greatest cause for uneasiness. The sweet deals that Samak brought back from Naypyidaw no doubt spell trouble for Burmese exiles and non-governmental organizations working on Burma issues on Thai soil.
Thailand's relations with Burma since the current regime seized power in 1988 have often cast the Kingdom in an unflattering light. The blood on the streets of Rangoon had hardly had a chance to dry before Bangkok was arranging high-level visits to cement a new relationship based on economic cooperation with the Burmese junta.
From the time of late Prime Minister Chatchai Choonhavan to the current Thai government, Bangkok has pursued a policy of "constructive engagement" with Burma. Only during the two terms of former Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai has Thailand's Burma policy been guided by principles other than economic self-interest.
In 1993, the Chuan government allowed Nobel Peace Laureates, including Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to visit Thailand to lobby for the release of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and to highlight the need for democracy in Burma. The regime in Rangoon was furious and the relationship was strained.
During his second term from 1997 to 2001, Chuan took an even tougher stance toward the generals in Burma. He declined to pay an official visit to Burma and he put Thailand's defense in the hands of then-Army Chief Gen Surayud Chulanont and then-Third Army Commander Lt-Gen Watanachai Chaimuenwong - two hawks who looked askance at their neighbors to the west. Gen Surayud was also known to be sympathetic to Burma's ethnic minorities.
As a result, troops from both sides amassed on the border, leading to serious skirmishes and repeated border closures. Relations were then at their lowest ebb.
All this changed when Thaksin Shinawatra became the Thai prime minister in 2001. The billionaire premier quickly restored a business-based approach to relations with Rangoon. But the "win-win" relationship between Thaksin and the Burmese generals produced many losers. Burmese living along the border and in the Kingdom came under intense pressure. Several NGOs and activist groups were forced to close their offices, either temporarily or permanently.
In March 2005, Human Rights Watch Asia released a statement which noted that "Since Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra took office in 2001, the Thai government has put the improvement of business and political relations with Burma's State Peace and Development Council at the top of its agenda at the expense of individual rights."
After Thaksin was deposed by a military coup in October 2006, relations with Burma were put on the back burner. Surayud Chulanont returned to a position of influence, this time as Thailand's interim leader, and Bangkok kept its distance from Burma. Surayud condemned the regime's bloody crackdown on Buddhist monks and activists last September. He also called for a concerted international process to deal with Burma, modeled on the six-party talks which successfully persuaded North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
Ironically, Surayud - who came to power through a military takeover - has taken a stronger interest in Burma's national reconciliation process and transition to democracy than his democratically elected successor, Samak.
While government-to-government relations between Thailand and Burma have tended to seesaw over the past two decades, other relationships have formed between people of these two countries which have only grown stronger over time. Burmese and ethnic people from Burma have made many Thai friends, including government officials, NGOs, civil society groups and opposition parties.
Burmese dissidents also have many powerful friends in other countries, including the United States. These influential connections also have a bearing on Thai-Burmese relations. For example, US Congressman Mitch McConnell and Republican presidential hopeful John McCain have both issued statements urging Thai authorities to stop harassing Burmese groups whenever they faced an imminent crackdown in Thailand.
Thailand also has many friends in Burma, who would welcome an opportunity to enter into a normal relationship with their neighbor. But these friends are not the generals who made such a favorable impression on Samak during his one-day trip to Naypyidaw.
Thailand's real friends in Burma are the dissidents locked up in prisons, hiding in the jungle or fleeing the latest crackdown. These are the people who can foresee the day when Thailand and Burma will embrace each other as equals, as neighbors who can relate to each other as one democracy to another.
Off the radar - Steve Crawshaw
Human Rights Watch via Guardian Unlimited: Thu 20 Mar 2008
None of this should have been a surprise. The Burmese generals sent Ibrahim Gambari away empty-handed. The military rulers treated Gambari, special envoy to Burma and under secretary general of the UN, with unconcealed contempt.
Gambari - who is due to report back to the security council in the next few days - was not allowed to meet General Than Shwe or other senior leaders when he visited Burma this month. He met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in a (presumably bugged) government guest house. But the regime refused to make any of the concessions that Gambari asked for, including international observers and technical support for the May referendum on the generals' draft constitution aimed at cementing their hold on power. Instead, they described the ultra-cautious Gambari as "biased".
The question now is: will the world finally wake up to the dangerous games which the Burmese generals like to play? Right now, there is depressingly little sign of that.
For a few brief moments, while gunfire echoed around Rangoon last September, world leaders sat up and took notice - just as the lethal violence in Lhasa in recent days has forced politicians partly to acknowledge the human rights nightmare of Tibet for the first time in many years. In response to the Burmese crackdown, there was outspoken criticism of a government which was (again) murdering its citizens on its streets. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, declared his abhorrence, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations expressed "revulsion", and even the UN security council, after much grinding of diplomatic teeth, agreed to "strongly deplore" the killing.
Once the immediate violence was off the television screens, however, things went back to business as usual. Than Shwe and his fellow generals made a few symbolic concessions - including perfunctory meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi and allowing Gambari into the country. Key governments, such as China and India, began to insist that things were now on the right track, and that further pressure would be inappropriate. Little has happened since, as Burma quickly faded from the international agenda.
Burma is a country which yearns for things to be different. In the past 30 years, I have lived and worked in many countries where the secret police hold sway. Never, however, have I seen the combined fear and astonishing defiance that one encounters in Burma. The mass protests led by monks last year gave voice to that defiance. The courage of ordinary Burmese people deserves support and pressure on the regime - including, for example, targeted measures such as banking sanctions and travel bans on the leadership.
Now Burma's ruling generals are hoping to divert attention by laying out an alleged roadmap to democracy, including the announcement of a referendum on a draft constitution in May followed by elections in 2010.
But what meaning can a referendum have when public debate is prohibited and a casual word of criticism can land you a long prison sentence?
How can the will of the people be known when much of the political opposition, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the charismatic, Nobel prize-winning leader of the National League for Democracy, is in prison or under house arrest? How can a vote be held on a constitution for all of Burma's people when members of many ethnic groups are excluded from the process? How can a vote take place without an electoral roll, a census, or an independent election commission?
The generals also want to make people forget how little regard they have for human life. Burma remains among the worst violators of the international prohibition against child soldiers. In the border areas where armed conflict with ethnic groups continues, the army commits widespread summary executions and rapes and uses forced labour.
Outside armed conflict areas, the situation also remains bleak. An unknown number remain in detention following the brutal suppression of last year's pro-democracy protests. Torture is widespread. Last month two more journalists were arrested and held without charge for collecting information about the international response to last year's crackdown. The sad irony is that the international response of late has been: not much.
The Beijing Olympics begin on August 8 2008, 20 years to the day after mass demonstrations in Burma led to the slaughter of thousands. China has enormous commercial and political clout in Burma, but is determined not to use that influence to benefit the Burmese people. China helped Gambari gain a visa to get back into Burma, but, as we saw again in recent days, that tiny step changes little or nothing on the ground.
China seems determined to allow the generals a free pass, even though the underlying instability caused by the continuing repression does China little good. Anti-Chinese sentiment inside Burma is running high, partly because of a perception that China is turning a blind eye to the generals' crimes.
South Africa, a current security council member, lards its speeches on Burma with implausible words like "optimistic", "progress", "encouraging" and "significant impact." Meanwhile, the 14-government "group of friends", which Ban Ki-moon set up, has met just twice to "review developments" to little obvious effect.
The way forward is not a sham referendum, but a substantive dialogue with the political opposition and ethnic groups, the release of an estimated 1,800 political prisoners, a free press, and room for ordinary people to meet and talk freely. The population needs an end to fear and violence.
Burma stands at a turning point: 2008 could be the year of change for the better. But that will not happen unless powerful players - at the security council and in the region - make clear that the time for waiting is over. After decades of repressive rule, the Burmese people deserve no less.
Burma's rocky roads - Awzar Thi
UPI Asia: Thu 20 Mar 2008
The latest report of a United Nations independent expert has rightly inferred that the deepening poverty of millions is the most endemic human rights abuse in Burma today.
The report, by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, notes that even government figures reveal that citizens spend around 73 percent of their disposable incomes on food alone, while international agencies estimate that one child in three aged under five is malnourished.
The preponderant cause of this misery is the government itself.
Pinheiro observes that, for instance, the confiscating of land is often followed by new big projects which in turn bring more suffering. He points to seven new hydroelectric schemes in the north that have been accompanied by military demands for labour, money and goods from people living in their vicinity, to say nothing of the environmental damage caused.
All of this is very far removed from the unceasing images in state-run media of generals standing resolutely above new dams, cutting ribbons at the entrances of schools, and strolling over carpets of petals strewn by maidens across big bridges. In their world, national development is measured in terms of cubic meters of concrete poured and machines itemized. What can be seen to have been done is what matters.
The propaganda is striking because it is in these fields that the regime is failing spectacularly. The new bridges span rivers which are reached by roads of such poor condition that hire vehicles refuse to travel them. Schools have classrooms and chairs but lack teachers, and for that matter, students. Power lines run to houses without metering devices, and the dams anyhow are not supplying those with them: households boil rice with charcoal because constant outages mean that an electric cooker switched on for dinner may not be ready until breakfast.
Moreover, as Burma's people have been forced to continue treading rocky roads, so too has the U.N.'s expert.
Eight years ago, Pinheiro got off to a good start. He took the job seriously and his preliminary reports were expansive and thoughtful.
He built some bridges of his own and was able to do what his predecessors had not: visit the country. He accessed government ministries and prisons, but when he found a microphone under a table in an interview room during March 2003, he left. He was unable to come back until last year, when the authorities reluctantly conceded him a visit in the aftermath of the September uprising.
In the interim, Pinheiro continued to research from abroad and release findings annually, but his interest seemingly waned. His early attempts at getting a grip on things gave way to straightforward documenting, alongside frustrated comments about his inability to do more. By last year he had already exceeded his tenure, and would, like those before him have, quietly slipped away, but for the protests.
Pinheiro's final report embodies both the usefulness of the work that he has done in these years as well as its profound flaws. On the one hand, the report establishes the commonality of humanitarian and human rights problems in Burma and correctly asserts that the unaccountability of state officials is a cause of rural poverty. It also argues that judicial non-independence is one reason for the growing gap between rich and poor, and calls for more research into land and resource management.
On the other, it stops short of exploring precisely how indigence is exacerbated by impunity and what international groups working in Burma can try to do about it. It glosses over problems of the judiciary before going on to talk about political prisoners, and does not draw lines between these cases and bigger issues of perverted criminal procedure. It iterates concern for the "continued misuse of the legal system" without examining what this really means.
Ultimately, the report encapsulates the enduring problem of the international community in dealing with Burma: we know what is going on, but we don't. Incidents are documented, but their significance not properly understood. The linkages of human rights and humanitarian concerns are acknowledged, but no serious attempts are made at devising a common understanding of them, let alone a comprehensive strategy to address them. So things go on as usual, even if people pretend otherwise.
Human rights work can't be assigned numerical value, so it's not possible to conclude whether or not Pinheiro's eight years were in balance worth it or not. But as an epitaph to his time served and a reminder to those continuing the job we have the following, not from his most recent report but from his statement to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (now Human Rights Council) in 2004:
"I am convinced that this commission must act fast to strengthen the credibility of its special procedures. What is the value of making recommendations if member states neglect most of what we report or recommend? I must confess that I have made efforts always to include in my reports, recommendations that are both concrete and realistic I must nonetheless report that the implementation of my recommendations by the government has been limited."
Policy Paper: Vote "no," we will win - Kanbawza Win
Shan Herald Agency for News: Thu 20 Mar 2008
After 14 years of broken promises, the Burmese Junta announce that it is finally introducing a constitution, with a referendum due in the 1st week of May followed by a full fledge elections in 2010.
The Generals has learnt their bitter lessons, when in the 1990 elections, the people show their vehement hatred and obviously will not take any chances, especially after the killing of the revered Buddhist monks in September. Hence to wink the people of Burma, as well as to the international community, they now come up with the sly idea of referendum, which was partially copied from the Communist. It announced the referendum, while withholding details of the draft Constitution from the public, a scheme unheard of in the world. Moreover a reward of two decades in jail for any one discussion the constitution (see Law 5/96) was augmented.
The faux democracy will enshrine only the dictators who are holding the country hostage. Written by delegates cherry-picked by the government and lacking the input of the opposition party or the ethnic nationalities, the constitution will reserve 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military and the 75% the ex brass. Through a well-crafted technicality, it not only also bars the pro Burmese democracy leader Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, but also all the NLD members that won the elections. If the constitutional referendum goes through as planned, it will help the government falsely legitimize these consistently repressive policies. It will give a leading political role for the military. According to the draft constitution, the commander in chief of the armed forces is entitled to fill 110 seats in the 440-seat parliament with appointees from the ranks of the armed forces. Moreover, the commander in chief will occupy a position on the same level as that of the two vice-presidents. And in the event of a "state of emergency", which the military can declare at any time, the commander in chief will assume full legislative, executive and judicial powers. A limited role for ethnic nationalities, if the 17 ethnic groups which currently have cease-fire agreements with the regime want to participate in the election planned for 2010, they will probably be required to lay down their arms once and for all. The ethnic nationalities will have to decide. An even more limited role for various democracy groups as the constitution will impose stringent restrictions on any activities deemed inimical to national unity, which would include any of the normal functions of a parliamentary opposition party. Civilians will be permitted to enter parliament, but only if they show that they know their place.
A constitution is as immovable as the military itself. Just in case anybody was thinking of making changes once the constitution is in place, Section 4 (a) of the chapter "Amendment of the Constitution" effectively rules that out. Even if an opposition party, such as the NLD, were to win every single seat not filled by military appointees, it would be unable to make any amendments, which would require the approval of more than 75% of all members of parliament. Basic human rights are not guaranteed and the power concentrates very much on the president who must have military experience while the Minister of Defense reports directly to him. In other words is a government within a government and surely will not lead to a democracy - 'disciplined' or otherwise.
However there are divergent views as how to approach the current political situation. The so-called "Self Appointed Third Force" in Burma group founded during the International Burma Studies conference in Singapore in mid-2006, which is neither pro- or anti- Junta are anti-sanctions. They argue that regardless of whatever the outcome of the referendum, it was certain that the constitution would ultimately be rectified, and hence should vote Yes. This will prove that Daw Suu is not confrontational, avoid disenfranchised and a sort of a good will gesture. This appeasement policy was very much echoed by the former ABSDF leaders based in Chiang Mai, as a way to stop living in the past or a sort of a compromise for national reconciliation. Some 'hook nose farang' (foreigner) reasoned that something is constitution is better than nothing, forgetting that the people of Burma longed for a long term guaranteed for their future and real democracy and freedom.
"By announcing plans to hold a referendum on a draft constitution in May, the regime has given Burma and the world a classic non-choice," writes Kyaw Zwa Moe. The Burmese people should be smart enough and set their emotions aside and as in 1990 elections must act as one. The Junta's plan is to steal and abuse the real desire of the people. According to the announcement 1/90, the Junta claimed that elected representatives are solely responsible for writing the constitution. However, in violation of their own law, the Junta did not allow the elected representatives to participate in writing the constitution. The basic and fundamental principles were illegally adopted by the Junta-sponsored mass rallies, in which all the attendees were forced to participate. The national convention was just for show to approve these principles written in advance by the Junta. Submissions by ethnic cease-fire groups were ignored. The Junta's order 5/96 threatens to punish with 20 years imprisonment the people who criticize the national convention and the constitution. Freedom of expression and media are severely restricted. The Referendum Law, issued on Feb 28, 2008, is also not in line with international and ASEAN standards. There is no clear indication of what the Junta will do if the majority of the voters reject the constitution. The Junta is apparently planning to win anyhow. Hence every one should vote No and must not stay without voting.
For example if the majority of the people stay put and being a sham constitution and will not vote, the Junta will not care and say if a few hundreds Swa Arr Shin USDA were bribed to vote Yes! Then the Junta, will say that he got so and so vote for Yes and the unpublicized constitution will be installed. So every homosapien residing in Burma must vote No.
We should vividly visualize that this constitution is designed to protect and promote the interests and security of Generals and their cronies. Ordinary soldiers, who are actually sons and daughter of the people, would become. an elite class, and will have more privileges than ordinary citizens, who are the root of them. This constitution will allow the military dictatorship to perpetuate in Burma. If this constitution is approved the people of Burma will be abused and oppressed more by the Generals, their families and their cronies. They will also monopolize the state economy and they will have a "License to Oppress". No doubt the people of Burma will become slaves of the military for generations.
One should heed the 8888 generation call of, "Let us transform the Junta's sham national referendum into the National Show of the Peoples' Desire". Only then we can prevent the country from falling into the depths with the Junta's one-sided roadmap. "People Power" will prevail. With our 'No' votes, we will clean the blood and dirt stained on the bodies of our revered monks by the soldiers," said the 8888 generation. By voting against this constitution it will demonstrate the enormous power of the people and that we need not afraid of the military for the rest of our lives for the future generations of Burma. Every person who is eligible to vote, should go to pooling stations and put "No" votes in the ballot boxes.
The main objective of voting "No" and mobilizing the people is not to defeat the Junta's constitution or to validate it through the referendum; it is just to promote democracy because people's participation in the political process is basic to every democracy. It has been proved that the ordinary person was not able to participate in either the National Convention or the drafting of the new Constitution, hence the referendum is the only opportunity for the people to participate and we should missed this chance.. Participation will reinforce the concept that the people have a right to decide their own future and who they want as their government. If they want this regime to continue let them vote "Yes" if not vote "No." Hence the simple message should be given to the man in the street, who doesn't know, who is who and what is what, that if they like this government they should vote "Yes" but if they don't like this government they should vote "No". Let the ordinary working people and the struggle lot decides. This is what we call in Burmese "À Thae Kyar Ka Mae Ta Pyar" literally translated is the vote from your heart and liver.
The people should be urged to vote their conscience taking into account their personal security. They may be forced to vote "Yes" then they have the choice abstaining from voting. Vote manipulation by the military regime is a high possibility. But even if it does, it cannot totally ignore the will of the people. The number of "No" votes will determine the level of engagement and compromise the Junta may be willing to negotiate in the future. Mobilizing the people for the referendum is also a trial run for mobilizing the people for the elections in 2010. The objective is to mobilize people and reinforce their understanding that participation in the political life of their nation is the basic right of every citizen.
Obviously the Junta will try to claim that this constitution is approved, despite a majority voting "No". History has proved it after one-party system constitution in 1974, there were mass protests in 1974, 1975 and 1976 and in 1988, and under the deluge of mass demonstration the constitution was abolished. The history of our country has already proved that any constitution, which does not reflect the desire of the people, would not last long and is no more than a piece of paper. If the people fail to do generation and generations will be under the boots of the military.
The voting is sure to be rigged as the Junta had flatly refuse Gambari's suggestion of International monitors. Probably it will repeat the 1974, the military organized referendum, when the eligible voters to cast their votes the boxes were set apart just to see whether the voter walked towards the 'Yes' box or a 'No' box. And if he votes "No" he is ear marked for persecution. Of course like any other Burmese administration, Burmanization has to be implement because the constitution is only in Burmese language when 40% are ethnic nationalities whose mother tongues is not Burmese.
The Junta's version is that voting will be conducted in line with the international systems. Arrangements have been made for every eligible voter not to lose the right to vote referendum. The law on voting has already been issued both in Burmese and English newspapers. The National Convention of 1993 laid down, 15 chapters and 104 basic principles. Arrangements have also been made for every eligible voter not to lose the right to vote. It also claims that voting will be conducted in line with the international systems. Stipulated ballot box shall be placed at a conspicuous place for public to enable voters to cast votes conveniently. Counting of votes will be carried out in the presence of witnesses. Arrangements have been made for eligible voters to cast votes at another place if there occurs any unfair and unjust voting (e.g., in the face of natural disasters). There include provisions that action shall be taken against those who get involved in rigging the votes and causing disturbances. According to the provisions it is obvious that it is a fair and free voting in accord with the international standard rules and regulations.
The Junta hypothesis is that that world community has not objected to Thailand's new constitution, passed last year, despite the lack of participation by Thai opposition parties in the drafting process, nor the recent constitutions passed in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the lack of participation by their opponents, including Moslem militants with al-Qaeda links and the Taliban, respectively.
Suppose if the regime had accepted some of Gambari's proposal (the 35th trip by a UN envoy to Burma since 1990, with a record of 31 UN resolutions), it would have muted criticism and the legitimacy of the entire road map process has been gone through, that will finally led to the marginalization of opposition groups and official nullifying the 1990 elections and the military's draft constitution would be accepted as legitimate.
The UN efforts have been ignored. At the other end, China and India, as Burma's two major supporters, view Naypyidaw's timetable as concrete progress. International pressure to link the summer Olympic Games in Beijing with China's Burmese policy is increasing by the day, but it will not yield any results. Through targeted banking sanctions which the United States has ordered but which the European Union, China and other countries have so far been too timid or self-interested to pursue seems to be a paper tiger.
At the moment, there is no uniform approach by ASEAN towards the Burmese crisis only the Philippines has maintained a hard-line approach seeking the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners as well as improved human rights. Indonesia has been critical of Burma, but has not gone as far as the Philippines. Jakarta is presently focused on drafting the terms of reference that will produce a respectable and independent human-rights body in ASEAN. This would serve as a prerequisite for the Charter's ratification by the grouping's largest member. Singapore's attitude towards Burma has been the most intriguing. After orchestrating the strongest statement ever to come from an AMM (ASEAN Ministerial Meeting) since Burman joined the group in 1997, the island nation has apparently thrown in the towel after failing to move the national reconciliation process forward as it had hoped at the last ASEAN Summit. Any change in ASEAN's attitude towards Burma will be the responsibility of the next ASEAN chair, Thailand, which will succeed Singapore in July. ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan has set a cautious tone by saying it was a good beginning.
With the current government under Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, the Thaksin policy has been revived. Samak on his return from Burma admitted that both Thailand and Burma have half baked constitutions as perhaps both the ugly duckling and the bull dog themselves may themselves be half baked. Bangkok seems to be determined to back the Burmese road map that the political situation there was an internal matter - were uncalled for, as they completely overlooked the international dynamics of the situation, including the UN's mediating role. The successive Thai administration except Chun Leekpai has betrayed its people and the people of Burma always. It could be recalled that at the ASEAN Summit held in Phnom Penh in 2003, it was Thaksin Shinawatra who successfully convinced other ASEAN leaders to give newly installed Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, a chance to prove his leadership and his democratic road map. Another important factor is the growing confidence the new members are showing in shaping future ASEAN policies, especially as regards the non-interference principle. The drafting of the ASEAN Charter and its outcome demonstrated the tenacity and iron will of new members towards protecting the status quo it looks that the Junta will again enjoy a win-win situation with the heartless ASEAN.
It is evident that the Junta is intent on pushing ahead quickly with its own roadmap without any concessions to either the Security Council or the Human Rights Council. It is too late for the Council to ensure that the May referendum is credible and inclusive. The UN should be wise initiating a mechanism based on the concept of the North Korea six-party talks with key parties like China, the US, India, and some ASEAN countries which would be able to offer a package of carrots and sticks to the top brass just for a break through. This will give a psychological boost from being treated as a pariah in the international community gives them the prestige that they are somebody else to be reckoned with and this what the Burmese Generals extremely craves. But at the same time the UN must be unanimous for an iron hand with a velvet glove for binding resolutions, including official sanctions might be coming if this little naughty boy "Myanmar" does not behave.
China has also made it clear that it would reject sanctions no matter about the Olympics and does not believe that pressure will solve the problems and this view is shared by the Asian countries on the Council, Vietnam and Indonesia, who also shared the sentiment that Burma is not a threat to international peace and security. UN bodies such as the Human Rights Council are in a better position to do so. There are also differences among members on how to react to the announcement of a date for the referendum and whether there is actually real movement in the Junta's roadmap. Some other members feel that the process is a sham and should not be encouraged. One thing is sure the Junta will play off the members of the Council with one another and will not seriously take the UN advice if it is divided. The UNSC will decide with Vladimir Putin laughing in his sleeves.
But the most troubling aspect in this scenario is that even though NLD says "The citizens must be able to read the draft of the Constitution in advance of the referendum then people would know more about the Constitution and could decide which way to vote," it has stopped short, of advocating a boycott or a "No" vote for the draft constitution. Neither United Nationalities Association (UNA) - coalition of ethnic parties that won the 1990 elections and the Shan (SNLD) the largest election winning party after NLD nor the cease fire army of the North or the fighting South has declared their position. NMSP has and the KIO has rejected the referendum. If there is no compromise and did not speak in one voice as the people then we might as well bite the bullet and let the Junta's referendum prevail. It must be remember that for two decades both inside and outside the country had endeavors to stop this legalizing the cruel Burmese army perpetual rule over the people of Burma, which can be liken to a heavy object moving to its goal. Since we cannot stop it, go with this object and push it in the direction that will not reach its destination and that is by voting "No". The majority of the ethnic nationalities will vote "No", many of the pro democracy forces such as the UBs including the women (WLB), youths (SYCB and NY Forum) the ENC and FDB have echo to this clarion call, the only time that ethnic and pro democracy forces stand in solidarity in this epoch making time and it would be naïve if any group or NLD did not join the bandwagon.
Unlike the leaders of the pro democracy movement the military Junta understands the game of 'realpolitik' very well. They knew when they announced a plan to hold a national referendum in May and an election in 2010 that there would be a mixed chorus of support and dissent. In the end, they gathered that it does not matter what transpires so long as the regime shows there is some movement - at a snail's pace though it might be - towards democracy. This is the strategy the Junta leaders have mastered since losing the election in May 1990. They certainly hope that they will be able to muddle along and in the process gain more space and time to work on their own schemes.
Even though the majority of Burmese people, whether at home or abroad, regard the military government's constitution as a sham constitution that shut the door of national reconciliation. It is a fact that a constitution will not go away. If we vote "No" there is every possibility that the generals will just try and try again. There may be another referendum, and so on and on until they get their way with each version modifying a bit. The UN and several Western countries have already tarnished their diplomatic credibility. "Whatever the outcome of the upcoming referendum, it is going to leave a nasty aftertaste," predicts Kyaw Zwa Moe. But the people of Burma are a hardy lot. We have bore the tyranny for half a century of the Burmese Military brutality why should we give up now. Let us all unanimously vote "No" and one day surely we will win.
Members of the Committee Representing the People's Parliament (CRPP)
Thu 20 Mar 2008
- The entire population is aware of the fact that the government has adopted
the dictatorship system and ruled the country from the year 1962 to
- To prolong and entrench the system of military dictatorship the military
government has issued its Order Number 1/2008 pronouncing that a referendum
will be held in May to confirm its biased draft constitution.
- To make the people confirm this draft constitution the writing of which
was not by the elected representatives of the people is against the wishes and
desire of the people.
- The legally constituted CRPP, legally elected People's Representatives and
the members of the National League for Democracy's State and Division
Organising Committees still exist to implement the wishes of the people and
have a duty and the mandate to fulfill their legal obligations to the
- Therefore we declare that there is no way, absolutely no way, that we can accept or confirm a draft constitution that will firmly establish a military dictatorship form of government. Together with the entire population of the country we will continue the fight for democracy.
Members of the Committee Representing People's Parliament (CRPP)
Elected People's Representatives
Members of NLD State and Division Organising Committees
Detainee on hunger strike to protest ill-treatment - Aye Nai
DVB: Wed 19 Mar 2008
Ko Myo Thant, a political inmate in Insein prison who was arrested after the public protests in September 2007, has been on a hunger strike for the past four days, his sister said yesterday.
Ma Thi Thi Soe, Myo Thant's younger sister, saw her brother at his court hearing on Monday and said had been put in solitary confinement in the prison's canine unit on 2 March after having an argument with prison authorities.
She said he was now staging a hunger strike in a protest against abuses and rights violations of prisoners.
"My brother was put in solitary confinement on 2 March after he and another political detainee, Ko Kyi Phyu, were suspended from taking showers and walking due to an information leak from inside the prison," said Thi Thi Soe.
"But it didn't really have anything to do with them."
She said Myo Thant had also been blindfolded during his period of confinement and is now suffering aches on the side of his body due to poor living conditions.
Myo Thant, also known as John Nawtha, is a member of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters Network and was arrested in relation to public protests against fuel price hikes in September 2007.
He was later charged with defaming the government, along with seven other activists.
The next court hearing for their case is due to be held on 25 March.