[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 28/7/08
- UN demands Myanmar reforms
- No political prisoner in Burma: junta's mouthpieces
- Kachins form interim committee for 2010 elections
- Huge foreign exchange loss for UN in Burma relief
- HRW urges donors to ensure Burma's rulers do not divert cyclone aid
- The price of being a judge in Rangoon
- A plea for forgiveness
- Relief must focus on remote areas: Holmes
- Discrimination over aid distribution among cyclone victims
- US Senate bans import of Burmese gems
- US removes oil giant from Burma sanctions
- Activists urge action after ASEAN charter ratification
- Where do we go from here, Burma?
- In Myanmar, UN loses 25% of aid in currency exchange, up from 15% pre-cyclone
UN demands Myanmar reforms
Aljazeera : July 25, 2008
By Stanley | The United Nations has warned Myanmar's military government that it must show "concrete results" in carrying out political reforms or face action. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to the UN, said Myanmar must "turn a new page" and agree to a political road map for elections in 2010, as well as to the release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's opposition leader.
The UN call comes as Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, criticised Myanmar's oft-repeated promise to democratise as a "kind of mockery" on Thursday.
The UN has for the past three months focused on helping the South-East Asian nation recover from Cyclone Nargis which left nearly 140,000 people dead or missing.
But on Thursday several members of the UN Security Council warned Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, that it could face increased pressure if it did not move to release political prisoners.
They urged the military government to co-operate with Ibrahim Gambari, the UN special envoy to the country, to come up with a plan to release the prisoners.
Khalilzad said Myanmar was "misguided" if it thought it could buy time by allowing Gambari's visit.
"If there is not progress on these issues … we would have to look at other measures, bringing more pressure to bear on the regime," he said without elaborating on the measures.
"Absent political progress, we see the potential for increased political instability and the council cannot remain indifferent to that," he said.
He said the council expected Myanmar's ruling generals to take advantage of Gambari's visit in mid-August to show progress.
Gambari last visited Myanmar in March to try to bring about reconciliation between the military government and its pro-democracy opponents.
On Wednesday, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, called for strong co-operation from Myanmar after convening a meeting of the so-called Group of Friends to discuss Gambari's upcoming visit.
Meanwhile in Washington, the US congress voted to renew a law that bans all imports from Myanmar, legislators said.
The Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act passed on Thursday renews a series of sanctions imposed since 2003 over the suppression of Myanmar's democracy movement.
The law maintains sanctions on the ruling generals until changes are made including steps towards reconciliation and democratisation, an end to attacks on ethnic minorities and the release of all "prisoners of conscience".
Earlier this week the US congress cleared another legislation aimed at keeping Myanmar's gems, including jade and rubies, from entering US markets via third-party countries.
Rights groups say that despite the long-standing ban on all imports, gems from Myanmar have been entering the US via Thailand, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore.
No political prisoner in Burma: junta's mouthpieces - Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Thu 24 Jul 2008
Burma's state-run newspapers rejected the use of the term "political prisoners" to describe imprisoned dissidents, saying in a series of articles published ahead of Thursday's commemoration of the United Nations' Declaration on Prisoners of Conscience that detained activists were actually guilty of criminal offenses.
From July 22 to 24, The Mirror and Myanma Alin, two of the ruling junta's mouthpieces, ran a three-part article, "Political Cases, Political Prisoners and the Definition of Burmese Law," which addressed the question of whether there are any political prisoners in Burma.
Referring to Article 5 (j) of the State Emergency Act and Article 124 (a) of the State Offence Act, which are often used by the authorities to charge and imprison political dissidents, the newspapers claimed that since Burmese law does not use the term "political prisoner," they cannot possibly exist in Burmese prisons.
The newspapers argued that the Articles 1-8 of the State Emergency Act, which has been in effect since 1950, cover a wide range of issues, including security, administration, communications, taxation and the economy, but do not relate to political affairs.
Article 5 (j) of the State Emergency Act serves to deter acts that threaten the security of the state, law and order, and public morality, The Mirror and Myanma Alin said.
They also noted that under the Election Law for the People's Assembly No. 11, promulgated in 1989, elected persons can lose their right to represent their constituencies if they break any military decree related to law and order.
"Although the laws do not use the term 'political prisoners,' political activists are charged because of their political work," Aung Thein, a lawyer for several political detainees, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the United States' representative to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, T. Vance McMahan, is scheduled to moderate a panel discussion at the United Nations headquarters in New York to underscore commitments made in the Declaration on Prisoners of Conscience.
The UN General Assembly issued the Declaration on Prisoners of Conscience on June 11 with the support of 64 nations, including the US and 27 European Union members.
A Burmese human rights group in exile, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP) welcomed the declaration on July 22.
"[The] AAPP wholeheartedly welcomes the commitment of these 64 nations and
encourages all other nations—especially the Burmese military regime, which is holding over 2,000 political prisoners—to reaffirm their commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to adopt the Declaration on Prisoners of Conscience," the group said in a statement.
Kachins form interim committee for 2010 elections
Kachin News Group: Thu 24 Jul 2008
The larger ethnic Kachin organisations in Northern Burma set up an 'Interim Kachin Committee (IKC)' on June 20 to form a big Kachin and Non-Kachin political party to gear up for Burma's 2010 general elections announced by the military junta, sources said.
The ethnic Kachin players, the KIO, NDA-K and KNCA are all involved in playing a political game in keeping with the junta's seven-step roadmap to 'disciplined democracy' in which ethnic minority rights are ignored in the new constitution. It is ostensibly being called a step at a time for autonomy of Kachin State.
TDr. Manam Tu Ja, Chairman of Interim Kachin Committee.
he 'Jinghpaw Mungdaw Pran Wan Komiti' in Kachin was formed after a two-day meeting in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State on June 19 and 20 by the two Kachin ceasefire groups— the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) along with the Kachin National Consultative Assembly (KNCA), an umbrella organization of Kachin nationals, said KNCA.
The proposed political party derived from the IKC will be the biggest and represent all Kachins and Non-Kachins in the State, according to KIO, NDA-K and KNCA.
The formation of the committee was initiated by the KIO and NDA-K, both of which supported the referendum on the country's new constitution on May 10 drafted by the Burmese ruling junta, sources from the two organizations said.
According to KIO and NDA-K leaders, the committee aims to form the biggest political party in Kachin State at an appropriate time when the junta allows the setting up of political parties for the 2010 elections, said an executive committee member of KNCA based in Myitkina, the capital of Kachin State.
The earlier KIO's Kachin Consultative Committee (KCC) was reformed as IKA because the KCC excluded other Kachin ceasefire groups and non-Kachins except the KIO, insiders said.
Dr. Manam Tu Ja, Vice-president No. 2 and former chairman of KCC of the KIO is the head of the IKC and it will have 49 committee members with 13 representatives from the KIO, five from NDA-K, two from Lasang Awng Wa ceasefire group, about six from KNCA, and individuals while the rest will be non-Kachins, the IKC said.
The 'Interim Kachin Committee' was set up to prevent the junta forming a political party in the current situation, said IKC sources.
Meanwhile, KIO leaders yesterday convinced several hundred men and women in its service in Laiza, the headquarters on the Sino-Burma of the need to set up the IKC and the proposed political party representing all the people in Kachin State, said Laiza residents.
Huge foreign exchange loss for UN in Burma relief
Deutsche Presse-Agentur: Thu 24 Jul 2008
United Nations humanitarian chief John Holmes acknowledged Thursday that the international community's relief effort for the victims of Cyclome Nargis in Burma was losing millions of dollars to the regime's foreign exchange controls.
"This is an extraordinary exchange loss, and where that gain goes I'm not sure," Holmes said in an interview before departing Burma after a three-day assessment tour of the areas affected by the cyclone that slammed into Burma's central coast on May 2-3 leaving about 140,000 people dead or missing.
Inter City Press disclosed earlier Thursday that the UN, which has issued a flash appeal for 482 millions from the international donors for cyclone relief efforts in Burma has been losing more than 20 per cent of the incoming funds to the government's unique foreign exchange requirements.
Under Burma's foreign exchange rules, dollars brought in by foreign agencies and tourists must be converting into Foreign Exchange Currency (FEC) at government banks, and then converted into the kyat currency.
The exchange rate is currently about 880 kyats for each Foreign Exchange Certificate, compared to 1,180 for each dollar, or a loss of about 25 per cent, said the Inter City Press, referring to an internal UN memo it had seen.
"This issue is a very serious problem," said Holmes. "We need to try find a solution."
He said he had raised the issue with the government during talks with the junta held in their capital of Naypyitaw earlier Thursday.
The UN has appealed for 482 million dollars in emergency relief for an estimated two million people still suffering the affects of Cyclone Nargis, especially in the Irrawaddy delta.
Holmes estimated that the relief work would continue for at least another six months, while recovery and reconstruction efforts would go on until April, next year.
International efforts to extend aid to victims of the cyclone have been hampered by the ruling military regime, which during the initial post-catastrophe period slowed the entry of emergency assistance and aid workers to the notoriously xenophobic country.
The aid flow was speeded up considerably after the establishment of a tri-partie mechanism including representatives from the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the UN and Burma government in early June, but the exchange problem was not revealed.
HRW urges donors to ensure Burma's rulers do not divert cyclone aid
Voice of America: Thu 24 Jul 2008
Human Rights Watch is urging international donors to ensure that Burma's military rulers do not divert humanitarian aid intended for victims of Cyclone Nargis.
The U.S.-based rights group said Wednesday that aid efforts in Burma should be monitored by an independent body co-managed by donors and the United Nations. It says such a body would boost the transparency and accountability of the aid process.
The group says that since the cyclone struck in May, Burmese leaders have restricted travel by foreign aid workers and arrested some locals involved in relief efforts.
Human Rights Watch says international donors should pressure Burma to adhere to basic principles on the provision of aid.
World Health Organization official, Richard Garfield, who recently visited Burma has said that Burma's government is providing more help to cyclone victims than he previously thought.
Cyclone Nargis left almost 140,000 people dead or missing when it tore through Burma's Irrawaddy Delta region on May 3.
The United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations said Monday that Burma needs more than $1 billion in aid over the next three years to recover.
The price of being a judge in Rangoon - Awzar Thi
United Press International: Thu 24 Jul 2008
The June edition of the New Era Journal, a Burmese-language monthly published in Bangkok, carried a letter from an unnamed senior lawyer practicing in South Dagon, greater Rangoon.
According to the author, to be selected for the test to become an apprentice judge these days a lawyer needs to pay the selecting panel 3 million kyat - upwards of US$2,500. The writer lamented that although senior judges know about this they turn a blind eye.
The claim is interesting but not remarkable. In Burma, where people have to put up extra cash for everything from a mobile phone permit to a hospital bed, or even a mat on the floor, why not also for a court verdict? After all, the judges have paid to get their posts, and surely expect something in return.
When an advocate practicing in Rangoon was asked a while ago roughly how much it costs to win an ordinary criminal case he laughed and replied with his own questions, as to which type of case, involving who as the defendant and victim, and in which township or district it would be heard. His intricate knowledge of brokering now rivals his knowledge of the law itself.
That Burma's courts are places where services are provided to the person with the highest offer is also unsurprising when they are compared to those in the country's neighbors. From Bangladesh to Indonesia, judges cut deals and entertain proposals that have nothing to do with their job descriptions.
Although it is often the local courts that come under the most scrutiny, much of the blame usually deserves to be laid at the top levels, with the mealy-mouthed high justices who attend international conferences and talk about law as if they actually believed in it.
Across Asia, it is where these senior figures have been compromised that the most severe systemic damage has been caused.
In Sri Lanka, the current chief justice was given the job ahead of other more senior and respected persons because he was the personal choice of the former executive president. She even went so far as to shut down Parliament to prevent him from being impeached, even though his alleged dirty dealings and contempt for international law have brought the country's once credible judiciary to an all-time low.
In Thailand, the military regime that took power in 2006 dismissed a senior court and then blithely insisted that the country's judiciary was independent. The new Constitution it forced through via an electoral charade has needlessly embroiled the top courts in politicking, and it is hardly surprising that a lawyer representing the former prime minister was recently caught in the Supreme Court building with a snack box full of cash.
By contrast, the chief justice and judges of the high courts in Pakistan in the last year literally put their lives and liberty at stake by refusing to acquiesce to the army. Their struggle has so far not only kept the judiciary afloat but has kept their country from going over the edge beyond which Burma passed a long time ago.
After his second coup in 1962, General Ne Win growled about how criminals and "people against whom our armed forces have fought battles" were being let out of custody, and promised to put a stop to such nonsense. The Supreme Court was made answerable to his cabal of army officers, and arbitrary detention and other abuses quickly became unchallengeable.
The courts' structure was left more or less untouched for another decade, but the damage had been done. With the highest court no longer able to defend itself, the entire judiciary was degraded and later easily swallowed up into a system of "people's courts" presided over by tribunals comprised of members with no knowledge of law.
When the whole thing came to pieces in 1988, the revamped military regime quietly went back to the old model of compliant legal officers in a prefabricated structure that gives the army the final word. The junta was by now through with experiments and apparently cognizant that as long as the uppermost courts were under its control, the rest would surely follow. And so things have remained since.
Meanwhile, one uniformed hypocrite after the next has issued stern warnings about corrupt practices among judges and lawyers, accompanied by a crackdown now and then, nothing of which has slowed the spread of profiteering through the courts, for the reason that this cannot be done without threatening the survival of the regime itself.
A relatively uncorrupted judiciary can exist only where there is a relatively uncorrupted, independent and credible upper judiciary. When senior judges are generals' and presidents' yes-men, where they allow themselves to be pushed around by coup makers, or where they are just outright corrupt, no amount of lecturing or making of special inquiries will redeem their subordinates.
Without independent superior courts, the selling of places for a judicial exam is just a fact of life, and in Burma a few million kyat a small price to pay for a chance to get in on the action. The disgruntled lawyer from South Dagon has by now probably paid the 3 million.
(Awzar Thi is the pen name of a member of the Asian Human Rights Commission with over 15 years of experience as an advocate of human rights and the rule of law in Thailand and Burma. His Rule of Lords blog can be read at http://ratchasima.net .)
A plea for forgiveness - Sanitsuda Ekachai
Bangkok Post: Thu 24 Jul 2008
The mother was holding her baby tightly under an umbrella, trying her best to guard him from the pouring rain.
I could not see her face in the picture. But as a mother, I could feel her shaking fear, not for herself, but for her baby's safety, as a group of soldiers forced her and other Karen refugees to board a boat back to the war zone in Burma.
As a Buddhist, I know I should not feel enraged. Yet I was doubly enraged at the forced repatriation in Mae Hong Son last week.
It is bad enough to know that Thai troops have no heart for the innocent people who are war victims. But to force them back to face possible violence and death on the holy day of Asarnha Bucha? How could they possibly do this?
The cruelty is eye-opening. When such an important holy day has no power to arouse even a pinch of morality among those who declare themselves as the protectors of Buddhism, and when society at large feels nothing against such inhumanity, we are in a very deep, dark pitch.
But condemnation, however legitimate, only deepens our negativity. To have any hope at all of cleansing our souls and our sins, we must probe the roots of such cruelty.
It helps to go back to the gist of the Buddha's First Sermon on Asarnha Bucha Day. In case we have forgotten, here it is:
Our suffering stems from our likes and dislikes rooted in the false sense of self.
To end this cycle, we need to see that we are mere temporary composites of mind and matter under the natural laws of impermanence and conditionality. To realise this truth, the Buddha advises we follow the Eight-fold Path to see for ourselves the natural laws or dharma, to maintain ethical conduct, and to foster spiritual development.
The path helps us to avoid hurting or exploiting others. When the cessation of anger, greed and delusion can be many lifetimes away, constant contemplation on impermanence can miraculously fill our hearts with calm and loving kindness.
The realities of our daily struggles and politics have made it difficult to follow the path. That is why we celebrate Asarnha Bucha, so we can stop and review ourselves.
Buddhism is an optimistic system. People are not originally bad. Our behaviour is conditioned. We can change when the conditioning changes.
So we must ask why the military and the public believe that forced repatriation is not sinful? Also, why do we believe we are good Buddhists when we treat ethnic peoples like dirt?
Is it because fear has made us heartless? Is it because our traditional concept of sin has become too narrow for the modern age? Or is it because we are the faithful followers of a religion much more powerful than Buddhism - that of racist nationalism?
Is it all of the above?
The forced repatriation in Mae Hong Son last week was not the first, and it won't be the last, which failed to shake our hearts.
The public felt undisturbed when a group of youngsters from the Hmong refugee camp in Phetchabun was repatriated to Laos without their parents. Their camp was burned down after a petition against power and sexual abuse. And when they tried to make their voices heard in Bangkok, they were immediately deported to risk their lives from persecution in Laos.
Similarly, we feel nothing in using immigrant workers as slave labour, or when their families are shattered by separate deportations.
Meanwhile, the deep South has become a war zone because we insist on seeing the ethnic Muslim Malays as outsiders.
If this is not racist nationalism, what is?
As the country is fired up by the Preah Vihear nationalistic frenzy, I wonder how the Karen mothers and their children are doing back in the war zone.
It is still raining hard. Can they find shelter and food? Can they stay safe? Can they forgive us our sins?
Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor (Outlook), Bangkok Post.
Relief must focus on remote areas: Holmes - Saw Yan Naing
Irrawaddy: Wed 23 Jul 2008
After visiting cyclone-hit areas of Burma's Irrawaddy delta on Tuesday, John Holmes, the United Nations' chief humanitarian relief official, said that aid efforts must now shift their focus to more isolated areas.
"We must focus now on reaching the most vulnerable communities in remote areas, especially along the southern coast of the delta," Holmes said in a statement released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Tuesday.
During his visit to the cyclone-affected township of Bogalay, the UN relief official visited shelters for cyclone victims and saw children going to school, said Laksmita Noviera, public information officer of OCHA in Rangoon.
"He is very happy to see the progress happening in the field in affected areas," Noviera told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
During his trip to the delta, Holmes was accompanied by Burma's deputy foreign minister, Kyaw Thu, and representatives of UN agencies, said Noviera.
She also said that Holmes held a meeting in Rangoon on Wednesday with humanitarian aid donors and international nongovernmental organizations, as well as UN agencies providing assistance in the cyclone-hit region.
Holmes is scheduled to visit Naypyidaw, Burma's new capital, on Thursday and is expected to meet with several government officials, including ministers from the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Department and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.
After meeting with Burmese authorities in Naypyidaw, the UN humanitarian relief official will leave Burma on Thursday. Before returning to New York, he will hold a press conference at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, said Noviera.
Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to use its influence to impress upon Burma's military leaders the importance of allowing the press to function without harassment or intimidation during the next crucial phases of the multilateral relief effort.
The CPJ also pointed out that the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) final report, released by Asean on Monday, made no mention of the important role that unfettered media coverage plays in the aftermath of such disasters.
In a letter to Surin Pitsuwan, the current secretary-general of Asean, CPJ called on the regional grouping "to prevail upon the Burmese government to allow unhindered access to journalists, who can then report on the progress of recovery efforts."
Since the release of the PONJA report, which was designed to provide international donors with a credible assessment of needs in the Irrawaddy delta, several governments have increased their pledges of aid.
Australia has committed an extra US $29 million, while the Japanese government pledged to provide an additional $21 million and New Zealand said it would provide a further $2 million for relief efforts in Burma.
Discrimination over aid distribution among cyclone victims: new report - Solomon
Mizzima News: Wed 23 Jul 2008
Discrimination is evident in distribution of aid, with many victims of Cyclone Nargis still not getting adequate relief material being disbursed by international aid groups including the United Nations agencies, a new report said.
The new report, 'An Alternative Assessment of the Humanitarian Assistance in the Irrawaddy Delta', released by an independent Burmese researcher, said even more than two months after the cyclone, several victims in remote areas are still struggling in the absence of proper aid supplies.
Ko Shwe, author of the report, said he travelled extensively to cyclone-hit areas, particularly to Laputta and Ngaputaw townships in Burma's southwestern Irrawaddy delta. He said there is lack of proper coordination among aid groups including local nongovernmental organizations.
"In some places there is overlapping of relief supplies," Ko Shwe, a Burmese environmentalist based in Thailand, told Mizzima.
o Shwe, in his report, said there is a lack of strategic coordination amongst UN agencies, international agencies and local groups including local NGOs and social groups, in the delivery of relief, data collection, impact assessment and information sharing, which is leading to overlapping in relief distribution.
The report said there are questions of accountability, transparency in aid distribution as it is often conducted through junta-backed civil organization - the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).
"It is questionable how much aid is actually being delivered to the affected communities," Ko Shwe said.
According to an aid worker in Laputta, who spoke to Mizzima earlier over telephone, most aid distribution, done through the government, is carried out by members of the USDA, who are giving priority and help its members affected by the cyclone.
While the government has assigned several national companies to construct houses in the affected areas, the report said it is unclear who will be provided with these houses and villagers in Laputta townships are seen repairing and reconstructing their own houses with locally available resources.
The report is the first alternative assessment after the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment released its report on July 21, and aims at highlighting the plight of cyclone victims after two months.
"My idea is solely to bring to light the plight of the victims two months after the cyclone and to remind that there are groups left without adequate support," Shwe told Mizzima.
Meanwhile, UN Humanitarian Chief John Holmes, who is in Burma to assess the relief and rehabilitation situation on Tuesday said, though much has been done to help the cyclone victims, there is still need to reach vulnerable groups in remote areas.
"We must focus now on reaching the most vulnerable communities in remote areas, especially along the southern coast of the delta," Holmes said in a statement released on Tuesday by the UN.
Holmes, who is visiting Burma for the second time since Cyclone Nargis struck the country in May, will meet key Burmese humanitarian actors, as well as Burmese Minister for National Planning and Economic Development and Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.
Holmes is visiting the country after witnessing the launch of PONJA report in Singapore, which is expected to attract more donations from donor countries.
Following the release of the PONJA report, the Australian government has pledged to donate another US$ 30 million while New Zealand said it will give US$ 2 million for reconstruction and relief in cyclone affected areas in Burma.
Sarah Finney, Public Affairs Officer of AusAID told Mizzima that the funds will be used to help women, children and displaced persons.
"We are already committed to provide funding," said Finney.
According to the PONJA report, Cyclone Nargis has caused damage to the tune of US$ 4 billion and relief work for cyclone victims in the next three years will require US$ 1 billion.
Editing by Mungpi
US Senate bans import of Burmese gems - Lalit K Jha
Irrawaddy: Wed 23 Jul 2008
Exactly one week after the United States House of Representatives passed the Block Burmese Jade Act, the Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved the bill, which blocks American companies from importing gemstones from Burma and expands financial sanctions against the country's military junta.
The act, which was initially introduced in the Congress last year by late Congressman Tom Lantos, is now being sent to US President George W Bush to sign it into law. In the US Senate, the bill was introduced by Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Bush is expected to sign the Block Burmese Jade Act into law in coming days, knowledgeable sources said.
Welcoming the passage of the bill by the Senate, Congressman Howard L Berman said:
"We cannot allow this (Burmese) regime to prosper financially while they continue to violate the human rights of their own people." Berman, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced the legislation in the House.
"This bill hits the Burmese leaders where it hurts—in the wallet. It's our hope that these sanctions will push other countries to examine their own financial dealings with Burma," said Berman, who was in New York on Tuesday leading a congressional delegation to the UN and meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Though it is already illegal for American companies to directly import Burmese products, the Block Burmese JADE Act will keep Burmese gems, including jade and rubies, from entering US markets via third-party countries.
Stopping US sales of these Burmese gems is expected to prevent the Burmese regime from earning hundreds of millions of dollars each year. The bill also makes Burmese regime leaders, military officers and their families ineligible for visas to the United States.
Congress began to consider the legislation in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, when the Burmese regime placed restrictions that severely limited the ability of international aid workers to help the tens of thousands of families that were affected.
Referring to the crackdown on monks last year and the junta's decision to place restrictions on international aid for cyclone victims, Berman said: "These brutal actions demonstrate the regime's moral bankruptcy, but unfortunately it is far from financially bankrupt."
While the Burmese people live in abject poverty, Burma's military leaders continue to take Burma's vast natural resources as their own, he said.
The legislation has already received support from Jewelers of America, which represents more than 11,000 jewelry stores nationwide. Major retailers such as Tiffany's and Bulgari have voluntarily implemented a ban. Similar restrictions have also been imposed by the European Union and Canada.
The unanimous passage of the bill by the Senate was welcomed by Burmese activists.
"The blood color of rubies not only brings Than Shwe's military regime $300 million per year, it signifies all the blood lost by innocent civilians in our struggle for human rights," said Aung Din, a former political prisoner and co-founder of the US Campaign for Burma.
"We want to thank the United States Congress for taking strong and meaningful action," he said in a statement.
US removes oil giant from Burma sanctions - Elana Schor
Guardian (UK): Wed 23 Jul 2008
The US oil giant Chevron will continue to do business in Burma after a provision to stop it operating there was removed from the latest round of US sanctions on the country.
The new sanctions plan, approved yesterday by Congress and expected to receive quick approval from the White House, prevents the sale of Burmese gems and timber in the US via third parties - bringing the US into line with EU and Canadian policy. Profits from those products have enriched Burma's oppressive military regime.
But Congress chose not to sanction Chevron, the largest US business still operating in Burma. An early version of the plan would have forced the company to give up its 28% stake in the Yadana natural gas field, which the regime considers a crucial political priority.
Human rights advocates have linked the Yadana project to ongoing abuses by the regime, including forced labour, rapes and land confiscation to make room for the natural gas pipeline which is slated to run from Burma to Thailand.
The requirement that Chevron leaves Burma was softened to a non-binding recommendation for divestment after the company protested. The US stake in Yadana would be handed over to Chinese or Indian companies if Chevron was forced to sell, the company argued.
The Burma sanctions plan was proposed in Congress last year in response to the regime's bloody quashing of peaceful protests by Buddhist monks and other pro-democracy activists. Not until Cyclone Nargis caused widespread devastation in Burma in May, however, did the legislation move forward.
Howard Berman, the Democratic chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the House of Representatives, lamented that the regime is morally bankrupt "but unfortunately is far from financially bankrupt".
"While the Burmese people live in abject poverty, Burma's military leaders continue to take Burma's vast natural resources as their own," Berman added.
Activists urge action after ASEAN charter ratification - Aye Nai
Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 23 Jul 2008
Burmese rights activists have welcomed Burma's ratification of the ASEAN charter but urged that public education and an enforcement mechanism are key to the protection of human rights in the country.U Myint Aye of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters network stressed that there needed to be greater public awareness of the human rights protections laid out in the charter.
"It is important for everyone to know and really understand the facts about the human rights norms. In order to make that happen, they should be educated about the subject in schools and other public areas and through the mass media," Myint Aye said.
"If the Burmese government's ratification of the ASEAN charter assures us of human right protections, we welcome it," he said.
"However, this is not the first time Burma has signed a Human Rights agreement - we have signed a couple of similar agreements since 1948."
Human Rights Education Institute of Burma director Aung Myo Min also welcomed the development of a human rights agreement for the region.
"We would like to praise the fact that a human rights agreement, the like of which has never been seen in the ASEAN region, has finally been developed," he said.
"We welcome the fact that the Burmese government, which has been infamous for its violations of human rights, has signed the charter."
However, Aung Myo Min said it was also important that the regional body could hold state accountable for human rights abuses.
"One thing to have a think about is that the human rights charter has not as yet developed to a level where one can tell what kind of enforcement mechanism it will have," he said.
"We will be very pleased if a mechanism under which the ASEAN can effectively punish governments who violate human rights is developed rather than just a charter to sign."
Myint Aye said it was the responsibility of the government and knowledgeable people to inform others of their rights.
"If we can get the entire 50 million plus citizens of Burma to feel and understand what it's like to live with human rights, that would be a very useful thing," he said.
"But we can't say there is an improvement in human rights just because the government had ratified the charter."
Aung Myo Min said that the government should take steps to comply with the obligations it already has under international human rights law.
"The government should not wait for the human right norms which have yet to be approved - they should start sticking to the agreements they have already made to protect the rights of women and children, and they should immediately stop violating human rights," the HREIB director said.
"An easy step they can take first is to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all the other political detainees," he went on.
"If the junta really respects human rights, they should pursue a dialogue with people's parliament representatives and ethnic leaders elected by the people."
Burma deposited its instrument of ratification of the charter to ASEAN secretary-general Dr Surin Pitsuwan on Monday in a ceremony on the sidelines of a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in Singapore.
The charter will come into force 30 days after it has been ratified by all ten ASEAN member states.
The document establishes ASEAN as a legal entity and lays out the key principles and purposes of the regional bloc, including adherence to democratic values and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
It has yet to be ratified by Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.
Where do we go from here, Burma? - Sao Noan Oo
Shan Herald Agency News: Wed 23 Jul 2008
Where do we go from here, Burma, is the question all peoples of Burma are at present asking because they have had enough of the present illegal dictatorial government.
It is obvious that the past and present generals have failed Burma and her people. In spite of the fact that Burma has rich natural resources, they have made the country one of the poorest in the world. During their occupation they have perpetrated the most atrocious human rights violations against the population. The extent of suffering inflicted on innocent citizens, and the number they have killed and murdered without crime or reason is unimaginable. Daily the soldiers with guns go on a rampage in every town and village to force the people to labour. They steal and kill, and rape young women and girls whenever they feel like it.
The peoples of Burma pleaded to the United Nations, the superpowers, China , Russia , India and Asean countries f or help. But International countries are unable or unwilling to do anything other than coax Than Shwe and his generals to ref or m.
From what has been seen recently Burma is not going to get practical help from the United Nations and there will not be an invasion on humanitarian grounds by the superpowers. It is now up to the people of Burma to fend f or themselves. Some have come up with an "Armed Struggle", "A Saffron Revolution" and many other ideas. Acc or ding to Thomas Jefferson when a bad government cannot be reformed the people have the "right to stage a revolution"
My point of view is that demonstrations in drips and drabs will be a waste of time as they will soon be crushed by the regime, resulting in many deaths and imprisonment. If there is to be a successful revolution, all the peoples of Burma will have to get together, that is, the Burmans as well as other ethnic nationalities. They will have to unite behind the common goal of liberating the country from the dictatorial regime which rules by the gun.
For such a unity to take place all nationalities will have to first get rid of their preconceived ideas and change their mental attitude towards each other. The regime has for four decades divided and ruled, while at the same time has by force tried to assimilate the different nationalities into one Burman nationality. This has created enmity, misunderstanding, grudge, and prejudices against each other. The extreme Burman nationalists have used Burman nationalism, chauvinism and superiority complex as their inspiration; while each of other ethnic nationalities, in order to survive reacted by building a stronger cohesive group excluding other nationalities. This has led to the development of a strong sense of ethno- and religious nationalism of its own. All nationalities must realise that narrow ethno- and religious nationalism is the obvious cause of conflicts between nationalities.
Whether we like it or not all the ethnic nationalities of Burma, because of their geographical situation and history cannot do without with each other; therefore for the common good of all concerned they will have to reconstruct a meaningful relationship that is sincere and worthy of trust. They could begin by treating each other as equal partners, learning by mistakes from past and moving f or ward towards a better future. All will have to learn to rid themselves of the desire to dominate and control, and recognise and respect each others freedom of choice. Human relationship is not easy but good relationship can be achieved by trying to understand each other's feelings and points of view; and not by force but by voluntary participation. After all, the ethnic nationalities joined the Burmans to form the Union of Burma by their own free will. Bogyoke Aung San understood when he said, "the right of Secession must be given, but it is our duty to work and show our sincerity so that they do not wish to leave".
An amicable relationship between all ethnic nationalities can create the man power that is needed to defy the SPDC, which is the only weapon to bring them down. This has to be very well planned and organized with the creation of a network throughout the country. Our hope lies in the Sanghas of Burma, the Burmans, Shans, Mons, Arakans etc, and leaders of all religious groups. These religious leaders are revered and respected by the population. They have the power and ability to teach morality, and to uphold the concept of loving kindness, and thus can unite the people. They are also experienced organizers and have the capability to mobilise the population. If the religious leaders were to lead, the people will flock after them.
The 19th of July is Martyrs Day in Burma , when in 1947 Bogyoke Aung San and his colleagues were assassinated. They had great hopes for the future of Burma . To let the evil dictatorial regime continue to bully the citizens will mean that their aspiration and sacrifice will have been in vain. The SPDC generals, besides being greedy and selfish are nothing more than cowards, afraid to give up their guns and power and live like ordinary folks. They are the greatest bullies of all and not unlike the bullies in the school playground. A school boy likes to bully those weaker than him. He stops only when the victims have the courage to stand and fight back. Likewise, the SPDC generals will continue to bully citizens until the victims have enough strength and courage to defy and stand up to them. It will not be easy because the generals have the advantage of possessing guns and ammunition.
Manpower and strength can be created if all the ethnic nationalities can unite under the common goal. Such unity can only happen by reconciliation of all peoples of Burma by rebuilding trust, and respect for the individual freedom of choice of religion, culture and political views. Enmity, hatred, grudge and prejudices should be overcome by forgiveness and loving kindness. This conciliation and understanding between all ethnic nationalities of Burma can be the only weapon to dismantle the SPDC, to have true democracy and a lasting peace in Burma .
The author is from the former illustrious State of Lawkzawk in the Federated Shan States, as today's Shan State of Burma was known until 1948. Opinions expressed here are those of the author - Editor
In Myanmar, UN loses 25% of aid in currency exchange, up from 15% pre-cyclone - Matthew Russell Lee
Inner City Press: Wed 23 Jul 2008
The UN has directed hundred of millions of dollars into Myanmar since Cyclone Nargis hit, and on July 10 asked for $300 million more. But it has now emerged that the UN has lost some twenty percent of the money it has exchanged in Myanmar, by acquiescing to a government-required exchange of dollars for Foreign Exchange Certificates.
Not only does an internal UN memo reviewed by Inner City Press refer to a "serious loss of 20%" — now, sources in Yangon describe the applicable exchange rates accepted by the UN between FECs and Kyats as 25% lower than the dollars the UN changes into FECs. Before the cyclone, the loss was 15%. The extra ten percent loss, applied to the millions of dollars exchanged by the UN system, could have helped the cyclone's victims. What will be done remains to be seen. The UN's top humanitarian John Holmes has pledged to get to the bottom of the issue during his current three day trip to Myanmar.
The UN Development Program is central to the UN system's operations, and states that "funds are remitted into the UNDP US dollar account at Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank. UNDP Myanmar exchanges US dollars for Foreign Exchange Certificates (FECs) at the Bank, and then converts these into local currency, Kyat."
But in the second half of July, the exchange rated was a mere 880 Kyats for each Foreign Exchange Certificate, compared to 1180 for each dollar the UN converted one-to-one into a FEC. That's a loss of more than 25%. Before Nargis hit, the Kyat to FEC rate fluctuated between 960 to 980 per FEC, compared to 960 to 980 per dollar, a loss of 15%.
The recent Post-Nargis Joint Assessment Final Report, issued by the UN along with ASEAN and, notably, the Than Shwe government of Myanmar, acknowledges in Box 2 that
"Myanmar has a multiple exchange-rate system. The official exchange rate applies to the transactions undertaken by the government and state-owned enterprises and is used primarily for accounting purposes. Foreign Exchange Certificates (FECs) are also issued by the government, exchangeable at a market-determined rate. A large parallel market also exists that exchanges US dollars with Kyats at a small premium over the rate for FECs. This report utilizes the exchange rate used by the Government of Myanmar in its presentation of damages immediately following Cyclone Nargis at the ASEAN-UN International Pledging Conference in Yangon on 25 May 2008 (K 1,100/USD), which was consistent with the prevailing rate on the parallel market at the time of the assessment.*
* FEC and USD rates are fluctuating at present and should be kept under close review during the initial stages of the relief and recovery program: the upcoming Article IV consultations would be a good opportunity for review."
This is a diplomatic way to refer to the black market, and to dodge the question of how much the UN loses by accepting the requirement to change dollars into FECs on a one-to-one basis. Consider the above quotes, annotated:
Foreign Exchange Certificates (FECs) are also issued by the government, exchangeable at a market-determined rate." - The only rate is the black market rate, which currently is 880 Kyats per FEC. So when they say "market determined" they're referring to the black market, as they are in the sentence that follow — "A large parallel market also exists that exchanges US dollars with Kyats at a small premium over the rate for FECs."
"This report utilizes the exchange rate used by the Government of Myanmar in its presentation of damages immediately following Cyclone Nargis at the ASEAN-UN International Pledging Conference in Yangon on 25 May 2008 (K 1,100/USD), which was consistent with the prevailing rate on the parallel market at the time of the assessment." - it appears that Myanmar government actually used the "black market" rate for this, that surprises me quite honestly. If you read the State Media here they're always very careful to quote US$ and Ks figures separately so as not to acknowledge the "real" black market value. The claim that the rate was Ks 1,100 on the 25th May is questionable, records show that it was slightly higher at Ks1,1700, with FEC was trading at Ks975 at that time. But all of that raises two questions;
1) If the Myanmar Govt. is using an exchange rate of Ks1,100 to the US$ and it was the "prevailing rate" at that time, why did the UN not get that rate? The answer to that is of course obvious, the Myanmar Government shafted the UN and the UN damned well knows it!
2) Who in Myanmar can change that sort of money? The only people who have that amount of cash here are the Generals and their allies.
Not only the UN's Sir John Holmes is in Myanmar — the UN Development Program's new regional director for Asia and the Pacific, Ajay Chhibber is there as well. Both should know personally about the exchange rate scam. Also according to a source, if one stays in an "International" hotel like Traders or Sedona — both used by the UN, with Ban Ki Moon staying at Sedona and a apparently at least one whole floor occupied by the UN at Traders — one will pay in FEC/US dollars as a foreigner, around US$/FEC 55 per night. If you're a Myanmar citizen you will pay Ks 40,000.
In some cases it's even more extreme, for example a hotel in Mandalay charging US$/FEC 25 per night, with Myanmar nationals paying Ks 6,000 for the same room and service. So did Ban Ki-moon and his entourage notice this while they were in Myanmar?
On Tuesday at UN headquarters, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Michele Montas about the seeming wind-down of parts of the UN's Nargis response:
Inner City Press: it's been said that the UN is going to stop its flights from Thailand and its helicopter flights inside Myanmar on 10 August and various humanitarian groups have questioned the decision and said that it's going to make it more difficult to deliver aid. What's the reasoning behind stopping those flights? Is it the problem is over?
Spokesperson Montas: Well, this is because it is being taken over by maritime transportation and other considerations. It really happens quite often in relief operations; that after the emergency phase is over, that they take other means besides transportation by air.
Inner City Press: Maybe the groups just didn't understand?
Spokesperson: No, it's not going to stop the flow of aid in any way. It's going to be simply, right now they are getting into the phase of reconstruction.
And what will the exchange rate loss be during that recovery phase? The Post-Nargis Joint Assessment Final Report asks for $1 billion, while stating in Box 2 said the exchange rate should be reviewed also during the recovery phase. Our point here is that the pressure that countries such as France brought to bear, to get their own humanitarian workers into Myanmar, might have been better exercised in getting the Than Shwe government to back off requiring foreign exchange losses to it, at least in the cyclone's wake. We'll see.