[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 14/8/08
- Monks given two-year prison term
- Fuel price protestors face new charges
- Delta villagers keen to work but lack necessary resources
- UN Human Rights Envoy cancels Press Conference
- Rape wrecking communities in Darfur, Myanmar
- Former ceasefire group to form political party for 2010 election
- Myanmar gem merchants dismiss US embargo threat
- Engagement vs. Divestment
- 20 Years since 1988 - Japanese Policy Betrays the Burmese People
- Aung San Suu Kyi detention extended
- Rights activist U Myint Aye arrested
- Devastation in Burma is far starker than portrayed
- Myanmar to export more marine products to Middle East
- Same old, same old
- Burmese must be supported
- Reflections on Burma's Uprising
- Many in Rangoon wear black on 8.8.88 anniversary
- Why US president met the Burmese at envoy's house
Monks given two-year prison term
Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 13 Aug 2008
Nine monks arrested by authorities at Rangoon railway station last month have been sentenced to two years' imprisonment each on charges of bringing the Sasana into disrepute.
According to family members of political inmates in Insein prison, the monks were sentenced shortly after their arrests on 15 July.
"They were brought into a court hearing soon after they were arrested and then given a two-year sentence each," a family member said.
"Authorities detained the monks for gathering at the railway station but did not give any other reasons," he said.
"All the monks remained unidentified - no one knows their names, where they were from and who their lay supporters were."
The nine monks were arrested while waiting at the railway station to return to their monasteries for a retreat to mark Buddhist lent, according to a witness.
Insein prison was unavailable for comment.
Fuel price protestors face new charges
Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 13 Aug 2008
Eight students and human rights activists arrested during protests against fuel price hikes last year have had five further charges added to their original charge of sedition, said their family members.
The student activists and Human Rights Defenders and Promoters network members will now be charged under sections 143, 145, 147, 295(a) and 505(b) of the penal code.
Sections 143, 145 and 147, which relate to unlawful assembly and rioting, carry a potential combined prison sentence of up to four and a half years, while 295(a) on offences against religion and 505(b) on inciting offences against public tranquility each carry a maximum two-year term.
Along with the possible three-year sentence for sedition, this means the defendants could now face up to 11 and a half years' imprisonment each.
Ma Thi Thi Soe, sister of HRDP member Ko Myo Thant (also known as John Nawtha), said her brother and his co-defendants - Ko Zin Linn Aung, Ko Sithu Maung, Ko Thein Swe, Ko Ye Myant Hein, Ko Ye Min Oo and Ko Kyi Phyu - heard the new charges against them during a hearing at Insein prison yesterday.
Ko Myo Thant went on a hunger strike in March to protest against violations of inmates' rights in Insein prison.
Delta villagers keen to work but lack necessary resources - Thet Khaing
Myanmar Times: Wed 13 Aug 2008
Shwe Pyi Aye village, located deep in the southern Ayeyarwady delta, was devastated by cyclone Nargis. Virtually all structures on the ground were destroyed and half the population were killed.
Despite the massive loss of life and property, three months after the disaster most of the village's 473 survivors are either back at work or are seeking sufficient financial support to resume their pre-cyclone economic activities.
As in many parts of the delta, the scale of destruction in Shwe Pyi Aye has not dampened the residents' enthusiasm for returning to work and getting on with their lives as quickly as possible. The only thing stopping many of them is lack of resources.
When a team of senior experts from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) visited the village on July 29, residents had no shortage of ideas on how aid could best be used to restore livelihoods.
Among the ideas expressed at a meeting between villagers and UN experts was a suggestion to provide more assistance to large-scale farmers so that landless workers could earn daily wages.
Others said that locals should be supplied with boats and nets because fishing was the easiest way to earn a living in the area, and many were also keen for UNDP to resume a micro-credit scheme it had sponsored in the past.
"I don't want to live on assistance. I can still work to earn my living," said U Kyin Maung, 65, the lone survivor of a family of eight. His adult children had been running a grocery store in the village before the cyclone struck.
As an elderly person and the sole survivor of his family, U Kyin Maung was classified by UNDP as one of the most vulnerable of the village's survivors. He was granted K40,000 when the organisation started its assistance project in Shwe Pyi Aye six weeks after the cyclone.
U Kyin Maung used the money to open his own grocery store in a hut built on the site of his former house.
He said he buys food for his shop in Bogale, the nearest town to the village, but business has been slow because most locals have been left destitute by cyclone and therefore have little money to spend at his shop.
For now U Kyin Maung sells on credit to lure customers, most of whom live on small daily wages they get from their involvement in UNDP-sponsored cash-for-work schemes. He said he now earns about K500 a day, which he uses to pay living expenses.
"I feel lucky just to be alive," U Kyin Maung told The Myanmar Times last week. "I'm thankful to the government and aid agencies for providing emergency supplies of food and other relief items after the cyclone, otherwise we would all be dead of starvation."
"But we can't expect that to continue forever. We're not living in the desert. We have sufficient food resources all around us. We just need the tools to resume our work," he said.
Another Shwe Pyi Aye resident, 39-year-old U Kyaw Htoo, was also the sole survivor of a family of eight.
"I have tried to overcome the loss of my young children and elderly parents so I can resume my work," he said. "I've already finished planting paddy on 6 of the 9 acres on my farm."
A local social group called Ayeyarwady Thitsar helped U Kyaw Htoo plough his fields, and he used seeds and a power tiller provided by the government and UNDP for paddy growing.
"But a lack of sufficient fertilisers and the salinity conditions of the farmland could lead to lower paddy production than in previous years," he said, adding that he normally earns K2 million a year from his fields.
UNDP said it has given K7.1 million in cash assistance since the cyclone, including grants for rebuilding destroyed houses, daily wages for community work and fuel to operate power tillers.
Many locals have said they are afraid of similar disasters in the future and want at least one sturdy concrete building in the village where people can take shelter during storms.
The only building that survived the storm was the village monastery, where 110 people took refuge during the cyclone and survived.
UNDP categorised the work of rebuilding the infrastructure in Shwe Pyi Aye and other parts of the delta as a long-term initiative that will help locals build a better life than they had before the storm.
Mr Bishow Parajuli, the UNDP resident representative in Myanmar, pointed out in an interview with The Myanmar Times last week that his organisation has been involved for the past 14 years in human development initiatives supporting the improvement of life for rural residents.
"We have offices in many parts of the country and these have been our strength. We are applying that strength to the post-Nargis situation, principally by helping people regain their livelihoods and stand on their own feet, and by helping them increase their incomes and maintain their human dignity," he said.
He said UNDP also wants to resume offering micro-credit for poor rural residents in the delta, a project that was disrupted by the cyclone.
UNDP intends to write off nearly US$3 million in loans taken out by 50,000 borrowers, and refund US$1.25 million to the surviving 75,000 participants in the scheme living in cyclone-affected areas.
"All these efforts require extra resources," Mr Parajuli said, adding that his agency is seeking $52 million to help cyclone victims through next April.
The funding requirement - which is part of the appeal made by the UN last month for $482 million to help cyclone survivors - includes $8 million to restore the micro-credit scheme and expand it to increase the numbers of beneficiaries, he said.
"In the past several years UNDP has put $23 million into its micro-credit scheme and an very large number of these programs in the delta were affected by Nargis, so we are trying to renew that support by injecting additional money," Mr Parajuli said.
"Micro-credit is important because it helps individuals start small-scale activities and employment-generating schemes, whether they involve trade, land cultivation, animal husbandry or poultry," he said, adding that the expended micro-credit scheme in the delta will directly benefit 500,000 people.
"This will obviously have a big impact in terms of food security, families being able to get their kids back to school and establishing health facilities," Mr Parajuli said.
"Our goal is to complement various efforts by the government, the many national players and other UN agencies," he added.
Mr Parajuli, who is also the UN's resident coordinator in Myanmar, said he guaranteed that donor money would be put to the best possible use by providing benefits to the intended beneficiaries.
"The good part of the UNDP program is that our agency works directly with the communities, our resources are directly delivered to communities and we have a good understanding and cooperation with the government," he said
"We have full accountability of resources and we help communities to help themselves," he said.
UN Human Rights Envoy cancels Press Conference - Violet Cho
Irrawaddy: Wed 13 Aug 2008
The new UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur on Burma canceled a press conference in Bangkok on Wednesday, a sign that his first trip to Burma yielded little practical results, say activists.
Tomas Ojea Quintana arrived in Rangoon on August 3 on his mission to Burma and scheduled a press conference after he left Burma on August 7. No reason was given for the cancellation of the press conference.
During his trip in Burma, Quintana was not allowed to visit detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest. He was allowed short talks of about 10 minutes each with members of the National League of Democracy and Labour Minister Aung Kyi, the government's liaison coordinator with Suu Kyi.
Earlier, Quintana told the media he had received "good signs" that the Burmese junta accepted the need for his mandate to investigate widespread claims of human rights abuses in the country.
However, members of human rights groups said the special envoy may have cancelled the press conference because he achieved little progress in brief discussions with the military regime during his four-day visit to Rangoon.
"He probably cancelled his meeting with the press because he lacked real information about human right violations in Burma that he can share it with the public," said Maung Maung Lay, a member of Rangoon-based Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP).
In future visits, Quintana must be allowed to meet with more human rights groups and activists and not be confined to discussions with the military government, said Maung Maung Lay.
Bo Kyi, the joint secretary of the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners-Burma, who met with Quintana in Thailand, said, "As a new human rights envoy, Quintana must be very careful with everything he says. An opportunity to be able to enter Burma again depends a lot on what he says about the military regime."
Quintana replaced former UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur on Burma Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, whose appointment ended in April.
A few days after Quintana left the country, Burmese authorities seized prominent human rights activist Myint Aye of the HRDP and members of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
NLD spokesperson Nyan Win confirmed that Nyi Pu, chairman of the NLD Taunggok branch in Arakan State, and Dr Tin Min Htut, an elected member of parliament from Panthanaw constituency in Irrawaddy Division, were arrested on Tuesday morning. No reason for their arrests was given.
Recently, Nyi Pu and Dr Tin Min Htut had signed a public letter, along with other NLD members, to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging the UN to reject the junta's constitution as illegitimate.
Nyi Pu's arrest came four days after the anniversary of the 1988 uprising. On Friday, authorities arrested 48 demonstrators who took part in a 1988 commemoration march in Rangoon. Forty-three marchers were released the same day. The remaining five are still in custody.
Rape wrecking communities in Darfur, Myanmar: Nobelists
Agence France Presse: Wed 13 Aug 2008
Rape is increasingly being used as a tool of war in ethnic conflicts in Darfur and Myanmar, wrecking families and communities, two women Nobel peace laureates warned Tuesday.
Jody Williams, who spearheaded a campaign banning antipersonnel landmines, and Wangari Maathai, an outspoken advocate for greater democracy in Africa, said women were paying "the highest price" in the violent conflicts.
The duo, accompanied by actress-activist Mia Farrow and other rights campaigners, visited clinics and refugee camps to hear first-hand the plight of women affected by the violence in the two areas.
"Unfortunately, in the ethnic cleansing being carried out by the Burmese military junta in eastern Burma, rape is being used as a tool of war, as it is in Darfur," Williams said, using Myanmar's former name Burma.
"The obvious purpose, in my view, is to destroy the fabric of the community. If the women are raped, they are obviously shamed in the eyes of their community. Often times the husbands divorce the women, who are left alone," she said.
Maathai said women were the first to be "victimised" in conflicts - "victimised by the fighters and then be victimised by the men that you love.
"It is very, very painful and for the women, it is pain you live with all your life.
"As for the girls, you can imagine the trauma and sometimes, I would look at the eyes of the women in the camp and just wonder whether she is one of those who was raped and what is going on in her heart and mind," Maathai said.
Within a camp in Chad sheltering refugees who fled the Darfur conflict in neighboring Sudan, Williams said she met with a group of about 30 to 40 women and "within the space of the hour that I had with them, I've heard of seven tell the stories of their gang rape.
"One woman was 35 years old and she had been raped by several of the Janjaweed (Arab militia in Sudan) and by the time she saw her husband, he already knew she was raped and he divorced her on the spot, leaving her with eight children," she said.
"Obviously, if you do this to enough communities, you destroy the family, you destroy the fabric of a community and if you do it throughout enough villages, you can shred the fabric of an ethnic group, which is what they are doing in Darfur and which is what they have done in the eastern part of Burma," she said.
According to the United Nations, up to 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million have fled their homes since the conflict erupted in Sudan's western Darfur region in February 2003.
It began when African ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-led Khartoum regime and state-backed Arab militias, fighting for resources and power in one of the most remote and deprived places on earth.
In Myanmar, rights groups charge the soldiers from the country's ruling military junta raped women in ethnic minority areas in an apparent bid to punish populations suspected of supporting insurgency groups.
Williams said a sister of a rape victim from Myanmar she spoke to in Thailand along the border with the military-run country was eager to complete her education so that she could return to help her people.
"This young woman was going to stand up and struggle for her sister, for her community, showing again the resilience in the face of such brutality which amazes me," she said.
Former ceasefire group to form political party for 2010 election - Hseng Khio Fah
Shan Herald Agency for News: Tue 12 Aug 2008
Shan Nationalities Peoples' Liberation Organization (SNPLO), a ceasefire group in southern Shan State that recently surrendered on 3 August under the pressure from the Burmese military has decided to form a state-based party to enter the 2010 elections, according to a source from anti-junta PaO National Liberation Organization (PNLO).
A group of 125 strong former SNPLO led by Soe Aung Lwin and Sein Shwe will form a political party, but the party's name has not been chosen so far, according to Joihto from PNLO's Political and Organization Department.
"However, we don't think the party will get a chance to win even though it is allowed to contest in the elections. Everything will be under the military control," he commented.
The group was forced to surrender and lay down all weapons by Deputy Commander of Eastern Region Command and Vice chairman of Shan State South Peace and Development Council, Brig-Gen Chit Oo and Military Affairs Security (MAS) officer, Major Win Bo.
The said officers led Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 426 and Infantry Battalion (IB) 250 to surround the SNPLO's headquarters at Nawng Htao, Hsihseng township. Altogether 62 weapons of SNPLO were taken, Joihto told SHAN. "Had the group refused to comply, they would have been shot."
The Burmese military has since been stationed at Nawng Htao.
It is also reportedly planning to set up a new military camp and a police station at the former SNPLO headquarters.
The SNPLO was formed in 1968. In 1994 it concluded a ceasefire agreement with Rangoon. In 2007, one of its factions led by Chit Maung surrendered to the Burmese military and another faction led by KhunTi Sawng returned to the struggle changing its name to PaO National Liberation Organization (PNLO). The third faction led by Maj Hseng Fa surrendered last month.
Out of a ceasefire groups in Shan State, 3 have surrendered so far: Shan State National Army (SSNA) and Palaung State Liberation Army (PSLA) in 2005 and SNPLO this year. The remaining ceasefire groups are Kokang, Wa, Mongla, Shan State Army (SSA) North, Kachin Defense Army and PaO National Army (PNA).
Myanmar gem merchants dismiss US embargo threat
Associated Press: Tue 12 Aug 2008
Thousands of sapphires, rubies, diamonds, emeralds, jade and other gems glitter in long glass display cases as merchants haggle with professional buyers - most of them foreigners - and tourists.
Business is good here at the sales center of the Myanmar Gems Museum, despite legislation signed by President Bush last month to ban the import of rubies and jade into America. Yangon gem sellers dismissed the sanction against their government as a symbolic gesture unlikely to have much impact on their lucrative trade.
"Our buyers are almost all from China, Russia, the Gulf, Thailand, India and the European Union, and we can barely keep up with their demand," said Theta Mar of Mandalar Jewelry, a store in the museum gem shop, where prices range from a few hundred dollars to about $18,000 for the best rubies.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, produces up to 90 percent of the world's rubies and is a top international supplier of other gems and jade. The government-controlled sector, often criticized for harsh working conditions and poor environmental controls, is a major source of export revenue for the military.
No recent or reliable official statistics on the gemstone trade are publicly available, but analysts and human rights groups say it likely brings the military regime between $300 million and $400 million a year.
The embargo on gems is the latest U.S. move to apply financial pressure on the junta. Many Western nations have instituted economic and political sanctions against the military government, which seized power in 1988, violently suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations by monks last September and hindered foreign aid after a devastating cyclone in May.
The U.S. bill bans all import of gems from Myanmar. U.S. officials say Myanmar had been evading earlier gem-targeting sanctions by laundering the stones in third countries before they were shipped to the United States.
The United States also has been trying to persuade the U.N. Security Council to consider introducing international sanctions, and has demanded that the junta release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest.
Exiled Myanmar pro-democracy activists hailed the new U.S. measure.
"This legislation sends a strong signal to Burma's military regime that the United States stands firmly on the side of my country's democracy movement," said Aung Din, co-founder of the Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma, which lobbies for political change.
However, the junta has not issued an official response. And local officials have privately told foreign diplomats the embargo will have no effect on the sector's foreign sales unless the wider international community joins in.
Such a move seems unlikely anytime soon. Although the European Union has edged closer to the punitive U.S. position toward Myanmar's military rulers, Yangon's regional trading partners - China, India and members of the Association of Southeast Asian States - have argued that engaging the junta will be more productive in the long run than isolating it through sanctions.
Foreign diplomats also have pointed out that sanctions would primarily impact disadvantaged minorities, who live in many of the gem mining areas of Myanmar.
So the gem trade continues to thrive. Myanmar's rubies, and particularly the rare "Pigeon Blood" stones, are highly prized on international markets because of their unique deep color. The country's precious jadeite deposits produce the dark green "Imperial Jade" that is sought-after in China and other countries in the region.
The junta holds regular gem auctions for foreign merchants during which it sells thousands of lots of valuable stones, which are said to generate upward of $100 million in foreign currency per sale. The last such event, held in November, drew more than 3,600 foreign buyers.
"We are not concerned (by the U.S. embargo)," Myint Myint Cho of the Min Thiha Jewelry Shop in downtown Yangon told a reporter. "We are not thinking of it at all."
Engagement vs. Divestment - Alyson Warhurst
Business Week: Tue 12 Aug 2008
Multinational corporations operating in such countries as Myanmar, Zimbabwe, and China are easy targets for critics who accuse them of supporting totalitarian regimes. Of course, business should be accountable. But it is a mistake to undermine a responsible company's reputation through ill-informed "trial by media." In fact, forcing companies to divest their holdings in these countries could ultimately harm the very people who most need help.
Private enterprise is one of the best ways to lift people out of poverty. Private-sector investment in emerging economies has risen fourfold during the past decade, outstripping official aid programs by 10 to 1. Government engagement with many regimes has been ineffective-failing, for example, to get timely relief into Myanmar, achieve a U.N. Security Council decision on Zimbabwe, or influence Chinese policy on Tibet or Darfur.
When things go wrong in such countries, responsible companies should be allowed to make business decisions for themselves. By continuing to operate, they can offer economic lifelines to employees and local communities and provide channels for engagement with civil society and governments-however much we disagree with the policies or actions of the latter.
THE BRAVE DECISION
Anglo American (AAL.L), the London-based mining company, faces pressure from human-rights groups and from the British government to pull out of Zimbabwe. With the Mugabe regime now threatening to strip the company of licenses it holds on undeveloped mining claims, the pressure has only increased.
Should it go? That would be a pity. Anglo American has been in Zimbabwe for 60 years and has extensive business and social networks. And it has a good reputation. Year after year, verified reports show it is a responsible employer and corporate citizen. If it withdraws, its employees would suffer and its networks would crumble, reducing opportunities for business engagement with future governments. And if Anglo American leaves, the Mugabe government would seek investment from others-notably, from Russian and Chinese mining companies, which may have lower human-rights standards and lack transparency.
Not all companies make the brave decision to stay. British retailer Tesco (TSCO.L), after critics targeted it in a media campaign, announced on July 1 that it would no longer source products from Zimbabwe. Its Zimbabwean supply chain supported an estimated 4,000 workers. What happens to them now? Zimbabwe's economy is in shambles, pushing an estimated 5 million to the brink of starvation.
Rival retailers Waitrose and Sainsbury's (SBRY.L) continue to source from Zimbabwe. Mining company Rio Tinto (RIO.L), banking group Standard Chartered (STAN.L) and consumer-products giant Unilever (ULVR.L) still do business there. All are responsible companies.
If prices are fair, wages are just, working conditions are decent, transactions are transparent, and community initiatives are sustainable, should we not trust responsible global businesses to stay, so long as they operate by the principles we have asked them to adopt?
In Myanmar, divestment has had disastrous consequences. Under pressure from critics, such apparel makers as Adidas (ADSG.F) and Levi Strauss & Co. have closed factories or stopped sourcing from the country. Thousands who lost their jobs were women. Left impoverished and isolated, many have had no alternative but to join the country's growing number of sex workers. Surely, that is not what the critics intended.
Britain's Premier Oil (PMO.L) also left Myanmar partly under pressure. At the time of leaving, it had implemented programs to provide training in human-rights monitoring to the military and to government employees. It also financed community investment projects, managed by Save the Children USA, that are among the best-run such programs I have ever evaluated. And it had engaged with opposition leader Aung San Sui Kyi, who agreed that responsible business would have a critical role to play in rebuilding the country when democracy returned.
The business vacuum in Myanmar was highlighted in May when the country was hit by a devastating cyclone. Around the world, responsible businesses often work with humanitarian partners to deliver relief after natural disasters. Having such networks in place could have made a big difference in Myanmar, whose ruling junta initially refused assistance from the U.N. and Western countries. Instead, a handful of companies, including French oil group Total and express-delivery company DHL, found themselves battling the odds to deliver humanitarian relief via their limited channels. If Western business had stayed and maintained a diligent approach to human rights, thousands might now have decent jobs, to the benefit of their families and communities.
BOUNDARIES OF RESPONSIBILITY
China presents a different kind of dilemma. Unlike Zimbabwe and Myanmar, there's little chance that multinationals will leave this booming economy. Yet with the Beijing Olympic Games about to begin, top corporate sponsors are in the spotlight.
One example is General Electric (GE). As the official Olympics provider of water treatment services, it recently announced it would donate two treatment systems to provide clean drinking water for more than 60,000 residents in Dongguang City and its environs. GE says the project "will strengthen our ability to further help China and other nations leapfrog traditional infrastructure challenges to deliver clean water to hundreds of millions of people in the world's remote communities." Such initiatives, which apply the company's core competencies to address sustainable development, clearly show why responsible business should be encouraged to engage with governments, even when we disagree with those governments on human-rights issues.
GE is also working with other companies, including Honeywell (HON), United Technologies (UTX), and IBM (IBM), to help the Chinese government design and install one of the most comprehensive public surveillance systems in the world. The system, which will be deployed at Olympic venues and in the subway and airports, uses GE's powerful VisioWave technology, which automatically alerts security personnel to suspicious and fast-moving objects.
Clearly, protection of Olympic athletes and visitors is paramount. However, it's not hard to imagine that the Chinese authorities, with their well-documented track record of detaining journalists, lawyers, activists, and religious practitioners, could use this technology to infringe on citizens' rights. This underlines the need for responsible business. GE has as its overarching goal for 2008 implementing human-rights considerations in GE's operating cycles. In line with this, Bob Corcoran, vice-president for corporate citizenship, says GE "secured the US export licenses and worked with the Chinese customer to make sure that the equipment is used for its intended purpose, during and after the Olympics."
PART OF THE SOLUTION
How far should the boundaries of corporate responsibility extend? There are no easy answers. But responsible business clearly has a role to play in high-risk emerging economies. Across-the-board divestment makes neither economic sense nor humanitarian sense. Companies, if they stay, can become part of the solution by following these recommendations:
- Develop business principles based on the U.N. Global Compact
- Establish a human-rights policy supported by training and monitoring systems and empowering of local managers.
- Create an ethical supply-chain management system.
- Work with expert third parties to audit activities and suppliers.
- Engage on human-rights dilemmas and solutions with internal and external stakeholders.
- Build relationships with employees and address humanitarian flash points, such as hunger or disasters.
- Develop sustainable social investment programs with employees' families and local communities.
- Engage in dialogue with host governments to promote transparency.
- Build trust with home-country government and avoid communicating with politicians via the media.
- Communicate regularly with civil society organizations and the media in Europe and the U.S.
Warhurst is chair of Strategy and International Development at Britain's Warwick Business School, a member of the faculty of the World Economic Forum, and a founding director of social enterprise and advisory firm Maplecroft. She has advised companies including De Beers, Shell, DHL, TNT, Unilever, Nestle Waters, Premier Oil, and Standard Chartered Bank, as well as international humanitarian and human rights organizations on global risks and corporate social responsibility.
20 Years since 1988 - Japanese Policy Betrays the Burmese People - Benedict Rogers
Nikkan Berita (Japan): Tue 12 Aug 2008
Twenty years ago on August 8, 1988, thousands of Burmese pro-democracy demonstrators were slaughtered by their country's military regime in a massacre known as "8888″. Since then, Burma's illegal junta has intensified its grip on power, and continued its crimes against humanity. In doing so, it has been assisted by the Japanese government. August 8, 2008 was also the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing. China has been the major ally of Burma's military regime, providing arms, investment and diplomatic cover. As Japanese people tune in to watch the Games, they should ponder the question: is it not time their government reconsidered its policy toward the Burmese regime, and put pressure on China to stop protecting these thugs?
Since 1988 Burma's political and humanitarian crisis has only got worse.
Over 2,000 political prisoners are in jail, subjected to daily torture. Burma's democracy leader, Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, remains under house arrest. The Burmese army has the highest proportion of forcibly conscripted child soldiers in the world. Since 1996, over 3,200 villages in eastern Burma have been destroyed by the military in a campaign of ethnic cleansing that targets civilians. Rape is deployed as a weapon of war, forced labour is widespread and people are used as human minesweepers. Over a million people are internally displaced, on the run in the jungle without food, medicine or shelter. Millions more have fled across Burma's borders into exile.
In 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) overwhelmingly won elections, but has never been permitted to take up its rightful place in government. Instead, many elected representatives from the pro-democracy movement have been jailed or exiled. Last September, in a repeat of the massacre 20 years ago, Buddhist monks courageously led peaceful protests - and were once again gunned down. Japanese photo-journalist Kenji Nagai was among those killed.
Cyclone Nargis struck Burma in May this year and caused great destruction. Prior to the cyclone, the regime received over 40 warnings from Indian meteorologists, but failed to notify residents in the Irrawaddy Delta. As the scale of the devastation became clear, the international community rushed to offer assistance, but the regime had the audacity to refuse offers of international aid. It eventually relented, but imposed heavy restrictions. Since then the military rulers obstructed and diverted aid for their own purposes, and now stand accused of stealing millions of dollars from UN aid money through foreign exchange mechanisms. Over 2.5 million people are still homeless, a million people have received no help, and the death toll exceeds 130,000. In the face of such criminal negligence, Japan has said nothing.
Despite the devastation caused by the cyclone, the junta went ahead with its sham referendum on a new constitution, declaring a 99% turnout and claiming that 92.4% voted for the constitution. What did Japan do? Senior Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hitoshi Kimura, said that the fact that Japanese embassy staff were able to observe the poll, albeit in just a few polling stations, "made it a good opportunity from the point of view of improvement of transparency."
It is difficult to imagine a more absurd position. The referendum law made it illegal to campaign against the constitution or even criticize it. Opponents were subject to a jail sentence of at least three years. Moreover, Buddhist monks and nuns, numbering 500,000, were denied the vote, as were religious leaders from other faiths. Millions in the conflict areas, 700,000 Muslim Rohingyas, and millions of refugees in exile were excluded. Further, the junta rejected international monitors. There are widespread reports of vote rigging, harassment, intimidation and bribery. Most people who voted yes did so not out of belief but from fear. Ballot papers were easily identifiable - so the regime could scrutinise how people had voted, and punish those who voted no. In some areas, the army and local officials cast votes on behalf of people. To hold a referendum days after a cyclone was not just callous, it was a blatant sign that the junta had no intention of holding a free vote. Yet still, Japan stayed silent.
An official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) told me earlier this year that Japan's priority is to preserve its relations with the junta in Burma. Such a policy is not sustainable. Japan's policy on Burma is not just a betrayal of the Burmese people, but of the liberal democratic values on which modern Japan is built.
It is time for Japan to turn up the heat on the junta and end its deafening silence. The constitution, which enshrines military rule and lacks legitimacy, should be rejected. Japan should support efforts through the UN to impose meaningful benchmarks for progress in democratic reform and a universal arms embargo. In addition, with Tokyo being Asia's financial center, Japan should consider introducing financial sanctions targeting the assets and transactions of the generals. Japan could also support bringing a case to the International Criminal Court, charging the generals with crimes against humanity. The Japanese people must urge their government to awaken its moral senses.
Benedict Rogers is a writer and human rights activist and has made over 20 visits to Burma and its borderlands. He works for the human rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and is Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission in the UK. He is the author of A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma's Karen People (2004, Monarch Books) and a new report recently launched in Japanese, Carrying the Cross: The military regime's campaign of restriction, discrimination and persecution against Christians in Burma.
Aung San Suu Kyi detention extended
CNN International: Mon 11 Aug 2008
Myanmar's military rulers have extended the house arrest of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for another year, a source who spoke to a member of her political party told CNN on Monday.
The junta's decision will keep Aung San Suu Kyi under detention for more time than the county's law allows. She has already been under house arrest for four and a half years, and the maximum limit is five years without charges being filed.
The pro-democracy leader met with her attorney Sunday to discuss legal issues, the source told CNN.
Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. She has become the face of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar and the focus of a global campaign to free her.
The junta has confined Aung San Suu Kyi in her home for 12 of the last 18 years. Her latest house arrest began in 2003 and has been periodically renewed.
The country last held multiparty elections in 1990, but the regime ignored the results, which showed Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party posting a landslide victory.
Last year, the government came under intense international pressure after using force to suppress a pro-democracy movement. In late May, Myanmar state media said voters had overwhelmingly approved a draft constitution that strengthens the junta's rule.
At the time, New York-based Human Rights Watch said it had received indications that the referendum was conducted "in an atmosphere of official coercion and vote tampering."
The military government refused international or independent referendum monitors and UN assistance in conducting the voting, the group said.
And the balloting was conducted amid a humanitarian crisis in the Irrawaddy Delta and other regions devastated when Cyclone Nargis made landfall in Myanmar in early May.
About 130,000 people either died or are missing, according to the United Nations. And more than 2 million have been rendered homeless.
The draft constitution makes way for general elections in 2010, but it has been met with skepticism from pro-democracy opposition leaders. The changes grant 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military. It also states that the president can cede power to the military during a state of emergency.
Rights activist U Myint Aye arrested - Yee May Aung
Democratic Voice of Burma: Mon 11 Aug 2008
U Myint Aye, a prominent member of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters network, was arrested at his house in Kyi Myint Taing township on 8 August, according to his family.
U Myint Aye's wife Ma Leh Leh said township police chief U Myat Linn and divisional investigation police deputy chief U Kyaw Htin, accompanied by ward authorities, arrived at the house at around 4pm on Friday, the 20th anniversary of the 1988 national uprising in Burma.
"They searched the house until around 6.30pm and then they took him away," said Ma Leh Leh.
"There was heavy rain that day and our house was yet not fully sheltered from it due to damage to the roof - but they thoroughly searched the whole house."
Leh Leh said the officials seized several items and documents belonging to U Myint Aye.
"They seized some appeal letters for donations sent to us by Cyclone Nargis victims - they usually send us these so that we know what they need," she said.
This was the eighth time U Myint Aye has been arrested and his whereabouts are still unknown, his wife said.
"They never let us know where he's been taken, for what reason or how long will it be, even when we ask - I've got used to this and so I didn't bother to ask them this time," Ma Leh Leh said.
She said Kyi Myint Taing police chief U Aung Ngwe Soe and the ward authorities came to their house again the next day and took some of U Myint Aye's clothes.
Devastation in Burma is far starker than portrayed
Associated Press: Mon 11 Aug 2008
A rare bird's-eye look at Burma's Irrawaddy delta shows the devastation still left from Cyclone Nargis - broken levies, flooded farm roads, the shattered remains of bamboo huts, and trees strewn like matchsticks along the coast.
Conditions are far starker than reflected in assessments from Burma's government and in the optimism of some UN officials, the Associated Press has concluded from a review of data, a private flight over the delta, and interviews with victims and aid workers.
Three months after a disaster that claimed nearly 140,000 lives, thousands of villagers are still getting little or nothing from their government or foreign aid groups.
"We lost everything - our house, our rice, our clothes. We were given just a little rice by a private aid group from Rangoon. I don't know where the government or foreign organizations are helping people, but not here," said Khin Maung Kyi, 60, a farmer who lost six children to the storm.
Some areas have received help in the delta, Burma's rice bowl set amid a lacework of waterways. During a flyover, brand new metal roofs atop reconstructed homes glittered in the tropical sunlight, farmers in cone-shaped hats worked in green rice paddies, and gangs of workers struggled to remove debris from canals and repair broken embankments.
But progress is slow and behind where it should be.
"The situation in Myanmar remains dire," said Chris Kaye, who heads relief operations for the UN World Food Program in Burma, which the military junta refers to as Myanmar. "The vast majority of families simply don't have enough to eat."
Some grim recent statistics from foreign aid agencies working in the delta:
A survey of families in 291 villages indicated that 55 percent had less than one day of food left and no stocks to fall back on. About 924,000 people will need food assistance until the November rice harvest, while about 300,000 will need relief until April 2009.
The fishing industry, the delta's second most important source of income and food, remains devastated. More than 40 percent of fishing boats and 70 percent of fishing gear were destroyed and very little has been replaced.
More than 360,000 children will not be able to go to elementary school in coming months because at least 2,000 schools were so badly damaged they cannot reopen soon.
"The vast majority of people have received some assistance. But very few people have received enough assistance to get them through the next three months, and almost no one has received enough assistance to enable them to rebuild their lives," said Andrew Kirkwood, who heads the aid agency Save the Children in Burma.
Kirkwood said three months after such a disaster, aid agencies would normally be rebuilding schools, health clinics, and other facilities. But in Burma, he said, the first phase of emergency distribution of food and basics is likely to continue for another three months.
More upbeat assessments have come from other quarters. Some have noted that a second wave of death from disease and starvation anticipated by some relief agencies never occurred.
"It has gone much better than anyone expected," said Ashley Clements, a spokesman for World Vision, an international Christian relief and development agency, citing the resilience of the victims and the speed of the aid response.
"The message I want the world to know is that the government, UN agencies, and other organizations . . . are making good progress," said Ramesh Shrestha, a UN representative in Rangoon.
Almost at the same time the UN humanitarian news service, IRIN, published a report about conditions in the delta titled "Life is totally bleak." Chronicling the plight of several families, it noted that many people lack food and shelter. Some foreign aid workers caution that their agencies refrain from exposing problems for fear the government will curb or halt their access to victims.
"Our operations are contingent on having a positive relationship with the government," Kaye said. "So we have to work out a fine balance, so that the difficult issues are dealt with, but in a spirit of cooperation."
Myanmar to export more marine products to Middle East
Xinhua: Mon 11 Aug 2008
Myanmar is making increased efforts to penetrate the Middle East market with its marine products by making use of Kuwait as a transit point, the local Flower News reported Sunday.
To boost its marine product exports to the region, Myanmar has coordinated with a Kuwaiti economic delegation, who accompanied Prime Minister Sheik Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah in the latter's recent visit to Myanmar.
On that occasion, the two countries signed three accords including two agreements on encouragement and reciprocal investment protection, and economic and technical cooperation, and a memorandum of understanding on establishing consultation between the two foreign ministries.
Myanmar has been exporting the marine products to Arab countries in the Middle East transiting through Kuwait as well as exporting them to other countries in the region such as Qatar, Jordan and the United Arab Emirate directly.
According to the report, Myanmar exported 43,640 tons of such products to the Middle East in 2007-08 which ended in March, gaining 50.99 million U.S. dollars.
The figures was up from 26,409 tons in 2004-05 when it earned 29.5 million dollars.
Of the marine product exports to the Middle East, Kuwait accounted for 27,895 tons alone with 30.63 million dollars' proceeds.
Official statistics show that in 2007-08, Myanmar exported 352, 652 tons of marine products, gaining 561 million U.S. dollars, up from 2006-07's 234 million dollars.
The fishery authorities have projected to raise the export earning to 850 million dollars in the present fiscal year of 2008-09.
China topped Myanmar's marine export countries, followed by Thailand, Japan and Singapore.
Myanmar's fishery sector stood the fourth largest contributor to the gross domestic product and also the fourth largest source of foreign exchange earning in the past five years.
Meanwhile, Myanmar is cooperating with a regional organization of the Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) in conducting survey of marine resources in the country's waters, focusing species with commercial potential.
With a long coastline of over 2,800 kilometers and a total area of 500,000 hectares of swamps along the coast, the country has an estimated sustainable yield of marine products at over 1 million tons a year.
Same old, same old - A. Asohan
Malaysia Star: Mon 11 Aug 2008
Myanmar's ruling junta is hoping that its on-going human rights violations will become a non-issue, but let's keep flogging this dead horse.
TWENTY years and two days ago, student activists in a little-known South-East Asian country stood up for democracy against their oppressive, tyrannical government.
People from all walks of life - civil servants, professionals, monks and plain old ordinary folk - all demanding democratic reform, soon joined them.
The military stepped in, and according to most news reports, gunned down thousands of these peaceful marchers.
The people stood firm however, and finally got their way. Two years later, the country held its first general election in decades, and a pro-reformation party won it hands-down. A new era beckoned.
Except that it didn't. The military rulers declared the election null and void, slapped cuffs on the democratic leaders, and carried on their merry, violent way.
And the world looked on. Twenty years and two days later, the world is still looking on.
Oh sure, governments may issue a few verbal slaps on the wrists once in a while as a salve to their conscience - some even going so far as rapping knuckles - but they're still only looking on.
Two days ago, while large parts of Asia celebrated the auspicious triple-fatt (08-08-08) or anticipated Olympic glory, people in cities across the world - as far away as San Francisco and London, and right here at home in Kuala Lumpur - marched peacefully in remembrance of the quadruple eight or "8888 Uprising" of Aug 8, 1988.
Coordinating their efforts via websites, alternative news portals, blogs and social media networks such as Facebook, many people across the world are still trying to keep Myanmar (or Burma) on the table of public discourse.
"Actually, for a problem like Burma, which seems so complex, the solution can be surprisingly simple - if only governments and the United Nations stopped talking so much and started doing more," says K.P. Lee, a Malaysian journalist who has spent much of his working life as an activist.
Governments could turn the situation around right now, if they really wanted.
"What we are seeing in Burma today is a totally avoidable, man-made disaster caused by a particularly nasty regime, but this regime survives only because it is propped up by Asean's impotence, China's money and India's weapons.
"That's the great tragedy, and a huge frustration," says the 42-year-old.
The United States and Britain saw fit to invade a sovereign country to save its millions from the tyranny of one dictator, going against international rule of law and the United Nations to do so. (Yes, I know, they first said it was because Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was a hotbed of Al-Qaeda activity; they only changed their tune after their leaders' lies were exposed.)
Nobody would dispute that the belligerent Saddam Hussein had committed horrific crimes against humanity. But his repressive government had also provided some basic amenities and infrastructure (most of which were destroyed by the invading forces) to the people.
Compare that with the abominations going on in Myanmar, where most of the population are under the poverty line, where government troops carry out state-sanctioned mass murders and gang rapes (against children too), and Iraq under Saddam seems like a model state.
Myanmar's military junta is financing its genocide of tribes like the Karen with money made from trade. Governments allowing this to happen are still peddling the fantasy that some of the proceeds trickle down to the masses, despite all evidence to the contrary.
If I hear anyone say "constructive engagement" again, I'll puke.
That was Asean's excuse for getting involved with Myanmar's repressive regime. Let economic prosperity open the door to democratic reform.
In 2005, there was a movement to deny Myanmar the Asean chair. The movement was led by ordinary citizens, activists, NGOs and even some politicians, all of whom had acknowledged that Asean's "constructive engagement" gambit had failed miserably.
The movement found expression with tributes across the world on the 60th birthday of Myanmar's "Lady Liberty" herself, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy that won the 1990 election, and is therefore the country's rightful Prime Minister.
In a column I wrote then, I quoted Kraisak Choonhavan, a senator who had been leading this movement in Thailand: "When you see villages marked for relocation, state-sanctioned mass murder, gang rapes, disappearances and torture, you have a moral obligation not to engage that government in business."
It's now three years later, and Suu Kyi just celebrated her 63rd birthday still under house arrest.
Governments are still pussyfooting around the issue, declaring as victories the fact that the Myanmar regime allowed some international aid - and only some, mind you - to go through to the victims of the devastating Cyclone Nargis earlier this year.
Asean officials even praised the regime's efforts, despite on-the-ground reports from international relief workers condemning the ruling junta's slow response.
Earlier this year, at a meeting in Singapore, Myanmar finally ratified the Asean charter that will see it subject to certain rules, including those on human rights.
Given that it had promised democratic reforms when it first joined the regional grouping all those years ago, then never bothered keeping those promises, it will be interesting to see what would happen now if it breaches the terms of the charter.
Will Asean finally summon the cojones to act?
Or perhaps we should just stop expecting governments to do, you know, government-ish stuff like that.
While what's going on in Myanmar is frustrating and heart-breaking, journalist Lee sees hope in what he calls a "quiet revolution."
"Many Burmese groups, working ‘underground' and under dangerous conditions, are changing the way people think. They are teaching people about their rights, what to expect from a government, about democracy, economics, security … they are working to empower them.
"Many very brave people, including youths and women, are learning and then sharing this information in towns and remote areas all around the country.
"That's a key part to changing Burma, I feel. Ultimately it has to come from within. I feel hopeful for Burma because when - and not if - democracy comes, the people will be ready," he says.
* A. Asohan, New Media Editor at The Star, is too riled up to say anything whimsical in this footnote.
Burmese must be supported - Michael Martin
Irish Times: Mon 11 Aug 2008
TWENTY YEARS ago, in a remarkable display of "people power", hundreds of thousands of Burmese citizens took to the streets of their country in peaceful demonstrations to demand democracy, justice and economic security in their troubled land, a struggle that they have been engaged in ever since.
It was in these post-8-8-88 (August 8th, 1988) weeks that a small, quiet, middle-aged woman emerged on to the national stage. The daughter of the hero of Burma's struggle for independence, Gen Aung San, who had been assassinated when she was two, and of a mother who was a distinguished Burmese ambassador, Aung San Suu Kyi had spent much of her life outside her native land but she had returned to Burma in March 1988 to nurse her terminally-ill mother.
Known little beyond being the daughter of her hero father and with no track record as a practising politician, Aung San Suu Kyi became involved almost immediately on her return in the pro-democracy wave sweeping the country. Exactly one week after the Burmese people took to the streets on August 8th, Aung San Suu Kyi issued an open letter to the regime, proposing the appointment of an independent People's Consultative Committee to lead the country into multi-party elections, and also stressing to the people of Burma the vital importance of discipline and non-violence in their search for justice and change.
On August 26th, Aung San Suu Kyi made the first major public appearance of her career at a political rally in Rangoon, addressing a rapturous crowd of around half a million, and presenting a political programme based on human rights, democracy and non-violence.
But on September 18th, the 8-8-88 popular and peaceful uprising and the weeks of hope and elation that followed were brought to a rapid end when the army chief-of-staff staged a military coup to regain control of the government. Martial law was immediately imposed and control of the country was transferred to a State Law and Order Restoration Council. Along with this, the army launched a merciless counteroffensive against the demonstrators, unleashing the full might of the military on unarmed civilians - men, women and children. At a minimum, 3,000 died or disappeared without trace, but some would claim that the number could have been as high as 10,000.
Undeterred by the crackdown, Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the opposition founded a political party on September 24th - the National League for Democracy, or NLD, and she became its general secretary. By then, Aung San Suu Kyi, in defiance of bans on public meetings and in the face of serious threats to her personal safety, had already begun to organise a series of more than a hundred political rallies around the country, attended by growing crowds of supporters.
In April 1989 while campaigning in the Irrawaddy Delta, Aung San Suu Kyi - in one of the most iconic scenes of her career - marched calmly through an army unit with rifles trained on her. However, in July, increasingly alarmed by her growing influence and popularity, the regime placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest in Rangoon where she has remained for most of the years since then.
But despite her house arrest and heavy restrictions on her, Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD scored a resounding victory in elections in May 1990, with her party securing 82 per cent of the seats. The military junta refuses to recognise the results of the election and have continued to rule the country ever since, changing its name to Myanmar. It is a ruthless military regime that has distinguished itself primarily for its brutal repression of the people of Burma, military campaigns against ethnic minorities and the generation of vast numbers of refugees and internally-displaced people. It is the same regime that last September brutally crushed the peaceful protests of unarmed monks and civilians demonstrating peacefully.
It is a regime which, in the wake of the tragedy engendered by Cyclone Nargis in May, proceeded with an already flawed and discredited referendum and did virtually nothing to help the survivors, until forced into action by the international community.
Unfortunately the international response to the situation in Burma has been inadequate, though to their credit the European Union, the United States and some other countries have imposed political and economic sanctions on the regime in the wake of their rejection of the results of the 1990 election; these were tightened further following the events of last September. Although sanctions have not resulted in any change of heart on the part of the regime, they serve as an important symbol of our rejection of that brutal regime and all that it stands for.
The Burmese generals have also resisted any effective role by the UN and international human rights bodies, though the personal intervention of the UN secretary general in the post-cyclone situation and visits by other key UN representatives provide some grounds for optimism for a more proactive UN role. I would, of course, very much welcome this.
Ireland, along with our EU partners, has long worked hard to maintain the issue of Burma high on the international agenda. The Government works closely with like-minded international partners seeking ways to generate more effective global action in support of the Burmese people. We hope that their role in the post-Nargis relief and reconstruction effort can be developed into more proactive political engagement.
Over the years, the Government and the Irish people have provided assistance to the Burmese people and their acknowledged representatives, including responding quickly and generously to the recent humanitarian crisis. Likewise, we work closely with the Burmese community and friends of Burma in Ireland, including supporting the excellent work of Burma Action Ireland. We also maintain close working relations with the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma - Burma's government in exile.
Today, we remember the heroic actions of the people of Burma in 1988. We recognise in particular that, despite all that they have suffered, the spirit of 8-8-88 lives on in the hearts and minds of the people of Burma, at home and in exile. In paying tribute today to those brave men and women, and especially to their leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Government will continue to do all that is possible in support of their unwavering desire for freedom, justice and democracy.
• Micheál Martin is Minister for Foreign Affairs
Reflections on Burma's Uprising - Min Zin
Far Eastern Economic Review: Mon 11 Aug 2008
Twenty years have now passed since Burma started its struggle for democracy in what is famously known as the "8-8-88 Movement." It was a nationwide uprising calling for the removal of the military dictatorship and a restoration of the democratic government.
Back in 1988, I was a 14-year-old high school student. Two of my older siblings had been arrested and tortured for their involvement in the initial student protests and another brother was expelled from school. This shocked our whole family.
It was then that my political activism began. We distributed pamphlets and leaflets in our schools, staged hit-and-run protests in neighborhoods afterwards, and contacted other high schools and went together to universities to join their protests. Later on I became one of the founding leaders of the nation-wide high school student union in Burma, a place where unions are illegal and j
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