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27 August – 2 September: Burma: Come Home But Be Quiet

September 3, 2012

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min in 2010 © DVBOn Thursday, the office of President Thein Sein released the names of some 2,000 people who were removed from Burma’s infamous blacklist. For most of the people who discovered their names on the list it must have been an unprecedented moment, coming home was finally conceivable after years in exile. Yet looking at it more closely it appears that Thein Sein’s invitation to come home is also an invitation to remain quiet.

Little was said in the news about the more than 4,000 names remaining on the blacklist. Who are they? Why are they still on the list? When will they be removed? The only person who does know is President Thein Sein, thus ensuring that he still has the discretionary power to select who is and who is not allowed back home.

Welcoming exiles back to Burma and truly opening a space for free speech would mean consigning the entire concept of a blacklist to the history books. For Thein Sein’s invitation to be serious and genuine it must extend to everybody.

In March 2011, Thein Sein invited people living in exile to return to the country and take part in the reform process. This week, Kyaw Kyaw Min who accepted Thein Sein’s offer to come home, became the first former-exile to be prosecuted upon his return to Burma. He was convicted to six months imprisonment for contempt of court while representing democracy activists in 2007. His clients were arrested during a march calling for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. He was sentence in absentia in 2008 but on 28 August he was arrested and sent to Insein prison.

As his colleague and fellow lawyer Nyi Nyi Htwe said, “This simply shows that there are no assurances and guarantees for exiles on their future, safety or dignity despite [the president’s] welcoming speech… This action might put off exiled people from coming back home. I just would like to tell exiles to think about it seriously.” He is right: there are countless exiles who have been sentenced in absentia for political “crimes” under the former junta and would face years of imprisonment if the same logic was applied on their return.

If President Thein Sein is serious about welcoming activists in exile back to Burma, he must immediately end all forms of judicial harassment against human rights lawyers and activists in the country and grant an amnesty to exiles and refugees for their participation in armed conflict or political activities. Amnesty for exiles and refugees is seen as a way to guarantee their security, to fulfill their right to return peacefully without the very real risk of arrest, detention, imprisonment or legal proceedings and to guarantee their right to take part in national political processes.

President Thein Sein should grant an amnesty to exiles and refugees before their return instead of a casual and informal oral invitation; this is not enough to ensure their security. The amnesty should include crimes related to internal conflict and political “crimes” such as participation in an unlawful association, but must exclude war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide. In this regard, all current investigations and trials must be stopped, all completed trials annulled and all political prisoners sentenced in connection with the armed conflict or for political activities released.

Activists in exile will come back eventually, but only if they are free to fight for peoples’ rights, continue to raise their voices and make vital contributions towards genuine democratic transition in the country.

News Highlights

President Thein Sein reshuffles cabinet ministers

Inside Burma

Thousands of protesters including monks hold a three-day march in support of President Thein Sein’s proposal to deport Rohingyas

President Thein Sein pardons two UN staff and one aid worker sentenced to prison last week for alleged involvement in Arakan violence

Thousands of people flee as Burma Army attacks jade capital in Kachin State

The Pa-O National Liberation Organization signs a five-point ceasefire agreement with the government

The Karen National Union and government begin third round of peace talks in Pa’an, Karen State

Yuzana Company agrees to return confiscated land in Kachin State  

Floods submerge rice fields and force 85,000 people to flee

Foreign Investment Law is delayed by local business opposition

Burma to offer oil and gas exploration blocks

Regional

China bans UN High Commissioner for Refugees from accessing refugees forced back home into war-torn Kachin State; US urges China to protect Kachin refugees

The Asian Development Bank urges Thailand to build cross-border route to Tavoy

International

US waives visa ban for President Thein Sein to visit the United Nations General Assembly

Two US congressmen call on President Obama to use the government’s leverage in international financial institutions to press for greater fiscal transparency in Burma

The European Commission urges Burma to give citizenship to Rohingyas

Opinions

Thailand Follows China in Controversial Burma Refugee Repatriation
By Francis Wade
Asian Correspondent

The Name Game: What You Should Know About Burma’s Political Prisoners
By Ko Bo Kyi
The Irrawaddy

The Real Culprits Behind the Violence in Rakhine State
By Maung Zarni
The Nation

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Actions

Community based organizations and human rights groups send an open letter to Norwegian Ambassador asking to postpone the Myanmar Peace Support Initiative consultation in order to guarantee broad and inclusive participation

Statements and Press Releases

Statement of Kachin Organizations to Halt the Burmese Government Troops Offensive Against KIO/KIA and Human Rights Abuses of Kachin Civilians
By 11 Kachin Organizations

“Why Encourage Racism, Why Create a Crisis?”
By Ashin Gambira

Burma: Overturn 6 Month Sentence of Human Rights Defender and Lawyer Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min
By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma

Burmese Union Leader Maung Maung Returning from Exile
By International Trade Union Confederation

Open Letter to Norwegian Ambassador Katja Nordgaard on Myanmar Peace Support Initiative (MPSI) Consultation
By Karen Women Organisation, Karen Environmental Social Action Network, Burma Partnership, Human Rights Education Institute of Burma and Women’s League of Burma

Human Rights Violation Continue in Burma’s Karen State Despite Announcements of Political Reforms
By Physicians for Human Rights

Shan Community Groups: Don’t Push Refugees Back Into Active War Zone
By Shan Human Rights Foundation, Shan Sapawa Environmental Organisation, Shan Women’s Action Network, Shan Youth Power and Shan Youth Network Group

Reports

Analysis of the Guarantees of Freedom of Expression in the 2008 Constitution of the
Republic of the Union of Myanmar
By Centre for Law and Democracy and International Media Support

Briefing: Forced Labour in Chin State and Sagaing Region, 2011 – 2012
By Chin Human Rights Organization

Bitter Wounds and Lost Dreams: Human Rights Under Assault in Karen State, Burma
By Physicians for Human Rights

This post is in: Weekly Highlights

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