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Poorly Planned Census in Disarray as Calls for Postponement Grow Stronger

hlegu-mob april 5 2014 JPaing:IrrawaddyEnumerators arrived in Arakan State on Sunday, 30 March in the company of three hundred armed policemen who were brought into the area in several army trucks to conduct the nationwide survey. The first national census since 1983 should be vital in planning the nation’s needs in health, education and development. However, the census has triggered violence in Arakan State, as humanitarian aid offices were raided, aid workers fled, local aid workers threatened not to assist the Rohingya, and aid to the Rohingya communities living in internally displaced camps has halted.

So far three people – two under the age of five – have died as a result of the absence of medical care and food prices are soaring as water and food becomes scarce. The Burma government has rescinded their commitment to allow Rohingya’s to self-identify, folding under pressure from Arakanese Buddhists to boycott the census.  The tension in Arakan State is spreading throughout Burma as an anti-Muslim riot took place in a town on the outskirts of Rangoon, where an angry Buddhist mob pelted Muslim-owned properties with stones[...]

April 8, 2014 | Tags: , , , , , | Read more >>

Facilitating Hate from the Highest Levels of Power

By Facebook Myanmar Police Force IrrawaddyThe situation in Arakan State is deteriorating rapidly as extremist monks continue to spread hate speech and incite violence against the Muslim community with impunity. With the upcoming census set to inflame tensions over the issue of Rohingya, Arakanese nationalists have been exacerbating these tensions by campaigning for the census to be changed. Such protests descended into violence as United Nations (UN) and non-governmental organizations’ (NGO) offices were ransacked and aid workers forced to flee. Meanwhile, at the national level, highly discriminatory laws are being drafted by certain ministries to be presented to Parliament.

The leader of the extremist Buddhist 969 movement, Wirathu, has been whipping up anti-Muslim fervor among the local Arakanese Buddhist population, demanding that the UN-planned census be changed. The All Rakhine Committee for the Census (ARCC) had threatened a state-wide boycott of the census due to the option for Rohingya to identify themselves as Rohingya.  Adding to the tension has been the antagonism towards international relief and UN agencies for allegedly favouring Rohingya Muslims in their work. This is, of course, a preposterous claim given that such organizations engage in service provision for those who need it most, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or political affiliation, with the majority of such victims happening to be Rohingya. This fervor came to a head as mobs descended on UN and NGO offices in the state capital, Sittwe, late last week [...]

April 1, 2014 | Tags: , , , , | Read more >>

People of ASEAN Stand Up To Be Counted

20140321-js-4589The ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APF) 2014, held in Rangoon, Burma, on 21-23 March, and co-organised by long-standing Burma advocates to ASEAN, namely Burma Partnership, Task Force on ASEAN and Burma, and Women’s League of Burma, together with 80 other civil society organizations (CSOs) and community based organizations (CBOs), can be hailed as a great success as well as a historic event. Not only was it the first ACSC/APF to be held in Burma, it was also the highest attended ACSC/APF since the ACSC/APF first took place in 2005, with over 3,000 participants. It was a great opportunity for people of all ethnic nationalities from across Burma – CSOs, CBOs, rights activists networks, and grassroots activists – to meet people from their own countries and from others around the ASEAN region as well as from Timor leste and beyond, to share their concerns, and above all, to demonstrate the strength and solidarity of civil society in Burma and in ASEAN[...]

March 25, 2014 | Tags: , , | Read more >>

ACSC/APF 2014 is Burma’s Chance to Set a Positive Benchmark for ASEAN Civl Society

625650_454184384660975_2087012466_nOn 21-23 March, the 2014 ASEAN Civil Society Conference (ACSC), otherwise known as the ASEAN People’s Forum (APF), will take place in Rangoon, Burma.  The ACSC/APF is held annually by the ASEAN Chair country – currently Burma – in advance of and parallel to the official ASEAN Summit, which will be held in May and attended by ASEAN and regional leaders.

The ACSC/APF is the showcase event for the ASEAN civil society community.  Civil society actors from across the ten ASEAN countries, as well as Timor Leste, and beyond will be coming to Rangoon to attend a range of programs, events and workshops on a variety of ASEAN issues.   Their mandate is to represent the voices of the people of ASEAN.  The theme of this year’s ACSC/APF is “Advancing ASEAN People’s Solidarity toward sustainable peace, development, justice and democratization”.

March 17, 2014 | Tags: , , | Read more >>

The Burma Army and Its Language of Aggression

MYANMAR-refer-articleLarge-v3Mixed messages on the peace process came out this week as the government proposed for the first time to commit a substantial amount of money into the peace process. Yet the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s inflammatory comments on the indestructibility of the Burma Army and blaming the conflict on the country’s ethnic armed groups expose the attitudes of the country’s most powerful institution. Meanwhile, a second round of formal talks between ethnic armed groups and the government’s Union Peace Working Committee on the nationwide ceasefire accord have been postponed until February as ethnic representatives further discuss the accord.

A local newspaper, True News, published comments made by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing at a briefing to officers in Naypyidaw in November 2013. The language of peace and reconciliation was conspicuously absent in his address, “We made peace agreements, but that doesn’t mean we are afraid to fight. We are afraid of no one. There is no insurgent group we cannot fight or dare not to fight.” The Burma Army chief also states that he intends to follow the path laid down by Senior General Than Shwe, the former head of the military junta that suffocated and terrorized Burma from 1988 to 2011. Burma’s underdevelopment, he adds, is “because of internal insurgents who caused conflict in the country.” [...]

January 21, 2014 | Tags: , , , | Read more >>

Despite End-of-Year Amnesty, Political Prisoner Issue Casts Shadow Over 2014

Political Prisoner Release from Insein July 2013 by JPaing IrrawaddyTo casual Burma observers, President Thein Sein may appear to have fulfilled his promise to British Prime Minister David Cameron on 15 July 2013 that all political prisoners in Burma would be released by the end of 2013. After all, political prisoners were freed throughout 2013, culminating in two “final” releases on 11 December (41 released) and 31 December (16 released). The motive is not hard to discern: such high profile releases play into the current “good news” narrative on Burma. The international community, hungrily eyeing up Burma’s huge potential as an untapped frontier market of boundless investment opportunities, cheap labor and vast natural resources, tends to lap up such reports without examining the narrative more carefully.
Inevitably the narrative is not so simple. The most prominent criticism of the Burma government’s policy towards political prisoners in 2013 was that it was releasing some, while all the time arresting others, particularly land and community activists. This “revolving door” policy ensured that Burma’s jails were in no danger of being put out of business [...]

January 13, 2014 | Tags: , , | Read more >>

A Year of Nascent Reforms Taking Root, Challenges for Future Growth

2013 Rangoon Burma by AP2013 has been a year in which many of the nascent reforms of 2012 have begun to take root, but also one in which new challenges have emerged. In 2014, there will be many opportunities for the government of Burma to show its commitment to democratic transition.

This year saw the historic meeting of ethnic armed groups in Laiza, Kachin State, with a second due in Karen State the third week of January. Despite such important conferences, the uncertainty of the ceasefire process has had an impact on ethnic unity. After several postponements, the government is planning to hold its nationwide ceasefire in early 2014. Such a public show will not be enough to solve decades of armed conflict and ethnic inequality; the government, its Union Peace Working Committee and all ethnic armed groups must engage in a comprehensive, inclusive political dialogue with all parties on an equal footing. An independent third party mediator would help ensure that the difficult underlying issues, such as the power of the Burma Army, political power sharing between the government and ethnic nationalities, resource management, and justice for human rights abuses committed by all sides, are finally addressed and sustainable peace is achieve [...]

December 20, 2013 | Tags: | Read more >>

Japan’s Opportunity to Prove Itself a Responsible Investor in Burma

Dawei beachAs Japan deepens its economic ties with Burma at the Japan-ASEAN summit in Tokyo, civil society from Tavoy, Tenasserim Region, express concerns over investing in a huge special economic zone that has already caused widespread human rights violations.

Adding to the US$867 million in loans pledged in May, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised a further US$578 million in loans for infrastructure development for the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ), as well as upgrading Burma’s railway network. Another agreement was made in which greater protections for Japanese businesses investing in Burma are established, thus creating a safer environment to explore business opportunities [...]

December 16, 2013 | Tags: , | Read more >>

Burma Uses Old Tactics to Silence the People

1460213_387980038003698_211652200_nEnact a repressive law, use thugs to crackdown, arrest and imprison protesters – it’s a strategy that never gets old for the Burmese authorities.

With the ongoing implementation of such a strategy, it has become more clear than ever that Burma does not tolerate critical voices that question the acts of the government or its cronies. The country has witnessed crackdowns and widespread and systematic arrests of peaceful demonstrators and activists throughout President Thein Sein’s term in office. Many of them have been charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, as well as Section 505 (b) of the Penal Code, and the number is growing every day.

The latest crackdown came on 7 December in Michaungkan Quarter of Thingungyun Township, Rangoon, where more than 200 protestors were demanding the return of land that they claimed was confiscated by the Burma Army in 1990, the time when protesting against the military regime was out of the question. At least 8 protestors were injured as a group of men in civilian clothes armed with batons who claimed to be “cleaning workers from the army” attacked the peaceful protestors. Since the protest started on 26 November, two protest leaders have been arrested and sentenced to three months in prison each. Township authorities have told the demonstrators to disband their protest site or face forceful removal [...]

December 9, 2013 | Tags: , , | Read more >>

Significant Constitutional Changes are a Must for Genuine Democracy

burma-charter-2008As the timeframe for submission to the parliamentary Joint Committee for Reviewing the Constitution enters its final month, pressure to amend this flawed document is ratcheting up. Opposition parties, ethnic armed groups, democracy activists, members of the public and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi are all voicing how imperative it is for democracy that the constitution is changed.

The 2008 Constitution, which the military regime introduced after a sham referendum in 2008, entrenches the Burma Army in positions of power, gives the state the ownership of all land in the country, and denies Burma’s ethnic nationalities equality and the right to self-determination. It also fails on grounds of inclusiveness, omitting to protect and respect the human rights of all people in Burma, regardless of race, religion or color. It is undemocratic, illegitimate and a major hurdle for progress in Burma’s reform process [...]

December 2, 2013 | Tags: , , , | Read more >>
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