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Are You Listening, President Obama?

Photo By The IrrawaddyUS President Barack Obama’s made his much-anticipated second trip to Burma last week during the 25th ASEAN Summit, amid growing awareness that the reforms which he so eagerly celebrated during his 2012 trip are quickly unravelling – or being exposed for the stage-managed charade that they are.
In 2012, it was all too easy to trust the reform process. National elections had been scheduled for 2015, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had been freed from house arrest and elected to Parliament, political prisoners had been released, a nationwide ceasefire process was underway with the majority of armed ethnic groups, and restrictions on media and civil society had been drastically loosened. And so the US and the international community embraced the reforms.

Yet, last month, in her recent address to the UN General Assembly, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma Yanghee Lee warned of the risks of backtracking. Then, earlier this month, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi labelled the process as “stalled” and remarked that “there have been times when the [US] government has seemed over-optimistic about the reform process.

Furthermore, there has been a flurry of recent calls from civil society across Burma, directly raising their various concerns about the reform process with President Obama. The Karen Human Rights Group wrote an open letter drawing President Obama’s attention to human rights violations resulting from the ongoing government military presence throughout south-eastern Burma; [...]

November 18, 2014 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Read more >>

Impunity for Military Abuses Has to End

MYANMAR-ANNIVERSARY-MILITARYOn 7 November, the International Human Rights Clinic (the Clinic) at Harvard Law School published a Legal Memorandum which establishes that certain Burma Army commanders are guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes under international criminal law. The Legal Memorandum submits its findings on the basis of a three-year investigation (the Investigation) into human rights abuses associated with a Burma Army offensive in Karen State, which was launched in late 2005 and continued into 2008 (the Offensive). The Clinic chose this offensive “because it was one of the largest in recent memory and was widely condemned by the international community.” The Investigation focused specifically on the conduct of two military units – Southern Regional Military Command (SRMC) and Light Infantry Division 66 (LID 66) – in Thandaung Township, Karen State.

Articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) set out the legal requirements for an action to qualify as a “crime against humanity” or a “war crime,” respectively. The essence of a “crime against humanity” is that the act in question should be “part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” Similarly, Article 8 stipulates that a “war crime” must be committed “as part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes,” and must constitute a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions 1949, which regulate the conduct of armed conflict [...]

November 11, 2014 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Read more >>

New National Land Use Policy Must Reflect the Concerns of those Affected

31 Oct 2014 Photo By IrrawaddyThe Burma Government released its draft land use policy document and opened it up for consultations with the public. Despite this positive sign, the time for consultations is inadequate with no proper mechanism or space created for the meaningful participation of affected communities in order for their concerns to be reflected in the draft. The draft document itself has been heavily criticized for serving to further empower investors over small scale farmers.

Since the beginning of the reform process in 2011, land grabbing, a practice that the previous military regime engaged in regularly, has hit new heights as a flurry of investors seek opportunities in previously untapped markets and the Burma Government liberalizes the economy. A prime example of this is the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Project, a joint Thailand–Burma Government initiative that is seeking private investment to create one of the largest industrial zones in Asia. A report released by Dawei Development Association on 21 October 2014 highlights how 20-36 villages will be negatively affected. Concerns iterated by the local communities show that they have “lost farmlands and natural resources that are vital to their livelihoods, without prior information.” Furthermore “there was no meaningful consultation, and a deeply flawed compensation process.”

Land grabbing is often done with protection from the military, or by the military itself, for factories, infrastructure projects, mono-crop plantations, or military bases, and as with the Dawei SEZ case, usually without adequate or indeed, any compensation. It is a nationwide problem, both in ethnic areas, as documented by the Human Rights Foundation of Monland and Karen Human Rights Group, while in central Burma and delta areas, land grabbing is common place. Given that around 70% of the population of Burma is engaged in agriculture, and it is agricultural lands that are most often confiscated, it is one of the most pressing issues for Burma today [...]

November 4, 2014 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Read more >>

Justice for the Killing of Journalist by Burma Army Must be Found

20 Oct 2014 By Asian TribuneNews of the murder of a journalist by the Burma Army while being held in custody should send shockwaves across the country and beyond, but sadly it is not much of a surprise for those who are aware of the abusive nature of the most powerful institution in Burma. What will transpire next will be a clear indicator of the Government’s will to pursue justice and end the impunity that the Burma Army has enjoyed for so long. Not many are optimistic.

Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Ko Par Gyi, was a freelance journalist covering the recent clashes in eastern Burma between the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) and the Burma Army and its’ proxy Border Guard Force (BGF). After visiting Kyaikmayaw, Mon State, the scene of heavy clashes in September 2014, Ko Par Gyi went missing. His wife, Ma Than Dar, began to search for him and held a press conference on 21 October in Rangoon stating that he was being held in custody by the Burma Army and demanded his immediate release. Just a few days later, a statement was issued to the Myanmar Press Council (Interim) by an aide to commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Min Aung Hlaing, that detailed Ko Par Gyi’s death while in custody. The statement claims that Ko Par Gyi was a captain for the Klohtoobaw Karen Organization (KKO), the political wing of the DKBA, and was shot dead while trying to escape. The DKBA has denied that Ko Par Gyi was indeed a member of their organization [...]

October 28, 2014 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Read more >>

Over 650 Myanmar/Burma Civil Society Actors Speak Out on the Reality of the Transition

15 October 2014 Photo By Burma PartnershipThe forum titled, “Civil Societies’ Review on Myanmar/Burma’s Transition Process: Prospects for 2015 and Beyond”, held on 15 – 17 October 2014 at the Myanmar Christian Fellowship of the Blind Center in Rangoon, brought together over 650 representatives from 257 organizations and networks from across the country and border areas to discuss and strategize a wide range of key issues currently facing Burma in the context of the recent economic and political reforms since 2011. This is the first forum of this scale to assess the reform and the wide range of problems currently facing Burma.

Despite the hailed “transition to democracy,” exalted particularly by the international community, civil society organizations (CSOs) spoke of the decades old challenges that remain unresolved, the stagnation of the reform process, and new emerging issues, in addition to the need for meaningful inclusion of the voices of civil society, democratic opposition forces, ethnic peoples, women and youth in the reform process.

The forum addressed six core issues; (1) law reform, (2) peace and conflict, (3) media, hate speech and communal violence, (4) Parliament, Government and accountability, (5) economic reform and foreign direct investment, and (6) the international community’s role and involvement, which were discussed under six panel discussions and six workshops. The forum produced a statement that gave concrete recommendations from civil society groups to the Burma Government, United Nations, international governments and international non-governmental organizations (lNGOs) [...]

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

Burma Army Continues to Use the Drugs Trade as a Weapon of War

1 March 2008 Photo By IrrawaddyA new report by Kachin Women’s Association – Thailand (KWAT), “Silent Offensive: How Burma Army Strategies are Fuelling the Kachin Drug Crisis” outlines the severity of the drug problem in northern Burma as well as the complicity of the government in the trade. The report shows how the government is using opium-growing militia forces in its operations against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) as part of a deal in which these militias are given free rein to produce and sell heroin and other narcotics.

Thus, as the report points out, it is members of either Burma Army controlled Border Guard Forces (BGF) such as the New Democratic Army – Kachin (NDAK), a splinter group of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) that became a BGF in 2009, or People’s Militia Forces (PMF) that are heavily involved in offensives against the KIO. Land that is taken by the Burma Army and its proxy forces is then allocated to BGFs/PMFs to utilize however they like. This is often opium cultivation, heroin production and methamphetamine production. To make matters worse these are areas under which the KIO had previously been involved in anti-drug activities but since BGFs or PMFs have taken over, opium cultivation has increased greatly in areas such as Nampaka in northern Shan State and Chipwi in Kachin State [...]

October 14, 2014 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Read more >>

“Winds of Change” Blow a Gale of Human Rights Abuses

29 September 2014 Photo By Shannon Stapleton ReutersBurma’s Foreign Minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, gave a glowing report on the progress towards democracy and respect for human rights in Burma at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) yet given the deteriorating human rights situation on the ground, it is difficult not to view his words as a North Korean-esque sting in the tail.
Wunna Maung Lwin specifically requested that Burma be taken off the agenda of the Human Rights Council as well as the Third Committee of the UNGA, citing that “all major concerns related to human rights have been addressed to a larger extent in the new Myanmar.” Yet on closer inspection, this statement is preposterous, with the realities on the ground providing a striking contrast to these words.

Remarking on the peace process, the government is apparently “serious in its commitment” to making this work. The problem is that the government and the Burma Army say and do different things. As the government is making promises to ethnic armed groups, the Burma Army is still launching offensives in Kachin State and northern Shan State. Even with groups that have a ceasefire, the Burma Army continues its aggression, as seen in Kyeithi Township, Shan State over the weekend where it attacked Shan State Army – North positions yet again. Around 300 villagers have been forced to flee in this township alone in recent months due to attacks. This is emblematic of the current state of the peace process, where too much attention has been placed on the signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement. Yet as recent clashes indicate, a ceasefire simply isn’t enough to rein in the Burma Army, and this state of affairs remains volatile, as the recent briefing paper produced by Burma Partnership explains [...]

October 7, 2014 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Read more >>

The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission Continues Failing to Deliver

Burma PartnershipA report authored by Burma Partnership and Equality Myanmar was launched on 25 September 2014 in Rangoon revealing the continuing ineffectiveness of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) as well as the lack of independence from the government. The report was launched on the same day that a reshuffle of the members of MNHRC was announced by the government, which came as a complete surprise to civil society organizations due to the lack of consultation.

Released at the Myanmar Journalists Network in Rangoon, Burma: All the President’s Men, contributed to the annual Asian NGO Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI) Report on the Performance and Establishment of National Human Rights Institutions in Asia (2014). The report analyzes the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission Law 2014 enacted in March this year (enabling law) that institutionalizes the mandate of the MNHRC. The report finds that the law does not guarantee independence from the government and in particular, the president’s office. In contravention of international standards on national human rights institutions, namely the Paris Principles, the selection process does not adequately consult with civil society. As the report points out, “It is up to the selection board to come up with procedures for short-listing candidates, yet the enabling law itself should set out the process/procedure for selection, with consultations with civil society.” The members of the MNHRC are actually chosen by a selection board of ten, five of which are from the government or are government-affiliated. The enabling law states that two members of this board are to come from civil society organizations and a further two are to be MP, yet there is no transparency regarding the procedures under which the two MPs are chosen. Additionally, the chosen civil society members to the selection board are restricted to registered civil society only, thus excluding many outspoken and critical political and human rights groups who feel they cannot register under the current climate [...]

September 30, 2014 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Read more >>

Arrest of Student on Trumped-up Charges is a Damning Indictment of Justice in Burma

15 Sept 2014 Oo Aung Facebook IrrawaddyOn 13 September 2014, police arrested female human rights defender (HRD) Phyu Hnin Htwe at her house in Patheingyi Township, Mandalay Region, and sent her to Monywa Prison, Sagaing Region, where she is currently being detained. Phyu Hnin Htwe is a second-year Burmese student at Mandalay’s Yadanabon University, and is also an activist and member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU). She has helped farmers who have been forcibly evicted to make way for the infamous Chinese-backed Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Region, going to the Letpadaung area at weekends and supporting displaced farmers.
Her arrest ostensibly relates to a murky incident that took place on 18 May of this year. Two Chinese workers – employees of Wanbao company, the main company involved in the joint venture – were seized from the Letpadaung area, taken to a monastery in Hsete Village, and held there for about 30 hours. The incident followed efforts by Wanbao employees to restart measuring plots of land for which compensation had not even been provided, in spite of villagers’ protests, thereby provoking their anger.

As a result, Phyu Hnin Htwe and six villagers were charged with kidnapping and abduction under Articles 364 and 368 of the Penal Code, which prescribe sentences of up to ten years’ imprisonment. While the case against five of the villagers was quickly dropped, charges still remain against Phyu Hnin Htwe and local villager Win Kyaw, neither of whom attended court in May [...]

September 23, 2014 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Read more >>

Karen Civil Society Rallies Around Japan’s Harmful Plans for Eastern Burma

13 September 2014 Photo By KwekaluJapan’s lofty development plans for eastern Burma were very publicly rejected by the Karen Peace Support Network (KPSN) at a press conference in Rangoon, citing lack of consultation with communities and the potential for such plans to fuel conflict. Based on a blueprint for extensive development projects produced by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the overseas development arm of the Japanese government, 28 Karen civil society organizations that form the KPSN, released a report to outline their concerns and recommendations. JICA’s blueprint, in which its main goal is to support the return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), contains four main components; economic corridors, free trade zones and industrial estates, industrial clusters, and urban development. The Japanese government has been working closely with both the Union level and State level Burmese Government in the development of this plan.

For Karen civil society, however, there are many concerns, as outlined in the report released on 9 September. Although the blueprint aims to “promote peace through development,” JICA has not conducted a conflict analysis on what is an extremely complicated and fragile context. In fact the plans could serve to exacerbate conflict by facilitating land confiscation, one of the loci of tension in the ceasefire process. Also, improving transport and road access to areas traditionally held by ethnic armed groups such as the Karen National Union (KNU), allows easy access for Burma Army soldiers to the heart of Karen areas. We must not forget the abusive nature of the Burma Army that has been terrorizing civilians for decades and continues to do so, despite a ceasefire in place. Will exposing more communities, who are already vulnerable to abuses, to the unreformed Burma Army really aid peace [...]

September 16, 2014 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Read more >>
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