The ongoing dispute between local villagers and the Burma Government and Wanbao, a Chinese mining company, over land grabs and environmental damage continues to rumble on as police shot dead Daw Khin Win as she was demonstrating against the controversial Letpadaung mining project in Sagaing Region. Meanwhile, the police continue to arrest and detain activists who speak out against such violence on politically motivated charges, underlining the dire need for legal and judicial reform and the complete lack of the rule of law in Burma […]January 12, 2015 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: Arbitrary Detention, Burma Army, Burma Government, Burma Partnership, Chinese, Judiciary, Khin Win, Legal Reform, Letpadaung Copper Mine, National Reconciliation, Norico, Sagaing Region, Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd., Wanbao Mining Ltd. | Read more >>
After the 2010 elections and during the early days of the reform process, President U Thein Sein’s Government invited Burma/Myanmar diaspora communities, including exiled activists and political forces from different parts of the world who left the country for various reasons, to return to their motherland […]December 18, 2014 | By Burma Partnership and Assistance Association for Political Prisoners and Equality Myanmar | Tags: Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, Burma Partnership, Diaspora, Equality Myanmar, Exiled, National Registration Card, President Thein Sein, United Nations General Assembly | Read more >>
As we count down the remaining days of 2014, Burma Partnership takes a look back at what 2014 has offered. It has been nearly four years since President Thein Sein’s administration took office, and now is the time to digest all the developments during his presidency, to assess what the so-called reform process has really meant for the people of Burma thus far. And now is the time to properly examine this new political landscape and to determine who is who.
By the time the reforms were announced, everything was already set in motion to ensure that the reform process was controlled and manipulated by members of the old military regime. Looking at the notorious 2008 Constitution, the institutionalized prescription of 25 per cent of the seats in Parliament for military representatives, the dominance of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, the excessive power of the Burma Army and the National Defense and Security Council, and the growing investment of the State and affiliated business cronies in the media sector, it is not hard to conclude that a new system of repressive governance has been installed – by the same people who were once considered one of the most brutal and authoritarian regimes in the world.
However, it is important to remain hopeful. Although the new political landscape has contributed to the sophistication of old problems and the development of new problems, it has also offered Burma people new opportunities. One of the most inspiring aspects of the political developments in 2014 has been the reinstatement of the role of student unions in the country’s political affairs. Burma’s students were always at the center of major democracy movements throughout history – most notably in 1988 – and have now made a comeback. […]December 17, 2014 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: 2008 Constitution, Action Committee for Democratic Education, All Burma Federation of Students’ Unions, Burma Army, Burma Government, Burma Parliament, Burma Partnership, National Defense and Security Council, National Education Bill, President Thein Sein, students, Union Solidarity and Development Party | Read more >>
The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) once again proved the futility of its existence with a deeply unsatisfactory investigation into the murder of journalist Aung Kyaw Naing, a.k.a. Ko Par Gyi by the Burma Army. Rather than providing meaningful avenues for redress for the victim and his family, the investigation report serves to act as a cover for the Burma Army, which is continuing to commit such human rights abuses throughout Burma’s ethnic areas.
Ko Par Gyi was a freelance journalist covering the conflict between the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) and the Burma Army when he was taken into military custody. Five days later he was tortured before being shot to death. The marks of torture were obvious to Ma Thandar, Ko Par Gyi’s wife, when she viewed the dead body. After calls from human rights groups as well as the US State Department, for an independent investigation, President Thein Sein consequently asked the MNHRC to conduct an investigation, the results of which were released on 2 December 2014.
The MNRHC investigation report, however, does not address the key issues surrounding this case, is full of inconsistencies, and does not include key pieces of evidence. It does not provide any explanation of the signs of torture that were clear on his body. The report claims that there had been a fight in which the gun had gone off; however, according to forensic experts that Ko Par Gyi’s wife has spoken to, he had been shot five times, one of which was point blank through the chin, implying that he had been shot four times before being killed. […]December 9, 2014 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: Burma Army, Burma Partnership, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, Extrajudicial Killing, Human Rights Violations, Klohtoobaw Karen Organization, Ko Par Gyi aka Aung Kyaw Naing, Myanmar National Human Rights Commission | Read more >>
Despite repeated calls from the international community, governments and civil society for an immediate halt to hostilities in Kachin and northern Shan State, on 19 November, 2014 the Burma Army fired several artillery missiles as “warning shots” onto the Kachin Independent Army’s (KIA) training academy in Laiza, Kachin State, killing 23 cadets and seriously injuring 20 others. Laiza is not only the KIA’s strong-hold. It is a city with over 20,000 civilians and a host to over 17,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Just days after the killing in Laiza, the Burma Army began firing shells near IDP camps. Some of the shells landed near a boarding school housing about 1,000 IDP children. These subsequent attacks near the camps threatened the lives of over 10,000 IDPs and raised much anxiety among the most vulnerable communities who have continuously fled the conflict. Fortunately, no one was hurt in these attacks, but many of the IDPs were forced to flee again in terror to the nearby jungle.
The narrative of “reform” and the sweeping political changes that have been praised and funded by the international community is quickly coming apart at the seams. While the Burma Government continues to use its rhetoric of change and democracy to encourage international governments, donors and investors to continue funding the peace process and development projects, they made one of the most deadly targeted attacks in Kachin State since the ceasefire broke down in 2011. This attack raised serious doubts among the ethnic groups who have threatened to abandon talks aimed at achieving a nationwide ceasefire accord. These talks, ongoing for nearly two years, have proved to be thus far redundant, as the Burma Army obviously has no other goal than the elimination of all ethnic armed groups without committing to any genuine, structural reforms. […]December 2, 2014 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: Burma Army, Burma Government, Burma Partnership, Civil Society Organizations, Crimes against humanity, Fortify Rights, IDPs, International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, Kachin Independence Army, Myanmar Peace Center, Peace Process, President Thein Sein, United Nations, US Embassy Rangoon, War Crimes, Women's League of Burma | Read more >>
On 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 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: 2008 Constitution, Bureau of Special Operations, Burma Army, Burma Partnership, Crimes against humanity, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Human Rights Violations, International Criminal Court, International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, Kachin, Karen State, Ko Par Gyi aka Aung Kyaw Naing, Ministry of Home Affairs, National Human Rights Commission, Peace Process, Shan | Read more >>
The 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 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: 2008 Constitution, Burma Army, Burma Government, Burma Partnership, Dawei Development Association, Dawei Special Economic Zone, Environment, Farmers, Human Rights Foundation of Monland, Karen Human Rights Group, Land Confiscation, Land Law, Livelihood, National Land Use Policy, Thailand, Transnational Institute | Read more >>
News 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 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: 2008 Constitution, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners - Burma, Border Guard Force, Burma Army, Burma Partnership, civil society organisations, Committee to Protect Journalists, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, Extrajudicial Killing, Human Rights Violations, Journalists, Klohtoobaw Karen Organization, Ko Par Gyi aka Aung Kyaw Naing, Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, Myanmar Press Council (Interim), UN General Assembly | Read more >>
The 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 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: Burma Army, Burma Government, Burma Partnership, Civil Society Organizations, Democracy, Human Rights Violations, Investment, Laws, Media, Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, Paris Principles, Parliament, Peace Process, Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law, Transition, Violence | Read more >>
Burma’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 | By Burma Partnership | Tags: Arakan/Rakhine, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners - Burma, Burma Army, Burma Government, Burma Partnership, EU, Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, Human Rights Violations, IDPs, Muslims, Rohingyas, Shan State, UN General Assembly, United Nations Human Rights Council, US | Read more >>