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Burma protesters confront UN leader in Bangkok

Originally appeared in Mizzima

October 27, 2010

Several dozen refugees and migrant workers from Burma defied threats of arrest and deportation to confront UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during his brief visit to the Thai capital yesterday.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (left) speaks to the press alongside Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at Government House during his brief visit to Bangkok on Tuesday, October 26, 2010. Burma exiles were angered by the secretary general’s ‘inaction’ on Burma and the United Nations’ perceived ambivalence towards refugees and migrant workers living in Thailand.

The Burma exiles were angered by what they termed the secretary general’s lack of action on Burma and the United Nations’ perceived lack of interest in refugees and migrant workers living in Thailand.

The protesters gathered at the UN’s regional complex in Bangkok, next to a larger group of pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) or “red shirts” who were demanding that the UN takes steps to solve Thailand’s political deadlock.

In 2008, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was found guilty in a Thai court of corruption and sentenced in absentia to two years in jail. He remains a fugitive.

All who demonstrated did so despite a police ban that outlawed such gatherings during Ban’s visit.

Khin Omar from the campaign group Burma Partnership told Mizzima that Ban’s performance on the Burma file was dreadful: “It is long past time for Ban Ki-moon to stop expressing concern and actually do something.”

As predicted, Ban chose to use his press conference at Government House, Bangkok, to state his concern about the controversial upcoming national elections in Burma. Even so, he still sent a positive message to the regime, telling reporters that “it’s not too late, even now, to make this election more inclusive”.

According to Khin Omar, many people from Burma are appalled by what they see as Ban’s deliberate attempts to downplay the continuing human rights abuses committed by the military regime and the fact that post-election regime was clearly going to be an undemocratic fiasco.

The long-time women’s rights activist pointed to a report Ban had delivered to the UN General Assembly last month on the subject of human rights in Burma that covered August last year to August this year as just the latest example of Ban’s failure to understand what was happening in Burma.

She was “particularly concerned” that in his writing the report, the secretary general and his staff chose to ignore the huge number of rights abuses committed in ethnic areas by the regime including last year’s August-September offensive in the Kokang region or the increased violence in eastern Burma’s Karen state.

Khin Omar also said she was disappointed but hardly surprised that Ban had also failed in his report to make any mention of the recommendations made earlier this year by the UN special envoy on the situation of human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, in which he suggested that the regime may have committed crimes against humanity and the UN should establish a commission of inquiry to investigate this matter.

On Monday, a coalition of three rights and labour organisations based in Thailand, released a joint statement calling for Ban “to instruct related UN agencies to urgently investigate allegations of abuse committed against migrants deported” from Thailand to Burma.

The statement by the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC), the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC) and the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) also called on Ban to personally “intervene to prevent further abuse” of those deported from Burma.

In an interview that aired on the Burmese-language broadcast of Voice of America yesterday morning, Hseng Htay, of the HRDF’s Migrant Justice Programme outlined his organisations concern about the deteriorating situation for migrant workers and undocumented people from Burma living in Thailand.

The foundation’s concerns about depurations to Burma were very real as many refugees and migrants workers from Burma were deported on a regular basis. It said many of those deported to Burma who had later re-entered Thailand spoke of being handed over by the Thai authorities to the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), when they were given the chance to pay for their freedom, or if unable to afford it, handed over to Burmese military authorities for severe punishment and an uncertain fate.

In Mae Sot and other border towns in Thailand, Mizzima has spoken to many migrants who had barely survived their depuration to Burma. Often they speak of vain attempts to contact the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) only to be told to go away or hung up on by UNHCR staff who claimed they were unable to do anything for them.

Thiha Yarzar, a veteran of the 1988 Burmese pro-democracy movement who spent nearly 18 years in some of Burma’s worst prisons had few good things to say about the UNHCR. The Mae Sot-based activist whose story has featured on Al Jazeera, DVB, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and Time magazine reports told of being humiliated by the UN agency mandated to assist refugees.

The respected activist told Mizzima: “I’ve gone to the UNHCR office in Mae Sot 14 times, always with my documentation showing that I’m a former political prisoner, and each time they said they couldn’t help me. They usually don’t even let me in the building.”

Thiha Yarzar acknowledged that the UN body was restricted by what it could do because Thailand had failed to sign or ratify the UN refugee convention of 1951 but asked: “If the UNHCR is really so limited in what it can do for refugees in Thailand, why don’t they do something about this? Why do they give such glowing and misleading reports about their activities? It’s really quite insulting to be told to go away 14 times by an agency that claims to help refugees.”

View the original article here.

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