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Activists Demand Real Change in Burma Rather than the Regime’s “Charm Offensive”

By Burma Partnership  •  September 26, 2011

In September 2007, the world witnessed Burma regime’s violent crackdown on the thousands of monks and people from Burma peacefully demonstrating for change in Burma. Four years later, 2,000 political prisoners including 222 monks remain behind bars. Those responsible for the brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in 2007 are still in power behind a democratic façade thanks to the sham elections in 2010. They continue to run the country with impunity, free to continue committing serious human rights violations, especially in ethnic areas.

To remember those who sacrificed their lives for their country and to remind the world to keep an eye on what’s happening in Burma, as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi asked this week, groups inside Burma and around the world are hosting events calling on the international community to maintain pressure on Burma’s regime until it carries out genuine democratic transition, beginning with the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and bringing an end to impunity for human rights abusers.

People already gathered in Washington, DC, and Buffalo, NY, in the United States, and in New Delhi, India. Today, around 200 people led by former NLD member Naw Ohn Hla were stopped by authorities as they tried to march to Sule Pagoda in Rangoon in commemoration of the anniversary. Activists in the UK have also organized a demonstration in front of Burma’s embassy in London. Tomorrow, groups will commemorate the Saffron Revolution in Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Jakarta, and the Philippines. Later in the week, a candle light vigil will take place in Seattle, USA (the full list of events and multimedia coverage is available here).

For the past few months, Burma’s regime has been trying to win over the international community by organizing meetings with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, inviting UN Special Rapporteur Tomás Ojea Quintana to visit the country, and most recently unblocking several foreign publications and websites. The regime has orchestrated these superficially positive developments as part of a “charm offensive,” trying to deceive the world into believing that change is happening in Burma. However, these developments are little more than window dressing and do not amount to genuine democratic progress, especially considering ongoing civil war raging in many ethnic areas of Burma.

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated in his report, dated 5 August 2011, to the 66th General Assembly on the Situation of Human Rights in [Burma], “the detention of all remaining political prisoners will continue to overshadow and undermine any confidence in the Government’s efforts.” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also recently publicly said that “we hope that we are going to see signs of real change very soon. There had been a lot of talk about change but people want to see concrete signs.”

United Nations’ Member States will soon gather in New York to discuss the UN General Assembly Resolution on the situation of Human Rights in Burma. It is imperative that they recognize that the steps made by the regime in recent weeks have not addressed the serious human rights violations nor the ongoing armed conflict in Burma. The people of Burma and their supporters around the world are highlighting the urgent need for real change in Burma. We can no longer “wait and see” what will come next in the regime’s public relations games. Coordinator of Altsean-Burma and member of Burma Partnership’s working group, Debbie Stothard said, “These 3 words of ‘wait and see’ is the death sentence for the ethnic people of Burma.”

The international community must require the regime to do more than merely holding meetings with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The regime needs to show a true willingness for democratic transition, starting with the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and ending impunity for human rights abusers. Only when these steps are taken will we be convinced that Burma has begun a genuine democratic transition.

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