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Freedom House Urges Secretary Clinton to Push for Genuine Political Transformation in Burma

By Freedom House  •  November 29, 2011

In advance of the first visit by a United States Secretary of State to Burma in 50 years, Freedom House urges Secretary Hillary Clinton to seize this critical moment and push for greater human rights and democratic reforms in the country.

Secretary Clinton’s visit, scheduled to begin December 1, comes at a time when the Burmese regime has taken some steps to loosen its repressive grip on political life.  Since the 2010 elections, which nominally replaced the military government with a civilian one, the Burmese regime has implemented a series of modest democratic reforms including releasing approximately 200 political prisoners and amending the political party registration law to allow the National League for Democracy (NLD) to register as an official party, and for its leader Aung San Suu Kyi to contest the upcoming elections.  Last month, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9U_BMyqaaaE> Freedom House’s Freedom Award for her decades-long struggle to bring democratic rule to Burma.

“There is no denying that there have been some positive developments recently, but the United States and the international community must press to ensure that these reforms are real, substantive, and sustained over time,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “Secretary Clinton should use this unprecedented visit to urge President Thein Sein to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners, start a meaningful political dialogue with representatives from the democratic opposition and ethnic groups that will foster genuine national reconciliation, and establish a system of governance that upholds democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.”

Despite the apparent political transformation from a military dictatorship, the civilian-led government is still dominated by ex-generals and supported by the military which maintains veto powers. Significant human rights violations continue, and it is estimated that there are more than 1,000 political prisoners still incarcerated. During the past several months there has been an escalation in human rights violations committed by the Burmese military in ethnic minority areas, resulting in an unprecedented number of internally displaced persons, renewed armed conflict with three separate groups in Kachin and Shan States, an increase in the use of rape as an instrument of war, the use of civilians as human shields, and forced labor.

“While Burmese officials are signaling their new-found interest in an eventual democratic transition, the regime also has a long track record of ‘bait and switch,’ said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, director for Southeast Asia Programs at Freedom House. “The Burmese regime is not above manipulating and politicizing high-level visits in its favor and it will be incumbent on the international community to monitor developments to ensure that a genuine democratic transition takes place in the country.” Burma is also slated to chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014.

Considered by Freedom House to be one of the world’s worst human rights abusers<http://www.freedomhouse.org/uploads/special_report/101.pdf>, Burma is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House’s annual global assessment of political rights and civil liberties and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011.

Contact:  Mary McGuire<mailto:mcguire@freedomhouse.org> in Washington, +1-202-747-7035

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