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Small Concessions From Naypyidaw Must Not Overshadow Increasing Number of Human Rights Abuses

By Burma Partnership  •  November 8, 2011

A year after the flawed election of 2010 in Burma, it is time to take stock of where the country stands. The regime might have taken some positive actions, including suspending the Myitsone Dam in Kachin State, releasing some political prisoners, and most recently making changes to the political party registration laws that would allow the NLD to officially register. But this year was also marked by a dramatic increase in the number of human rights abuses being committed, especially in ethnic areas. Regional civil society and exiled activists from Burma based on the Thai-Burma border gathered today in Jakarta to remind ASEAN and the international community of this outrageous reality. Some small concessions may have been made by Naypyidaw, but these have not affected the majority of Burma’s civilian population, especially ethnic nationalities.

In the morning public hearing on human rights abuses in Burma, victims and regional civil society members provided evidence of human rights abuses currently taking place in ethnic areas of the country that likely rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The audience heard testimonies of women gang raped and imprisoned by soldiers, children forcibly recruited to serve in the Burma Army, a former political prisoner tortured for more than 6 months, a Karen activist whose father was shot and who had to flee his village after the Burma Army burnt it down, a man who was forced to carry and bury dead bodies for the Burma Army, men used as human minesweepers and, when injured by landmines, were left to die in the jungle and many other reports of human rights abuses happening on a daily basis since the elections one year ago today.

The hearing was conducted before a panel of experts comprised of Mr. Nurkholis, Vice-Chair of the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission, Komnas HAM; Dr. Decha Tangseefa Lecturer in Political Science at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand; and Ms. Wathshlah G. Naidu, a Malaysian women’s rights activist with the International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific.

In the afternoon, the panel of experts called on the regime to immediately put an end to the war crimes occurring in ethnic areas of the country, on ASEAN bodies to conduct studies into the situation in the country and on the international community to establish a Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes. Later in the day, individuals from Burma, joined by former general Agus Widjojo, Chairman of the National Institute for Democratic Governance, and Indonesian MP Eva Kusuma Sundari, President of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, discussed the way forward for Burma and an exploration of the steps that need to be taken for Burma to transition to a democracy that is respectful of human rights.

These two events took place at a very crucial time when the international community seems to have decided that the minor actions taken by the regime have been sufficient to justify a shift in their approach to, and discourse about, Burma and to improve their relationship with the regime.

In less than 2 weeks, ASEAN is expected to announce a decision on Burma’s bid to chair the regional bloc in 2014. Panellists and organizers of the event called on ASEAN to postpone their decision until measurable progress is made towards ending these human rights abuses. As Mr. Nurkholis stated this morning, “As the ASEAN community, we have no choice but respond to the Burma situation.”

Despite the increased number of crimes, once again, this year’s draft United Nations General Assembly resolution on human rights in Burma, does not include the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes. It is extremely disappointing that no practical steps have yet been taken by the international community to prevent these abuses from continuing to happen.

This week, the US decided to enter into regular dialogue with the regime, with Derek Mitchell making a third visit to the country in less than two months. Furthermore, the United Nations Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Burma, Vijay Nambiar, failed to mention in his statement ending his trip to the country that there is ongoing armed conflict and human rights abuses occurring in eastern part of the country.

The international community should not allow the minor changes that have happened in Naypidaw and Rangoon over the past year overshadow the increasing number of human rights abuses and crimes committed at the same time by the regime. Addressing these international crimes is crucial for real democratic transition to take place in Burma.

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