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HUMAN RIGHTS DAY | Exiled Burmese student activist wants to go home

Originally appeared in Bernard Testa

December 10, 2014

MANILA, Philippines — Khin Ohmar was a student activist in the 8888 Movement that the Myanmar military crushed more than 25 years ago. She has left the country as an exile and now holds dual citizenship, carrying an American passport.

(Myanmar is the name the military government gives the country used to be known as Burma.)

Ohmar, who was in the Philippines to attend an international conference on human rights defenders, told InterAksyon.com she wants to return — if the Myanmar military will allow her.

She hopes that the current reforms in government will allow the approval of her visa application so that she return and continue her advocacy work for freedom and human rights.

Her application has been pending for the last 10 years.

“It was a first step. I was removed from the blacklist two years ago. I have dual citizenship. I applied for a visa but not getting it right now,” she said.

“For people like us, advocates (in exile), Burma symbolizes struggle for freedom.”

Military rule and human rights situation

Ohmar conceded that for the past four years, the Myanmar military has undertaken some reforms. But in the areas of “human rights, it is getting worse,” she said.

The military rules Myanmar, Ohmar said. But “many people don’t see this: The current home affairs and foreign affairs and two others are still in military service in concurrent position.”

Over the last two years, at least 1,000 arrests have been documented over the last two years. Some of those arrested were sentenced to prison.

Added to this is a lot of land grabbing.

“Political and economic power is in the hands military,” she said.

Still, she wants to return. “No matter what the military’s intention in their openness, we saw it as an opportunity to continue to work (inside Burma).”

2015 elections

Another election is scheduled next year, and already, 5 million have signed up seeking to change the constitution so that there can be real democracy. The Myanmar constitution allots a substantial amount of seats for the military.

Unless there is drastic change in political landscape, particularly in the quasi-civilian military-led government, there can be no real democracy, Ohmar said.

The military junta’s vision for the country is not democracy, she added.

Her vision of genuine representation and the military’s present “two different visions. It is getting nowhere.”

After US President Barack Obama’s visit in Myanmar, the military through the commander in chief already said in public that the constitution will not be amended.

This means that: “there is no way Aung San Suu Kyi can become a president. There is no way the democratic opposition can have a significant chance of winning in next year’s election.”

Activists in exile

“People like us want to come back to the country and contribute to country’s change and have the chance to be a part of that.”

Sensing a long battle, she started to connect with other advocates. A result: Four million people, including monks, signed a petition petition addressed to the parliament to repeal the religious conversion law.

“(The law) will pit people against people. It says no Buddhist men or women can marry another men or women without converting to their religion and with the approval of the government.”

She said the law “is politically motivated, a divide and rule tactic.”

“They are just military people, trained as soldiers to fight their people, especially launching attacks on ethnic minority armies fighting for self-determination, so we have 60 years of civil war. They are not even politicians.”

The government launched military attacks in Kachin state in 2011 and caused the displacement of 100,000 people, she said.

After Obama’s visit, “The US army is already assisting the Burmese army, has a plan to engage the army against ethnic armies. But we argue with the US (not to support the Burmese army) because the main perpetrator in the killing of people and tortures is the current reform government.”

The current “civilian” government has no power over the military, because the army’s supremacy is embodied because in the Burmese constitution.

4 plans

Here, she lists four things she wants to do once she’s back in her country:

1. Help strengthen the civil society to have a check and balance with the government.

2. Ally with human rights advocates in terms of use of networks and institution such as the United Nations and other groups.

3. Empower Burmese women to engage in politics against the male-dominated, military government.

4. Advance the idea of ethnic equality.

She said she will fight for her ethnic brothers and sisters, whether they are Kachin, Kayah, Karin, Chin, Mon, or Shan.

“I will not stop, I will be a human rights activist forever.”

Although she believes she is safe when she returns to her country, “if the authorities are going to be very nasty, really hate, silence me, they can do anything. You can rely on no law. But I’m not scared.”

“If they will not give me a visa, I will continue to struggle with them outside the country. I will never stop. (The people) can count on me.”

 

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