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A Year of Nascent Reforms Taking Root, Challenges for Future Growth

2013 Rangoon Burma by AP2013 has been a year in which many of the nascent reforms of 2012 have begun to take root, but also one in which new challenges have emerged. In 2014, there will be many opportunities for the government of Burma to show its commitment to democratic transition.

This year saw the historic meeting of ethnic armed groups in Laiza, Kachin State, with a second due in Karen State the third week of January. Despite such important conferences, the uncertainty of the ceasefire process has had an impact on ethnic unity. After several postponements, the government is planning to hold its nationwide ceasefire in early 2014. Such a public show will not be enough to solve decades of armed conflict and ethnic inequality; the government, its Union Peace Working Committee and all ethnic armed groups must engage in a comprehensive, inclusive political dialogue with all parties on an equal footing. An independent third party mediator would help ensure that the difficult underlying issues, such as the power of the Burma Army, political power sharing between the government and ethnic nationalities, resource management, and justice for human rights abuses committed by all sides, are finally addressed and sustainable peace is achieve […]

December 20, 2013  •  Tags:  •  Read more ➤

Japan’s Opportunity to Prove Itself a Responsible Investor in Burma

Dawei beachAs Japan deepens its economic ties with Burma at the Japan-ASEAN summit in Tokyo, civil society from Tavoy, Tenasserim Region, express concerns over investing in a huge special economic zone that has already caused widespread human rights violations.

Adding to the US$867 million in loans pledged in May, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised a further US$578 million in loans for infrastructure development for the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ), as well as upgrading Burma’s railway network. Another agreement was made in which greater protections for Japanese businesses investing in Burma are established, thus creating a safer environment to explore business opportunities […]

December 16, 2013  •  By Burma Partnership  •  Tags: ,  •  Read more ➤

Burma Uses Old Tactics to Silence the People

1460213_387980038003698_211652200_nEnact a repressive law, use thugs to crackdown, arrest and imprison protesters – it’s a strategy that never gets old for the Burmese authorities.

With the ongoing implementation of such a strategy, it has become more clear than ever that Burma does not tolerate critical voices that question the acts of the government or its cronies. The country has witnessed crackdowns and widespread and systematic arrests of peaceful demonstrators and activists throughout President Thein Sein’s term in office. Many of them have been charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, as well as Section 505 (b) of the Penal Code, and the number is growing every day.

The latest crackdown came on 7 December in Michaungkan Quarter of Thingungyun Township, Rangoon, where more than 200 protestors were demanding the return of land that they claimed was confiscated by the Burma Army in 1990, the time when protesting against the military regime was out of the question. At least 8 protestors were injured as a group of men in civilian clothes armed with batons who claimed to be “cleaning workers from the army” attacked the peaceful protestors. Since the protest started on 26 November, two protest leaders have been arrested and sentenced to three months in prison each. Township authorities have told the demonstrators to disband their protest site or face forceful removal […]

December 9, 2013  •  By Burma Partnership  •  Tags: , ,  •  Read more ➤

Significant Constitutional Changes are a Must for Genuine Democracy

burma-charter-2008As the timeframe for submission to the parliamentary Joint Committee for Reviewing the Constitution enters its final month, pressure to amend this flawed document is ratcheting up. Opposition parties, ethnic armed groups, democracy activists, members of the public and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi are all voicing how imperative it is for democracy that the constitution is changed.

The 2008 Constitution, which the military regime introduced after a sham referendum in 2008, entrenches the Burma Army in positions of power, gives the state the ownership of all land in the country, and denies Burma’s ethnic nationalities equality and the right to self-determination. It also fails on grounds of inclusiveness, omitting to protect and respect the human rights of all people in Burma, regardless of race, religion or color. It is undemocratic, illegitimate and a major hurdle for progress in Burma’s reform process […]

December 2, 2013  •  By Burma Partnership  •  Tags: , , ,  •  Read more ➤

Cooperation Needed to End Violence Against Women of Burma

VAW Day Logo from COMTo mark 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 27 civil society organizations have come together to launch 16 days of action that will end on 10 December, International Human Rights Day. The campaign began with a public ceremony in Rangoon on 24 November that included games, music and other performances. Women’s groups called for cooperation from all people of Burma to help end all forms of violence against women by participating in a “white campaign”, wearing white shirts or accessories during the 16 days to raise awareness about the problem of violence against women.

In a Burmese-language statement, the Women’s League of Burma called for the people of Burma to work together to reduce the role of the military in the governance of the country and achieve sustainable peace. The statement outlined the many different forms of violence that women face on a daily basis: physical, mental, sexual, domestic and community violence, as well as violence carried out by the Burma Army, especially in ethnic nationality areas […]

November 25, 2013  •  By Burma Partnership  •  Tags: , , , , ,  •  Read more ➤

Modern Slavery in Rangoon’s Industrial Zones

0910-Myanmar-Workers-Protest_full_600On 14 November, a group of labor organizations and unions released the English language version of ‘Modern Slavery: A Study of Labour Conditions in Yangon’s Industrial Zones 2012-2013’. The Burmese language version was released in Rangoon on 30 October. Research into the abysmal living and working conditions in the main industrial zones of Rangoon, including Hlaingtharyar, was undertaken by Labor Rights Clinic, Cooperation Programme of Independent Labourers, Construction-based Labour Union and Workers Support Group, as well as other labor unions and activists who wish to remain anonymous.

The report underscores the many challenges that workers face in their daily lives. The typical basic wage is around US$25-US$37 per month, leaving workers little choice but to work an average 11 hours per day, 6 days per week, just to make ends meet. Many, who fail to earn enough to cover their monthly living expenses, turn to pay-day lenders, thereby trapping them in a vicious cycle of debt. A complex system of bonuses, as well as the need for overtime, means that any time taken for sickness or holiday, anything other than 100% punctuality, or any perceived under-performance, means that employers can dock significant amounts of workers’ monthly wages. The report also finds that sanitation and health standards are generally inadequate, that many people live in dirty overcrowded, factory-provided hostels, that women face sexual harassment traveling to and from work, and that factory supervisors are often harsh and ruthless […]

November 18, 2013  •  By Burma Partnership  •  Tags: , ,  •  Read more ➤

Investment at What Cost?

rtr3eyw0_0The re-engagement of Burma with the global, free market economy has created opportunities, hope and great potential. Yet with this re-engagement come significant pitfalls, human rights abuses and the legitimization of past abuses being two of the more serious. All foreign investment must be scrutinized and held to the highest standards in order to avoid either of the above mentioned dangers. Specifically, business ties to any cronies of the Burma Army or perpetrators of human rights abuses must not be tolerated and land confiscation associated with this increased business engagement must end.

On 7 November, 37 civil society organizations sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to update the US Specially Designated Nationals list for Burma. The list is a US Treasury Department list of individuals and companies barred from having financial or business ties to the United States. These individual and companies were barred due to their ties to the military regime, serious human rights abuses, corruption and the selling of weapons to North Korea. This list has remained basically unchanged since 2009; this is despite the ongoing corruption in the country and the very serious human rights violations that have occurred. The US itself acknowledges that the list is out of date, as evidenced by diplomatic cables leaked in 2009 where the US embassy in Rangoon noted that “many of the real perpetrators of human rights abuses or those who provide significant support to the regime are not yet targeted.” An updating of the list and a systematic way of adding and removing names are of immediate importance. To date the US government has been more concerned with establishing economic ties and a revised list could cause complications for US businesses. This is a sad state of affairs when economic interests trump basic human rights […]

November 11, 2013  •  By Burma Partnership  •  Tags: , , ,  •  Read more ➤

Nationwide Ceasefire Accord: Not the End Game

Laiza Agreement 2 Nov 2013 by JPaing/The IrrawaddyAt a historic summit in Laiza, Kachin State, 17 ethnic non-state armed groups agreed to sign the government proposed nationwide ceasefire accord on condition that political dialogue will follow. Of the armed groups who attended this conference, the Restoration Council for Shan State (RCSS) were the only group not to sign, stating that they wanted to consult with Shan political parties and civil society before agreeing.

A 13-member committee has been formed that will lead negotiations with government minister Aung Min’s peace team in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, starting on 4 November. The conditions to be negotiated with Aung Min include a guarantee that comprehensive political dialogue will be held early next year that will address the role of the Burma Army and greater autonomy for Burma’s ethnic nationalities, something for which they have been fighting for decades.

The 3-day summit was held in Laiza, a town in Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) held territory. Ethnic leaders were greeted by hundreds of supporters on the streets of the town, cheering and singing songs as various leaders arrived. It is of no surprise that ethnic armed groups garner this kind of support. As the summit was being held, Burma Army forces attacked villages in southern Kachin State, displacing around 2,000 people and causing one woman, who was already in bad health, to die while she was sheltering in a church. Burma Army soldiers reportedly opened fire as they entered the five villages under attack […]

November 4, 2013  •  By Burma Partnership  •  Tags: , , , , ,  •  Read more ➤

UN Special Rapporteur Demonstrates Ongoing Grave Human Rights Violations

QuintanaOn 24 October, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, presented his report to the United Nations General Assembly. The content of Quintana’s report demonstrates a continuing and, in some cases, a worsening of the human rights situation in Burma today, thus illustrating how imperative it is for the mandate of the Special Rapporteur to be continued.

Of particular concern for Quintana is the situation for Muslims in Burma in the wake of a number of outbreaks of violence in the past 18 months. There are currently 140,000 displaced Rohingya living in camps in Arakan State, segregated from the rest of society. Quintana also stated that the Burma government is not doing enough to address the root causes of this violence, one of which is the institutionalized discrimination against Rohingya, denying them legal status under the 1982 Citizenship Law. Another alarming situation for Quintana are the measures brought in since the violence that have placed restrictions on access to livelihoods, education and healthcare that enforced segregation has facilitated. Furthermore, Quintana expressed deep concern over the role of the authorities themselves in instigating the violence: “Allegations of gross violations since the violence erupted last June, including by state security personnel, remains unaddressed” […]

October 28, 2013  •  By Burma Partnership  •  Tags: , , , , ,  •  Read more ➤

“Cool Heads” Needed as Bombings Tear Through Burma

Traders bomb Oct 2013 by The IndependentA string of bombings around Burma have rocked the country, killing three and injuring at least 10 people. Arrests were made on 18 October, with police stating that those behind these attacks were Karen businessmen trying to deter foreign investment in resource rich Karen State. Despite this, there is still much debate as to the true perpetrators and their motives.

On 11 October, the first serious explosion occurred in Taungoo, Pegu Division, killing two. On 13 October, two bombs exploded in northern Rangoon, causing damage but injuring no one. Further explosive devices were found in restaurants in Rangoon and Mandalay on 14October which were detonated in controlled explosions by the police. Later in the same evening, a bomb exploded in a room of Rangoon’s Traders Hotel, injuring an American woman. Traders Hotel is one of the best known and upmarket hotels in the country, and is popular with both foreign and domestic tourists. On the night of 16 October and the morning of 17 October, three bombs more were detonated in Namhkam, Shan State, killing one person and injuring several more […]

October 21, 2013  •  By Burma Partnership  •  Tags: ,  •  Read more ➤