Right thinking must lead to action on Burma

31 March 2008

Special to Globe and Mail Update
March 27, 2008 at 8:10 PM EDT
[Source - Globe and Mail]

It was Hannah Arendt who wrote that "Under conditions of tyranny, it is easier to act than to think." While none would accuse Burma's Saffron Revolution of being unthinking, the sense of those words hold true. There is a time when thoughts must give way to action.

Yet, just as this notion holds truth, so too does its reverse. That is to say, without the conditions of tyranny, it is easier to think than to act. This appears to be the position of many around the world, who have the privilege of remaining disengaged while seeing images of violence at a distance.

The historic events that continue unfold in Burma today, evolving from peaceful demonstrations late last year, have been detailed in a new report "Bullets in the Alms Bowl," produced by the Human Rights Documentation Unit of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, the country's government in exile.

No one can read this report and not feel their very humanity challenged by the presence of the brutality it documents. No one can say, "We were unaware." No one has an excuse not to act.

In asking for peace and dialogue toward a political settlement of the problems confronting this country, members of Burma's Buddhist community, the Sangha, have spoken for all their country and touched the whole world. They have galvanized world opinion and spoken to the very soul of our global community. All must hear them.

All must hear how the Burmese military government suppressed a peaceful movement centred on monks, a movement that carried no weapons but the firmness of convictions and courage.

The HRDU report documents the murders, the tortures, the late-night abductions, the house detentions, the arrest of family members of accused demonstrators, the list of actions designed to break the population, to discredit their agendas and to hold an ever tenuous grip on power.

There are given names, dates and times. Personal experiences are painstakingly unfolded. The gaps left by the dead, the detained, the damaged and the broken are poignantly identified.

The struggle of the Sangha and the Saffron Revolution is imbued with the deepest, resonant significance. Here is an outbreak of peace in the face of so much violence, an embodiment of hope in the face of hopelessness, a surge of spiritual values at a time of the most crushing assault on the human heart.

The world cannot ignore these cries and still maintain its sense of dignity and trust, nor can we as the world family maintain our hold on truth and freedom if Burma's peoples continue to be so ill-treated and oppressed.

In Burma, as in South Africa near the end of the apartheid era, a moment has arrived. It is a moment when the clock stops ticking, when the air stops moving, where sound is muffled, and where the mind stops spinning. This is a moment of clarity, a moment when the uncertainty of daily life disappears and a clear message overwhelms the senses. A moment when history stands still, awaiting the inevitable truth.

It is our duty, and that of the global community, to ensure that this moment is not lost. This is not a time for empty politics or grandiose schemes designed to divert the attention and reverse the momentum.

There are roles here for the United Nations (especially as another visit by its special envoy comes and goes without result), for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for specific countries such as China, India and the United States — for all interested in promoting the rule of law and human rights for all. The NCGUB has detailed these agendas and will continue to articulate them.

The Free Burma movement is not in victim mode, nor are we devoid of intent. Our goal is clear. But we cannot work alone and we call on the global community to read this report and to ensure that what it documents is consigned to Burma's past, not allowed to be a template for the future.

This is a time to realize our hopes and enact our dreams, for an oppressed Burma rests on all our shoulders, challenging and burdening the world. This is the time for a free Burma to be reborn, on the foundation of peace and forgiveness laid by its Sangha.

It is indeed Burma's moment. But it is also one for all peoples.

Dr. Thaung Htun is the representative for United Nations affairs with the Burma UN Service Office, National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma.


Slain Karen leader: Rebel effort is self defense

By Anna Sussman
[Source - CNN]

A Myanmar rebel leader killed in February said that his group is fighting for the preservation of the ethnic Karen minority, and for greater freedom throughout the southeast Asian nation.

Pa Doh Mahn Sha, the secretary-general of the Karen National Union (KNU), spoke in an interview three weeks before his death. He talked about his group's battle against Myanmar's military government.

"Our struggle is to protect ourselves from the military regime," he said. "They always attack our villages, burn down our villages, burn our food supplies. We want to stop fighting but we have no choice."

The government of Myanmar has blamed the KNU for waging attacks to destabilize the military junta.

Mahn Sha was shot and killed at his home in Thailand on February 14, a KNU official said. During one of the last interviews Mahn Sha granted to international journalists, he posed in front of the Karen national flag hanging in his living room, and talked about the future of the Karen people and the KNU's fight for autonomy.

He said the KNU's fighters would continue to battle the military junta in self-defense. "Our struggle is the same struggle as the monks who protested in September, the same struggle as [pro-democracy activist] Aung San Suu Kyi," he said. "Only in a different form, ours is a violent struggle, and we cannot give up until we have won."

The 64-year-old Mahn Sha was shot and killed in Mae Sot, Thailand, just across the border from Myanmar, a KNU official said. As Thai police investigate his killing, speculation has varied on how the Karen leader was killed.

There have been suggestions the killing may have been the result of internal differences within the rebel group. But some Karen blame Myanmar's military junta. The government has not commented.

The killing came just days after Myanmar announced plans for a referendum on a new constitution, to be followed by a general election in 2010 as part of its "road map to democracy." The plan has been denounced by pro-democracy opposition leaders.

A charismatic leader mourned

Mahn Sha was the KNU's third in command, but widely respected as the group's acting leader, said KNU Foreign Affairs spokesperson David Taw. His death is viewed by many as a major setback for the already struggling resistance movement.

"Mahn Sha [was] the strong guiding light," said Oscar Baaye, an ethnic Karen from the United States who was living with Mahn Sha prior to the rebel leader's death.

Mahn Sha had been described as a skilled mediator between different Karen factions, as well as other ethnic groups in the region and those working for democracy in Myanmar.

"Mahn Sha's assassination was a blow to the entire democracy process," said Aung Zaw, editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. "A lot of people saw him as a potential figure to work on national reconciliation. He was able to connect the Karen struggle to the bigger picture," he said.

"He built bridges between all groups, that was one of his strengths," said Phil Thornton, author of Restless Souls, who has been reporting on the Karen for seven years and lives in Mae Sot.

Young Karen, in particular, said they felt inspired by Mahn Sha's approach to the democracy movement in Myanmar. "He had a very clear vision of our struggle," said Nicky Zaw, who attended Mahn Sha's funeral.

Dwindling numbers

The KNU's military, a ragtag group of soldiers who often wield World War II weaponry, has come under criticism, accused of recruiting child soldiers and carrying on what many have called an unwinnable war in civilian-occupied territory. The KNU has denied using child soldiers.

In his interview, Mahn Sha said that the KNU had the support and backing of the villagers who are caught in the middle of this conflict.

"The military regime might have big numbers, but they don't have the support of the people," he said, claiming that for every KNU soldier there are at least 25 government soldiers. "We can protect them because we have their support," he said.

Still, humanitarian groups such as the Free Burma Rangers regularly report attacks in Karen villages by the military regime carrying out counterinsurgency operations. Thousands have fled the fighting.

Prior to his death, Mahn Sha had just returned from a Karen Unity Seminar, in which Karen from around the world gathered at a secret headquarters in Myanmar to discuss the future of their movement and their people.

The KNU has been fighting the government of Myanmar for about 60 years, since shortly after the departure of the British from the country then known as Burma in 1948. It is one of the world's longest-running insurgencies.

But during the past decade, their troop numbers have dwindled from 20,000 to a mere 4,000, said David Taw. The KNU has suffered huge losses as members tire of war and resettle in places such as Europe and the United States, he said.

The group also still suffers from crippling infighting and another splinter group, a faction commonly called the Karen National Union Peace Council, recently broke ranks to sign a peace agreement with the government of Myanmar-- like many other groups.

While KNU leaders have been clear that they will continue their battle against Myanmar's military regime, they say the loss of Mahn Sha was a huge blow for the movement.

At Mahn Sha's funeral, more than 1,000 mourners gathered in the jungle inside Myanmar, including representatives from nearly every regional ethnic group and Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party.


Asia’s Growing Buddhist Activism

[Source - Irrawaddy]

Tibetan monks hurling rocks in bloody protests against the Chinese and even Buddhist clergy peacefully massing against Burma’s military can strike jarring notes.

These scenes run counter to Buddhism’s philosophy of shunning politics and espousing loving-kindness toward even bitter enemies which the faith has adhered to—with some tumultuous exceptions—through the 2,500 years of its history.

But political activism and occasional eruptions of violence have become increasingly common in Asia’s Buddhist societies as they variously struggle against foreign domination, oppressive regimes, social injustice and even climate change.

The change has seen more monks and nuns moving out of the seclusion of their monasteries and into slums and rice paddies—and sometimes into streets filled with tear gas and gunfire.

“In modern times, preaching is not enough. Monks must act to improve society, to remove evil,” says Samdhong Rinpoche, prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile and a high-ranking lama.

“There is the responsibility of every individual, monks and lay people, to act for the betterment of society,” he told The Associated Press in Dharamsala, India, discussing protests, initiated by monks, in Tibet’s ancient capital of Lhasa and elsewhere this month.

In widespread protests over the past three weeks, angry crimson-robed monks—some charging helmeted troops and throwing rocks—have joined with ordinary citizens who unfurled Tibetan flags and demanded independence from China. Beijing’s official death toll from the rioting in Lhasa is 22, but the exiled government of the Dalai Lama says 140 Tibetans were killed there and in Tibetan communities in western China.

Bloodshed also stained last fall’s pro-democracy uprising in Burma, dubbed the “Saffron Revolution” after the color of the robes of monks who led nonviolent protests against the country's oppressive military regime.

In Thailand, the Dharma Army, followers of a Buddhist sect, took part in street demonstrations which led to the ouster of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra two years ago.

In Sri Lanka, the ultra-nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya party, led by monks, has pushed for use of brute force against the country’s Tamil rebels. Buddhist involvement in politics is nothing new in Sri Lanka—in 1959 a monk assassinated Prime Minister S.W. Bandaranaike amid public protests against a law that gave some protection to the Tamil language.

Indeed, the activism by monks reflects another side of Buddhist history. Despite the faith’s image of passivity, an aggressive strain has long existed, especially in the Mahayana school of Buddhism, practiced in Japan, Korea, China and Tibet.

Monks in Japan, the sohei, fought pitched battles with one another and secular clans for over 600 years until around 1600. China’s Shaolin Temple, a martial arts center to this day, was allowed to retain warrior monks from the 7th century by emperors who sometimes called on their services to put down rebellions and banditry.

In more recent times, the monk Saya San became a national hero in the 1930s in Burma by leading a revolt against the British colonials who hanged him after fielding 12,000 troops to suppress his peasant army.

The self-immolation of monk Thich Quang Duc in the streets of Saigon became one of the iconic images of protest against the Vietnam War.

Before China’s take-over of Tibet in 1959, warrior monks sometimes wielded more power—and weaponry—than the army. Lhasa’s Sera monastery, one of the hotbeds of the recent protests, was particularly noted for its elite fighters, the “dob dobs,” who in 1947 took part in a rebellion that took 300 lives.

“Use peaceful means where they are appropriate, but where they are not appropriate, do not hesitate to resort to more forceful means,” said the previous, now deceased Dalai Lama when Tibet fought the Chinese in the 1930s.

But Christopher Queen, an expert on Buddhism at Harvard University, noted that the new Buddhist activism also means some among the world’s 350 million faithful are expanding the traditional focus on individual spiritual liberation to attack problems that affect whole communities or nations such as poverty and the destruction of the environment.

Examples include Sri Lanka’s Sarvodaya Shramadana, or “Mundane Awakening,” movement which provides everything from safe drinking water to basic housing in more than 11,000 poor villages, and Buddhist groups in India that are fighting for the rights of “the untouchables,” or outcasts.

Loosely affiliated but global, originating at the grass roots rather than atop religious hierarchies and more muscular than meditative, this movement is widely known as Engaged Buddhism.

“Engaged Buddhists are looking at the social, economic, and political causes of human misery in the world and organizing to address them. The role of social service and activism is clearly growing in all parts of the Buddhist world,” Queen said in an interview.

Given the religion’s deeply rooted peaceful doctrine, scholars are doubtful that the new activism will spill over into terrorism or violence other than occasional spontaneous outbursts.

While not immune to spilling blood, Queen says “the Buddhist tradition is rightly known for the systematic practice of nonviolence.”

Proponents like to say that, unlike Christianity, Buddhists have not waged Crusades and burned heretics at the stake, tried to institute anything akin to today’s radical Islamic states or used force to spread their faith like Christians and Muslims.

Although one Chinese Communist Party leader called the Nobel Peace prize laureate “a wolf in monk’s clothes,” the Dalai Lama has decried the recent violence while supporting peoples' rights to peaceful protest.

“If (monks) want to fight, they have to disrobe and join the fighters,” Samdhong said.

Still, Tibetan Buddhist monks are regarded as perhaps the most potent and organized anti-regime force.

“Under China they came to be the only force that represents the interests of the community, of the nation,” said Robbie Barnett, a Tibet expert at Columbia University. “Monks and nuns have acquired this heroic status of representing the nation in its most difficult times.”


We will never forget you, Nay Phone Latt

29 March 2008

It has been two months since our fellow blogger, Nay Phone Latt, was detained in Burma. Though I hear news that he seems to be doing relatively alright in the prison, many of us, especially his close friends, feel bad at not being able to do more for him and his release. All we can do is to keep remembering him and his spirit.

It has been almost six months since the Saffron Revolution. So many monks, student leaders, activists and patriotic youths like Nay Phone Latt have been detained, and tortured. Some have even lost their lives. Just recently, there has been a crackdown on journalists. Just as the military regime announce the upcoming referendum, the suppressions continue. I wonder how many more like Nay Phone Latt will lose their freedom, or even their lives. I begin to imagine the military regime as a big tiger preying on us, and devouring us one by one. If we don't unite against such ruthless beast, we will only have ourselves to blame for further loss.


My feelings on 63rd Anniversary of Burmese Armed Forces Day

I refer to "How will Burmese Armed Forces vote in the referendum?" and "Burmese Armed Forces Day to mark Decades of Military Rule" by Min Lwin, Irrawaddy.

The Burmese Armed Forces Day seemed to have come and gone without making much impact in the minds of Burmese people. In the past, probably a long time ago, we used to hold the army in great esteem. In fact, many young people aspired to become military officers, seeing it as a prestigious duty to serve their own country. How times have changed. How such aspirations have dwindled to nothing more than just contempt and fear against the army. All these changes would not have become reality if not for a group of power-hungry military dictators who, over the decades, have crippled Burma to what it is today.

If we look back at our history, there are mainly three societies who are capable of stirring the hearts of Burmese people: Sanga, students and soldiers. So far, Sanga and students have been seen as playing a crucial role in democracy movements. What about the soldiers in the army? During 1988 uprising, the military personnel, especially from Air Force, protested alongside the people, Sanga, and students. Such show of courage and patriotism is still strongly embedded in our memories. We, Burmese people, have always hoped that we will not see the alienation of soldiers from the people when we pursue our path for Burma's freedom from a handful of dictators.

I once asked a friend, a military officer, about his opinion. Like many of the people interviewed in Min Lwin's reports, he revealed his dismay at the actions that the dictators have taken against the people. My subsequent question to him was: then why do they still dance to the tunes of dictators and accept being made use of as weapons of SPDC? He cited the nature of army as having to obey orders and also said that with all the restrictions that have been imposed on the soldiers, he did not believe that they can do much for the sake of people at this moment. Upon hearing his answers, I wondered how many more soldiers have the notion like him. Though I must admit that I feel rather disappointed at his answers, at the same time, I can empathize with their predicament. There is not a single doubt that ruthless dictators have done whatever they can to instill fear in the army as much as the way they have done towards the people.

Whenever I see ex-soldiers, who have lost part(s) of their body in the battles, having to struggle by themselves with the meager pension given by the government, I feel sorry for them. We all know for a fact that discrimination and abuse of power by those who are in favor, are widespread in the army. Apart from a favored few, majority population of the army is also struggling in their own ways for their own survival.

It has been 63 years of history for the army. How our future generations will remember the army in many years to come, depends solely upon the army. As an ordinary citizen of Burma, I would like to remind those in the army of the brutalities that the dictators have unleashed upon monks; sons of our revered Buddha, students and the people.

I would like to urge them not to allow SPDC to use them as weapons of mass destruction upon their own people, to stand in front of us and to bring back the light that has been fainting in Burma over the decades. It is time to write their own history and bring back the glory of army for the people.


Human Rights Activist Attacked in Rangoon

By Wai Moe
Friday, March 28, 2008
[Source - Irrawaddy]

A leading human rights activist has been attacked by two unidentified men in Rangoon, according to dissident sources.

Myint Aye, 54, the founder of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP) was attacked and beaten in Sanchaung Township, Rangoon on Thursday evening. He was admitted to Rangoon General Hospital.

Myint Aye told The Irrawaddy by phone on Friday that two men had attacked him and beat him about the head with batons at about 9 p.m. On Thursday evening while he was walking home. “I don’t know who did it, because I couldn’t see,” he said. “I don’t have any personal problem with anyone. I just promote and defend human rights in my country.”

“If I was attacked because I believe deeply in human rights, I would like to say to my attackers that I will not give up my stand,” he added.

Myint Aye reported the assault to the township court in Sanchaung.

In an incident last year, two other members of HRDP, Myint Naing and Maung Maung Lay, were brutally attacked by members of the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association. The two activists were seriously injured and hospitalized at the Rangoon General Hospital in critical condition. Myint Naing was later sentenced to eight years imprisonment for reporting the crime under the State Emergency Act.

Than Lwin, an elected representative in the 1990 election and member of the National League for Democracy (NLD), was also attacked by pro-junta thugs wearing steel knuckledusters in June 2007 as he returned home from a pagoda in Madaya Township, where he had been praying for the release of NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Than Lwin and some of his family members were later imprisoned because they complained to the authorities about the attack. Than Lwin is currently in Mandalay prison. One of his eyes has been damaged by an infection resulting from the attack, according to one of his family members.

“The latest attack on a human rights activist, U Myint Aye, shows there is not real law enforcement in the country,” said Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the Assistant Association for Political Prisoners-Burma, a Burmese human rights group in exile.

“Not only U Myint Aye, but other human rights and democracy activists have been attacked previously,” he said.” These kinds of situations are unacceptable.”


Silencing Burma's 'Saffron Revolution'

25 March 2008

Silencing Burma's 'Saffron Revolution'
by Min Zin

On Feb. 15, the military stormed the offices of the Myanmar Nation and took my brother, the weekly journal's editor in chief, to jail. His crime? Possession of a United Nation’s report on the ruling junta’s brutal crackdown on last September’s demonstrations by monks and democracy activists—the so-called Saffron Revolution.

My brother's name is Thet Zin, and he is one of hundreds of Burmese citizens who struggle to tell the truth about what is happening in their country—whether through traditional forms of journalism or through the Internet—under threat of arrest or worse by the military regime.
Indeed, even as the Burmese military promises the United Nations it will implement its "Roadmap to Democracy," the generals are stepping up their crackdown on the media. News of my brother's arrest was painful, but I should have been prepared for it. This kind of brutal repression and disregard for freedom of speech is the defining phenomenon of daily life in Burma.

The irony here is that my brother, who was a political prisoner in 1988, has not been involved in clandestine political activities or activist groups since he began working as a reporter and editor for several legally published weekly journals in the early 2000s. He founded Myanmar Nation Weekly, where he worked as editor in chief until his arrest, in 2006.

When the military raided the offices of Myanmar Nation, they discovered video footage of last September's Buddhist monk-led protests, a copy of the aforementioned report by U.N. Special Rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, and a book about federalism written by a veteran Shan ethnic leader. Along with my brother, his office manager, Sein Win Maung, was also arrested. The authorities confiscated mobile phones and computer hard-drives during the raid.

In early March, both were charged under section 17/20 of the Printers and Publishers Registration Law. The court cited the U.N. report as evidence of possessing "illegal material" in order to set up a case against my brother. If found guilty, they could serve up to seven years' imprisonment. The publication of Myanmar Nation has also been suspended since their arrest.

Sadly, my brother's case is not uncommon. In the wake of last September's protests, the military has stepped up its crackdown on the media and severely curtailed freedom of expression. At least 20 journalists have been arrested in the past six months, although many were released after severe interrogations. According to Reporters Without Borders, 11 journalists are known to be imprisoned in Burma, including 78-year-old U Win Tin, who has been in jail since July 1989.

The exile-based Burmese Media Association (BMA), however, places the number of imprisoned writers—including journalists, poets, fiction writers, etc.—at 30. These journalists, writers and poets, who exercise their free speech as a birthright, add to the more than 1,800 political prisoners who, according to Human Rights Watch, are still behind bars.

Since the Buddhist monk-led protests of September last year, about a dozen publications in Burma have been banned or suspended for allegedly failing to follow the directives of the regime’s censorship board.

Burma, which enjoyed perhaps the liveliest free press in Southeast Asia until the 1962 military coup, is now facing some of the severest media repression in the nation’s history. The Burmese military launched a "fight media with media" campaign in 2005 in order to "rebuff the unfair and baseless news produced by the Western media." The junta's notorious censorship board has imposed ever more stringent restrictions on private publications. Journalists are pressured to write articles in line with the regime's views and policies. Journals and magazines are forced to print an increasing number of "planted" pro-junta articles.

"The situation is now getting worse and very rigid," says Zaw Thet Htwe, a well-known journalist inside Burma, who himself received the death penalty in 2003 for sending reports to the outside world, a sentence which was later reduced to three years imprisonment due to international pressure. "The news journals are increasingly facing a hard time due to the whimsical regulations. The atmosphere of fear and pressure for self-censorship has been growing."

Thankfully, the Burmese people's main sources of information remain free from the military's abuses. They are the daily Burmese language radio broadcasts from abroad by the BBC (Burmese Service), Voice of America (Burmese Service), Radio Free Asia, and the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB).

At the height of the protests last year, large numbers of people (including military personnel) relied on these broadcasts for information. The regime’s anger was apparent in state-controlled newspapers and TV announcements that described the radio broadcasters as "killers on the airwaves" and "saboteurs" who were "airing a sky full of lies." In addition to radio, DVB launched a new Burmese language TV broadcast in May 2005 that can be received via satellite in Burma. The TV broadcast was a main source of news during the September protests.

Now, a new generation of Burmese has found another means of defying the junta's thought police: the Internet. Although less than 1% of the total population has access to the Internet in Burma, that 1% generally has access to cell phones, digital cameras and memory sticks and can disseminate information widely. During last September's protests, these "cyber dissidents"—citizen reporters and bloggers—posted hundreds of images and eyewitness accounts of the Saffron Revolution and the regime's brutality on the Internet.

Unlike the 1988 pro-democracy uprising—when the killing of at least 3,000 unarmed demonstrators received little international attention—images of violence against last fall's protestors, including the killing of Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai, spread fast throughout the world and helped ignite international outrage.

The regime, of course, responded by hunting down and arresting those who posted the images, and by further limiting access to the Internet. Internet café owners are now reportedly forced to install spy software provided by military intelligence officials that take automatic screen shots of user activity every five minutes. The monitoring results then have to be delivered to the military for surveillance.

Meanwhile, the military promises the outside world that it is marching toward "democracy" with its constitutional referendum in May and new elections in 2010. But nearly all observers agree that the military’s constitution won't lead to legitimate political freedom or national reconciliation. Violations of human rights are expected to continue, as are repression and censorship of the media.

"Though the military promises reform by holding a constitutional referendum in May," says Maung Maung Myint, chairman of the Burmese Media Association, “the arrest of journalists and constraints on the free flow of information clearly demonstrate that the regime discourages any informed public debate on their draft constitution."

Clearly, my brother and other recently detained journalists are being held by the junta in an effort to spread fear among Burma’s defiant media in the run-up to the constitutional referendum. Without outside pressure, the sad fact is these tactics will likely succeed—and the Burmese people will continue to suffer under a repressive military dictatorship, and those brave journalists and writers willing to challenge Burma's censors will be silenced.
Min Zin is a Burmese journalist.

copied from http://www.feer.com/features/2008/march/the-second-coming-of-taro-aso


"The Crisis in Burma" Event

19 March 2008

The Asia Society and Open Society Institute invites you to a panel discussion:

The Crisis in Burma:
In Search of a Unified International Response

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

6:00 – 6:30 p.m.: Registration
6:30 – 8:00 p.m.: Panel Discussion / Q & A
8:00 – 8:30 p.m.: Reception

$5 members, NGOs, seniors, students (w/ID)
$7 non-members

Asia Society
725 Park Avenue at 70th Street
New York, NY

Six months have passed since the Burmese military government’s violent crackdown on thousands of monks who took to the streets of Rangoon in peaceful, pro-democracy demonstrations. While the brutality of the assault, subsequent mass arrests and heightened repression received an immediate burst of attention and media coverage around the world, the focus on Burma has waned steadily in recent months. After making a few initial concessions to the international community, such as allowing in a UN human rights investigator and permitting a government meeting with pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese junta continues to stand firm and political activists continue to be imprisoned.

Join us as the Asia Society and Open Society Institute convene a panel discussion to revisit the situation in Burma in light of the military government’s recently announced “roadmap to democracy,” including its intention to conduct a national referendum to approve a new constitution in May, followed by a multiparty general election in 2010. How credible is this development given that the new constitution would effectively bar independent political leaders from participating in the process? The panel will also assess recent efforts at the international and regional levels to advance national reconciliation in Burma. What role can and should international actors such as the United Nations and the United States play together with ASEAN and Burma’s influential neighbors?


Scot Marciel, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Thaung Htun, Representative for UN Affairs, National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma

Asia Society will stream a live webcast of this event starting at 6:30pm EST

E-mail your questions to moderator@asiasociety.org

As seating is limited, advance registration is suggested.

To register, call 212-517-2742 or online at: https://tickets.asiasociety.org

For more information, visit our website at www.asiasociety.org


Free Them Now, Sein Win Maung and Thet Zin

11 March 2008

Again, Burmese military regimes slap the faces of Rangoon based media and journalists. Like previous seizure, this time also, two journalists were taken away without clear reason and pertinent charges. They are U Sein Win Maung, office manager and U Thet Zin, editor who publishing weekly Myanmar Nations Journal until then.

Authorities raided Myanmar Nations' office on 15 February 2008 and took them out leaving office closed and threatened. It was just obvious that they didn't commit any crime but except working with true facts and information. The authorities said they found videotape of September Saffron Revolution and official report of UN' Human Right Council. It was said they might being charged with Printer and Registration Act. However neither of these two materials they found there are likely to be against this illogical Act.

Since September Monk- led Saffron Revolution, there were 4 detainees happened to be in notorious Insein Prison related to media and magazine. Saw Wai, poet, accused of his encoded poem was detained in Januray 2008, then followed by Nay Phone Latt, blogger and author having no accusation. Within just one month later, regimes step up to next targets and rough up its own citizens.

Nobody know how exactly they were detained and when they will face what type of alleged charges in where. What went wrong with these detained journalists and media men? Nothing !

Very obviously, authorities, they are the one who commit crime and abuse to people.

Please lift your hand to help hopeless detained journalists and political prisoners in Burma.

They are waiting for outside world from their prison cells.

related links: Reporters without Borders


Burma on cusp of failure

08 March 2008

[Source - Mizzima News]
March 7, 2008

Burma is one of only five countries outside of sub-Saharan Africa to be strapped with the label of “critically weak,” according to a 2008 study.

The research, conducted through the Brookings Institution and co-authored by Susan Rice and Stewart Patrick, is aimed at assisting American policymakers in their assessment of where attention should be given as well as highlighting positive correlations between individual indicators and a state’s likelihood of failure.

Overall Burma is listed as the 17th weakest state, largely as a result of receiving the second-poorest overall “political” score, trailing only Somalia. Burma’s dire political situation is partially the result of its receiving the lowest possible scores for “voice and accountability” and “freedom,” while coming in third worst for “corruption.”

Though also scoring in the bottom fifth in “economics” and “security,” it comes as something of a surprise to find the Southeast Asian country placing in the middle of the table for “social welfare.”

With respect to economics, Burma’s lowest scores came for “regulatory controls” and “inflation.”

Through analysis of the findings Rice and Patrick determine a strong relationship between poverty and the propensity of state failure, concluding that the United States should drastically increase its commitment to poverty alleviation – an initiative which United Nations Special Advisor to Burma Ibrahim Gambari has already, and thus far unsuccessfully, tried to address. However, the authors warn that America should desist from unilateral attempts at state building.

Estimates are that Burma’s per capita income in 2007 was less than $2,000.

Interestingly, no strong correlation is found between the incidence of a military coup and the weakness of a state.

With vocal calls for ASEAN to assume a leading role in bringing reform and stability to Burma, the study, looking at 141 “developing” nations from around the world, includes eight of the ten ASEAN members, with less than enthusiastic findings.

Rankings for ASEAN’s other entries are: Cambodia (34), Laos (45), Philippines (58), Indonesia (77), Thailand (79), Vietnam (83) and Malaysia (124). Malaysia is the only entry that falls outside the researcher’s classifications of either “weak” or “states to watch.”

However Southeast Asia is termed as being stronger and more stable that South Asia, with which Burma also shares a historical legacy as well as geographical boundary.

Somalia, Afghanistan and the Congo are the three lowest ranking entries, and are defined by the reports authors as the three “failed states” at this time.

Brookings Institution is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. The 2008 study is entitled “Index of State Weakness in the Developing World.