International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Burma
Sky Is Not Blue in Burma
more than 6,000 individuals in Burma's prisons have been released
as part of a "goodwill gesture" by the military junta,
let's not kid ourselves. The song remains the same, because the
junta refuses to change its ways and it seems that world leaders
still can't and probably wont act.
The recent decision
by the Burmese military to release 6,313 prisoners indicates that the
rulers are well-versed in undertaking public relations exercises ahead
of proposed multiparty elections in 2010.
Some parties see this as a positive first step in the seven stage roadmap
to democracy, a sign that the junta may be ready to enter the international
community after years of isolation and secrecy. If the amnesty granting
is supposed to be a sign of genuine reform, it should be remembered
that the military have been denying rights to ethnic minorities within
Burma for over six decades, by using armed conflict, rape, torture and
displacement of civilians to maintain power and crush anyone challenging
their authority. An anonymous Burmese blogger on the BBC website remarked
that the juntas way of dealing with any people power
movement is to "simply shoot everybody."
A key component of any reform at the insistence of the army is that
they will play a powerful role in the parliamentary make-up and retain
25 per cent of seats in parliament, thus keeping the entire population
of Burma under the gun.
What this announcement by the junta means is that a wedge has been driven
between nations debating the sincerity and intentions of this action,
and whether democratic change in Burma may occur under the brutal leadership
of reclusive leader, General Than Shwe. The "seven stage"
road map to democracy is regarded in some quarters as a sign of progress,
notably by the United Nations and the Japanese government who adopt
a policy of dialogue and diplomacy with the junta.
Of the inmates that have been released, just 24 are deemed political
prisoners. According to the Burma Campaign UK, there are over 2,100
political prisoners are still behind bars, with no possibility of freedom
in sight. Will the released prisoners be forced to vote for the juntas
candidates of choice at the 2010 election, if they go ahead? If not,
then they may well find themselves losing their freedom faster once
Naturally, the most famous political prisoner in Burma and around the
world, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, continues to remain under house arrest.
The 82 year-old deputy leader of the National League for Democracy,
Tin Oo, also remains confined to his home in detention. In February
2009, the junta extended his ban for an additional year.
The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, has repeatedly called
for the unconditional and immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Yet
the man charged with securing her freedom, Ibrahim Gambari, the Special
Envoy for Burma, has made seven visits to Burma, and on each occasion,
he has failed to win any concessions.
It is little wonder that Aung San Suu Kyi is fed up with appearing for
media appearances that do not produce a significant shift in policy
from the Burmese leadership, namely alleviating poverty, increasing
rights and access to health and education, and granting freedom of expression
and freedom of political association to all citizens. There is little
doubt that her political party, the National League for Democracy, will
be banned from taking part from any proposed elections next year.
Perhaps the only party interested in seeing Gambari on a regular basis
is the Burmese military junta. In a response to the Asian Street Wall
Journals editorial criticizing the value of Gambaris visits
published on 28 August 2008, the Consulate-General of Burma (Myanmar)
to Hong Kong defended Gambari by praising the mutual respect shown between
the junta and the Special Envoy for Burma. At the same time, the regime
accused critics of failing to listen to the Burmese governments
side of the story, with the official saying that if "such people
wear dark glasses, you cannot see the truth." Tragically, it seems
that too many nations around the world have forgotten about the 2007
Saffron Revolution that was brutally crushed by the Burmese military,
resulting in the death of hundreds of protestors and detention of thousands
more. The government blocked 85 per cent of e-mails. Lines of communication
were severed, preventing civilians from pleading to the outside world
for assistance and blocking foreign news agencies from reporting within
The website of one courageous individual, Nay Phone Latt, allowed the
world a rare glimpse into the actions of the armed forces, complete
with photos, videos and a cartoon lampooning General Than Shwe. His
site was eventually closed. Following his arrest and subsequent trial
without legal representation Nay Phone Latt was found guilty of breaching
both the Electronics Act and the Video Act, and sentenced to 20 years
jail. One year later, Burmese publications in exile such as The Irrawaddy
and Democratic Voice for Burma, were shut down, and now as so many nations
reel from the fallout from the impact of the global financial crisis,
the events of 2007 seem a distant memory, with world leaders unable
or unwilling to hold the Burmese military dictatorship to account.
With negotiations inside of the country failing to make any progress,
what can the outside world do? The world is pre-occupied with the global
financial crisis and each country is implementing measures to minimise
the damage, so a foreign policy matter such as Burma will not be high
on any list of priorities. United States President Barack Obama has
stated that the policy towards Burma is now under review, but even the
most heartened optimistic will not expect this to be tended to immediately.
His foreign policy priorities include an increase in U.S. and allied
troop numbers in Afghanistan, and improving diplomatic relations with
Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Immediate action needs to be taken and
it must go beyond the usual rhetoric of tough talk and imposition of
sanctions. The United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada, the members
of ASEAN and Australia need to take a more proactive role. More importantly,
Burma's allies, China and India, need to stop insisting that "private
diplomacy" will work in convincing the regime to step down and
change their ways.
In previous years, Burmas leaders have made announcements that
provide some hope of changing their attitude to the outside world and
become more accountable. But their record of releasing and re-arresting
Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilians deemed as enemies of the state
is just one factor why the Burmese regimes human rights record
is regarded as abysmal.
Under the present climate, no polls will be free or fair. Following
the horrendous slaughter of thousands of civilians on 8 August 1988
by the military, the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San
Suu Kyi, won nearly 60 per cent of the vote in elections held in 1990.
However, the military refused to honour the results and forcibly took
power. The Burmese government also have the option of cancelling the
election if they suspect a perceived or genuine threat to their grip
on power is possible, and cite security concerns as the official reason.
In the meantime, the number of ethnic minorities that have been raped,
tortured and/or killed will continue to rise, more foreign companies
will continue to line up and invest in Burma, and ultimately all revenues
will benefit only the select elite.
Should there be any doubt relating to the Burmese governments
ignorance for the plight of its own people, perhaps the closing line
in the letter defending the visits of Ibrahim Gambari offers some insight;
"The sky is always blue in the Union of Myanmar." This may
be the case for those who reap the rewards from blood money, but the
sun is definitely not necessarily shining bright enough to offer hope
for those in Burma, sadly too many ordinary civilians. For as long as
the stench of blood fills the streets, the battle to secure the freedom
of the Burmese civilians will never end. The international community
cannot accept any more token gestures. Burma must have a genuine democracy,
not a ballot sheet marked with the military junta's calling card of
bloodstains and bullets.
David is a regular contributor to Hack Writers and Foreign Policy Journal.
His works have also been included in SOHAM (Society of Harmony and Magnanimity),
Travelmag, Things Asian, Mekong Net and Tales of Asia. View his submissions
by visiting the homepages,
Also, see his video A Garbage Diet, about life for residents
in the compounds of Stung Meanchey Municipal Waste Dump in Phnom Penh,
If you have already viewed the film, please pass this link onto colleagues
or anybody else that you know who may be interested.
Aung San Suu Kyi Into a Cambodian Classroom
Raising awareness of the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi among students
through music in rural Cambodia leaves a song in their heart.
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