Briefer 16th – 22nd June
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
The patience of the international community appears to be wearing thin as the delivery of aid continues to face undue obstacles, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi celebrates another birthday under illegitimate detention and the usual human rights abuses carry on unchecked in Burma. As the humanitarian effort struggles on in the face of a potentially terminating funding crisis, the focus of the international community seems to have shifted to the wider political and human rights crises in Burma. The National League for Democracy has once again urged the military regime to convene parliament in order to solve the political and humanitarian crises the country is facing (http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/4-inside-burma/686-nld-calls-for-parliament-to-be-convened).
Senator John Kerry has formally urged US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to investigate whether the junta’s restriction of foreign aid may constitute a crime against humanity under international law. He has requested a legal opinion from the State Department
The World Bank has donated US$850,000 to ASEAN for disaster assessment and recovery activities in the wake of the cyclone. The grant is further intended to support ASEAN’s leadership role in the humanitarian efforts and to strengthen its capacity in the coordination of international response and senior-level dialogue on recovery planning (http://www.aseansec.org/21645.htm). Burmese groups in exile have issued a statement expressing concern that the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) may view the current humanitarian crisis as an opportunity to increase engagement with the SPDC. The Ethnic Community Development Forum and other groups have urged the World Bank and ADB to focus only on facilitating relief efforts and to include community-based organisations advocating real political reform in any decision-making process regarding their activities in Burma (http://appartnership.googlepages.com/ECDF-June17-08.doc).
The World Food Program has made a plea for additional funding for the humanitarian aid effort being carried out in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. Chris Kaye, WFP country director in Burma, warned that the distribution of supplies to distressed communities by boat, truck and air ‘will all grind to a halt by the end of this month unless we get additional funding now’ (http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/213818,lack-of-funding-threatens-myanmar-helicopter-relief-operation.html). The executive secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Noeleen Hayzer, called on the international community o donate 1 million gallons of diesel fuel that the regime says is needed to operate the mechanical tillers donated by other countries (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1434).
Farmers in Labutta township, Irawaddy division, went to collect hand tractors donated as part of the cyclone relief effort but found that local authorities were demanding payment (of between 1.09 and 2.2 million kyat). Even the down payment far exceeded the means of most farmers. Reports suggest that so far none of the farmers in the delta region has been provided with any financial or material assistance to enable them to get back to work (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1432). An absurdist bureaucracy charging farmers from the cyclone-stricken regions administration fees for defunct contracts has further hindered the distribution of machines in this critical planting season (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1445).
Private donors continue to face harassment and obstruction despite the junta’s promises (http://www.kachinnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=247:junta-continues-to-restrict-aid-workers-from-helping-cyclone-victims&catid=38:environment&Itemid=61). Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners states that ten donors have been arrested since the beginning of June (http://www.irrawaddy.org/article1.php?art_id=12822). The Burmese authorities detained three senior members of the pro-democracy group 88 Generation Students on 12th June. The group has formed a team called Myitta Paung Ku to distribute aid to cyclone survivors. Myet Thu, Yin Yin Wyne and Tin Tin Cho were waiting to discuss further aid distribution with monks when they were taken away. Their whereabouts are unknown (http://www.mizzima.com/nargis-impact/18-nargis-impact/675-student-activists-helping-nargis-victims-arrested,
http://www.irrawaddy.org/article2.php?art_id=12776, http://www.mizzima.com/nargis-impact/18-nargis-impact/679-volunteers-for-cyclone-relief-work-arrested-yet-again). Sports writer and former editor of weekly journal First Eleven Zaw Thet Htway was arrested on 13th June (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1431).
One of the many civil groups to have formed since the strike of Cyclone Nargis has undertaken the grim task of disposing of the many corpses still lying in the rivers and fields of the Irrawaddy delta. They have given bodies a simple cremation and burial rites. Seven members of the group were arrested on June 14th (http://www.irrawaddy.org/article2.php?art_id=12846).
Donated food stored in a monastery in Phyar Pon was left to rot instead of being given to desperate cyclone victims because soldiers didn’t receive orders to distribute it (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1433). Meanwhile, increasing numbers of children in Rangoon and other cyclone-afflicted areas have been reduced to stealing food in order to stave off starvation (http://www.irrawaddy.org/article1.php?art_id=12778).
The junta has warned against the exploitation of children orphaned by the cyclone. Anyone found guilty of trafficking children will be sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in prison. The authorities have also announced that they will take sole responsibility for the care of orphans, banning all individuals and organisations from doing so (http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-06/16/content_8381219.htm). This move threatens the plans of the Free Funeral Service Society to build an orphanage.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) decided at its International Labour Conference on 13th June that it would take an active role in the post-cyclone reconstruction efforts. The ILO’s current priority will be to prevent the use of forced labour in the reconstruction effort, but it will continue to investigate complaints in other contexts, noting that the forced labour situation in Burma is a cause for ‘profound concern’ (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1428).
The UN launched a massive anti-dengue operation in the cyclone-hit areas of Burma this week (http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=12767). The climate and lack of shelter in the Irrawaddy delta has left cyclone survivors at greater risk of succumbing to this disease. Other diseases are on the rise in Labutta, although not at the rate expected (http://www.irrawaddy.org/article3.php?art_id=12775).
The 250 member Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) team returned to Rangoon on 20th June after completing its data collection in 30 affected townships across the cyclone-afflicted region. Preliminary findings and a progress report will be presented at the ASEAN meeting on 24th June (http://yangon.unic.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=244&Itemid=73).
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi:
Influential US Congressman Joe Pitts, speaking to the House of Representatives, issued a powerful rejoinder to the junta: “Madam Speaker, I rise today over the comments made by the brutal generals, military dictators in Burma, saying that Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner and rightful leader elected by the people, deserves to be flogged. Come again?” (http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=12763).
US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has accused the regime of ‘backtracking’ on even its most modest pledges to engage in dialogue with Burma’s elected leader. Rice criticised the Burmese authorities for holding a ‘rigged referendum… on a sham constitution’ and for the continued denial of the liberty and fundamental political and civil rights of political prisoners (http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=12841).
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicholas Sarkozy have released an open letter to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on the event of her birthday praising her courage and dedication to the people of Burma (http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page15807.asp, http://www.irrawaddy.org/article4.php?art_id=12843).
Celebrations for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s birthday took place all across the globe this week. In Washington, an event was held at the Capitol Building, home of the US Congress. Politicians from the US government and the Burmese government in exile, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, along with activists and journalists from the exiled-Burmese and international media attended. U Tin Maung Thaw, board member of US Campaign for Burma, cited the occasion as an opportunity to persuade the US government to take the regime to the International Court of Justice (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1429, http://www.irrawaddy.org/article2.php?art_id=12886).
Celebrations held in Burma were marred by beatings and arrests. An event held at the National League for Democracy headquarters was disrupted by members of the USDA and Swan Arr Shin. Members of the crowd were beaten and five activists were arrested (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1451, http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1449).
The UN Human Rights Council has called on the military authorities to cease politically motivated arrests and condemned what it termed ‘the ongoing systematic violations of human rights’. The resolution, introduced by the European Union, calls for the immediate cessation of the recruitment of child soldiers by both the regime and by non-state armed groups and the release of all political prisoners. The resolution condemns the recent referendum as held in ‘complete disregard’ of freedom of expression and assembly and urges the authorities to ensure that any returns of cyclone refugees are ‘voluntary, safe and carried out with dignity’ (http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=27076&Cr=myanmar&Cr1=).
The All Burma Monks’ Alliance called for the UN Security Council to safeguard the people of Burma. Citing the raping of ethnic women with impunity, the detention of political prisoners and the handling of Cyclone Nargis, the statement argues that ‘long-standing tolerance by the international community of human rights violations in Burma made the Burmese military junta believe that they have a license to kill and they have nothing to fear’ (http://www.asiantribune.com/?q=node/11856).
On 19th June, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the immediate release of political prisoners in Burma, and denounced the ‘prospect of flogging Aung San Suu Kyi as a crime against humanity’ (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P6-TA-2008-0312+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN). In addition, MPs from eight European countries have come together to form a new Parliamentary caucus on Burma. The caucus aims to raise awareness of the situation in Burma in Europe and pressure European governments to do more to bring about democratic transition in Burma (http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/pm/weblog.php?id=P371).
The Free Burma Rangers have published reports documenting the ongoing attacks on the Karen people. The reports detail the destruction of villages, the laying of land mines and the displacement of the Karen (http://www.freeburmarangers.org/Reports/2008/20080620.html).
The regime has announced a reshuffle of two cabinet positions and the appointment of the navy’s commander in chief to a ministerial post. The move comes in the wake of Cyclone Nargis and will allow the minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement to concentrate on this role by relinquishing his post as the minister for immigration and population. Rangoon-based military sources claim that the move is unusual and could signal further changes (http://www.irrawaddy.org/article1.php?art_id=12870, http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/4-inside-burma/696-change-of-guard-in-burmese-junta).
The junta has questioned village heads told to monitor polling stations in remote areas of Chin State, where the majority of voters rejected the constitution (http://www.khonumthung.com/kng-news/2008-news-archive/june-2008/more-village-heads-questioned-after-referendum/).
A major from the Burma Army and a lawyer were arrested after raping two teenage Chin girls. One of the girls was hospitalised as a result of the injuries she incurred (http://www.khonumthung.com/kng-news/2008-news-archive/june-2008/two-chin-teenaged-girls-raped-in-burma-rapists-arrested/). According to the junta’s law, only the military court can investigate and punish members of the armed forces (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1439). Three army officers who raped four ethnic Kachin schoolgirls in February 2007 have yet to be punished (http://www.kachinnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=250:junta-yet-to-punish-army-officers-for-raping-kachin-schoolgirls&catid=37:human-rights&Itemid=60).
Well-known actor Kyaw Thu, leader of the Free Funeral Service charity group, has been taken ill while distributing aid in the Irrawaddy delta. His wife has attributed his illness to stress, compounded by smoking and an unhealthy diet (http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/4-inside-burma/674-actor-kyaw-thu-hospitalised-).
The Burma Army has issued a ban on villagers working outside their villages. The ostensible reason for this move is cited as being to prevent armed Mon groups form contacting the villagers (http://www.monnews-imna.com/newsupdate.php?ID=1042).
Blogger Nay Phone Latt is being reinvestigated by the regime. He has been held and interrogated at Insein prison for the past five months for publishing his blog (http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/4-inside-burma/673-blogger-nay-phone-latt-being-reinvestigated).
Eleven people were killed in a landslide in Moegok township, Mandalay division, on 11th June (http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=1430).
Thailand hosts an estimated 2 million migrant workers, most of whom are believed to be Burmese. Thai and Burmese rights groups are urging the Thai government to repeal a controversial law rewarding informers and imposing harsh penalties on migrants that was passed in March (http://www.irrawaddy.org/highlight.php?art_id=12798).
Salween Watch, the Chiang Mai-based coalition of environmental organisations and NGOs, has published a report describing the current and projected impacts of the Upper Paunglaung Dam on the Kayan people. The dam is being built to supply energy for Nay Pyi Daw, but the Kayan are already suffering displacement, increased abuses by the Burma Army and the loss of their livelihoods (http://www.salweenwatch.org/index.html).
Reports suggest that rumours of a national uprising on 8th August are flying in Burma. Flyers being distributed in the country appeal to the dispossessed and poorly paid soldiers of the Burma Army to turn on their overseers on the twentieth anniversary of the massacre of students across Burma and on the day that the Olympics open in Beijing (http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23895645-401,00.html). The idea of military coups has lost popularity in today’s global-political climate, but it may be the only form of justice the leaders of the Burmese military regime can understand (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/19/AR2008061901429.html).
Burma Partnership Secretariat