Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Change is hard for military regime

By Htet Win

Mizzima - Ever since I heard a recent comment from a senior minister in the ruling government, the attitude of the men-in-green has been made clearer to me.

The Transport Minister, who has a close relationship with Senior General Than Shwe, told a media congregation: "Whatever we do are good things. Even if and when we have gone wrong, we usually assume it is good. Given the aging figures within the government, we are incapable of changing our ways or to take better options. We are ready to die in this way." (JEG's:"in other words "they believe their own shsssss" - as long as they believe they are doing good there is no reasoning, and here is where we have to start working on... changing people's thinking, no more underestimating them)

All of the leading military personnel and government ministers around the Senior General concern themselves with a similar mentality. The military interprets any domestic development as politics. And all of the generals have reached a stage where they cannot reverse the hellish path of the country.

The military government's announcement that the first phase of the country's post-disaster restoration work – rescue and relief – had finished up to a certain extant, was issued at the cost of the national interest as a whole but for the benefit of the ruling elite. Since Cyclone Nargis a month ago, the junta has focused its struggle on offsetting international involvement in domestic problems, including both the natural disaster and political crisis. Bluntly put, the regime has been focusing attention on protecting itself from outside interference.

Meanwhile, the regime is trying to sell the effects of the disaster for billions of dollars in the name of resettlement and reconstruction assistance in disaster-hit areas. But any financial commitment by the international community will only be misused by the ruling generals, unless the international community is able to organize its own proper channels for aid.

However the military's third in command, General Thura Shwe Mann, contradicted the calls for relief money when he stated that the country had enough financial and material supplies to effectively tackle the effects of the disaster.

Yet, a few days after his fatuous comment, the government officially made an announcement that the country was in urgent need of more than $10 billion of international assistance for reconstruction work in the devastated areas.

Prime Minister General Thein Sein also called for external assistance free of politics. This announcement came despite the military government apparently failing to act timely and effectively on the relief of cyclone-hit areas, preoccupied as they were with assuring passage of their May 10 constitutional referendum.
Meanwhile, another Burmese military official, a retired brigadier-general and a minister who is said to be well-versed in both military and global economic affairs, criticized the way the government has responded to the international community.

"They (the government) do not know how to properly deal with the international community over domestic issues, usually coming up with no flexibility and maintaining a persistently isolationist stance in a globalized world," he commented.

A former director general with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also said the cause of the general public's severe suffering from Cyclone Nargis rested with the military government's long-time failure to fundamentally uplift the country's socio-economic interests.

"The military government has, since it assumed state power about two decades ago, been unable to manage economic development measures that would raise the living standard of more than 55 million people who exist under grinding poverty and hardship," the director general remarked.

Some ordinary people interviewed agreed with the director's comments, adding that the government also seemed to fear that the general public would become lively and interested in domestic political changes if their lives became too easy.

There was yet another recent and revealing instance of how alarmingly selfish and short-sighted are the senior military personnel. A high ranking military official with the Northern Military Command said a few months before the cyclone that Burma had no significant issues to tackle in contrast to most nations of the world.

And in Kachin State's capital of Myitkyina in late last January, a military officer with the rank of major-general said, "We must keep on running our country as [ordered] by the Senior General." He was likely referring to the seven-step roadmap, which is to be followed as long as domestic political improvement is not detrimental to the interests of the governing military elite.

Lastly, a senior writer who was for several years an instructor with the Defense Services Academy in Pyin Oo Lwin, retorted, "It is sure that the high-ranking military personnel who presently lead the country do not love the country and its people."

"They know just the orders from their superiors", said the writer, now in his eighties, "to ensure that the country continues along a path desired by the generals."

Any way you look at it, recent domestic events – like the peaceful monk-led uprising that was crushed last September, the rigged referendum and the government's intentional neglect of the terrible effects of the Cyclone Nargis – have proven the military regime incapable of change and intensified the public's distrust of the military government.

Myanmar takes care of cyclone orphans, bans adoption

YANGON, June 11 (Xinhua) -- Myanmar will not allow adoption of orphans left by a recent cyclone storm by any organizations or any individuals, local weekly 7-Day News quoted the Department of Social Welfare as saying Wednesday.

Instead, the survived orphans will be jointly taken care by the government, domestic non-governmental organizations and resident United Nations organizations, social welfare official U Aung Tun Hlaing, who is the acting Director-General, told the 7-Day News.

The government will also help find the orphans' survived relatives and provide education for them up to university or institute level depending on the orphan's wisdom and skill, the official said.

While accommodating the orphans in cyclone-lesser-hit Maubin and Myaungmya in Ayeyawaddy division, the government is also building two orphanages in cyclone-hard-hit Phyapon and Laputta in the same division to each house 300 orphans, the report said, adding that so far there has been 130 cyclone-survived children officially registered as orphans out of an initially-estimated number of over 500.

A fortnight after the cyclone storm Nargis swept Myanmar, the country's top leader Senior-General Than Shwe called for setting up orphanages for children whose parents were killed in the storm as a special program of the relief work.

Meanwhile, Myanmar has given polio vaccination to 540 cyclone-survived children under five years of age in relief camps in Laputta with 720 others ranging from 9 months to 10 years of age also given measles vaccination.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund, of the 2.4 million people affected by the cyclone storm Nargis, 960,000 or 40percent were estimated to be children.

Meanwhile, over a dozen foreign medics have also been rendering medical aid services in different cyclone-hit regions since mid-May.

Myanmar announced that the first phase of the country's post-disaster restoration work -- rescue and relief, has finished up to a certain extent and it has now entered into a second phase of resettlement and reconstruction.

Deadly tropical cyclone Nargis, which occurred over the Bay of Bengal, hit five divisions and states -- Ayeyawaddy, Yangon, Bago, Mon and Kayin on May 2 and 3, of which Ayeyawaddy and Yangon inflicted the heaviest casualties and massive infrastructural damage.

Myanmar estimated the damages and losses caused by the storm at10.67 billion U.S. dollars with 5.5 million people affected.

The storm has killed 77,738 people and left 55,917 missing and 19,359 injured according to official released death toll.
Editor: Bi Mingin

Government seeks at all cost to control news coming out of Irrawaddy delta

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Burma Media Association, an organisation of Burmese journalists in exile, condemn a series of measures taken by military government in the past few days to control news and information coming out of the cyclone-hit Irrawaddy delta

The blogger and comedian known by the stage name of Zarganar was arrested without explanation on 5 June. The police began confiscating satellite dishes on 6 June in order to deny Burmese access to foreign news media. And the official press published articles denigrating the foreign media on 8 June. Furthermore, several journalists have been expelled in recent weeks and it has become impossible to get a press visa.

“We call for the immediate release of Zarganar, whose arrest is typical of the contempt shown by military junta towards those who express themselves freely,” the two organisations said. “Zarganar is very well known in Burma. In his sketches and in the blog he has keep since August 2007 (, he defends human rights and condemns the junta’s behaviour. He had become a source of news and information.”

Zarganar, who has been dubbed the “Burmese Charlie Chaplin,” gave an interview to a foreign TV station on the eve of his arrest in which he criticised the government and referred to a group of 400 people who have managed to provide relief assistance to the victims of last month’s cyclone despite a government ban. The group cooperated with another one founded by a Buddhist month.

The authorities told Zarganar’s family that they would hold him for “only two days” in order to question him, but he has not been released. (JPEG)“Many journalists are being prevented from working freely and the foreign media are being attacked in the official press, which is trying to discredit them,”
Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association said. “Activists are playing a vital role in providing news and information through what they are posting online. We condemn the way the authorities are deliberately trying seal the citizens of the Irrawaddy delta behind a wall of silence.”

Several foreign journalists, including CNN and Time reporters have been deported in the past few weeks and others have been refused visas.

The New Light of Myanmar, a government newspaper, referred to “enemy” radio stations on 8 June. "The storm is now no more. However, the enemy that is more destructive than (Cyclone) Nargis has reared its ugly head," the newspaper said. "It is time (that) the foreign broadcasting stations and their accomplices knew that their instigation and propaganda are good for nothing. And they should stop broadcasting such kinds of fabricated news." (See below)

According to Burmese exile media reports , the police are also confiscating the satellite dishes that Burmese citizens use to receive foreign TV stations. Around 50 dishes were reportedly seized from a Rangoon store on 6 June.

Burmese censor board banned news and pictures about the cyclone in local newspaper and monthly magazines but also in foreign magazines, such as the 26th may and 2nd June issues of the magazine Times.

About press freedom in Burma

About the Internet in Burma

Myanmar junta says Suu Kyi deserves to be flogged

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's military junta said on Wednesday that detained opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi deserved to be beaten like an errant child for threatening national security.

Seeking to justify the 62-year-old's latest stretch of house arrest, now in its sixth year, official newspapers said Suu Kyi and other detainees had been in contact with and had received cash from rebel guerrillas and foreign governments.

"Due to the crimes they have committed, they well deserve flogging punishment as in the case of naughty children," the papers said in Burmese and English-language editorials thought to reflect the thinking of the junta's top brass. The editorials added that the government was behaving like the "parent of the people" and exercising "great patience".

It detained Suu Kyi and others "in order that they will not be in a position to commit similar crimes again", they said.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won more than 80 percent of seats in a 1990 election, only to be denied power by a military that has ruled the former Burma since a 1962 coup.

As the daughter of independence hero Aung San, she exercises enormous personal political clout in the nation of 57 million. It is largely out of fear of this that the ruling generals have kept her in some form of detention for nearly 13 of the last 19 years.

The newspaper commentaries also sought to explain the specific security law under which Suu Kyi is being held, but they failed to clarify whether the extension of her detention order on May 27 was for six or 12 months.

The papers also cited Singapore, Malaysia and the United States as countries which had laws to "prevent those who pose danger to the state". (JEG's: "those" are called terrorists, DASSK and NLD are too far to be one of "those", the comparison is ill pure junta)

(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Alex Richardson)

The International Criminal Court: success or failure?

By Nick Grono

The global court intended to hold war-crimes perpetrators to account is five years old. Nick Grono of the International Crisis Group assesses its record.

June 9, 2008 - The well-executed international-security operation could have been taken straight from the script of a Hollywood thriller. In the late evening of Saturday 24 May 2008, Jean-Pierre Bemba, former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), was seized by Belgian police in a Brussels suburb under a secret arrest-warrant issued by the International Criminal Court the previous day. Bemba has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity resulting from a campaign of terror and brutality by his troops in neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR), there at the invitation of then CAR president, Ange-Félix Patassé, to aid the latter's (ultimately failed) resistance to a coup attempt in 2002-03. Once the formalities are complete, Bemba will be transferred to a prison in The Hague to await trial.

The ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, was triumphant: "With the Rome Statute, nobody is beyond the reach of international justice. Nobody can side with the criminals and against the victims. ... International justice is in motion."

But is it? June 2008 marks five years since the International Criminal Court became fully operational, following Moreno-Ocampo's appointment in 2003 as the court's first prosecutor. How has the court performed in meeting its founders' hopes that it would put an end to impunity for the perpetrators of atrocity crimes and contribute to the prevention of such crimes?

Long road, first steps

The short answer is that the court is still finding its feet, and without far better support from the international community, and without a clearer strategic approach, the court may well fail in its mission to end the impunity of the world's worst abusers.

There is good news. The prosecutor now has formal investigations underway in Darfur, the DR Congo's Ituri district, northern Uganda and the CAR - targeting some of the world's worst atrocities in recent years. He has issued arrest warrants in each of these cases, and has suspects in custody in the DR Congo and CAR cases on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He's targeted the gamut of atrocities, ranging from sexual slavery to recruitment of child soldiers, and from torture to mass murder. After a slow start in the Darfur investigation, he's now zealously pursuing those responsible for the atrocities there, and has threatened to move higher up the chain of command and to broaden his investigations into more recent crimes, including by anti-Khartoum rebels.

These are real achievements for what is still a fledgling organisation that lacks its own police force and generally must rely on the assistance - willing or coerced - of the governments in whose countries it is operating. It is also dependent on international support if it is to succeed: for funding, for intelligence and evidence, for the arrest of suspects, and for pressure on recalcitrant governments. All too often that support is not forthcoming, making an already challenging job even more difficult.

There is also less good news. The ICC has yet to hold its first trial. All of the formal investigations are in Africa, even though atrocities within the ICC's jurisdiction have been, and continue to be, committed on other continents as well. Why is this? For a start, Africa is home to many of the most violent and deadly conflicts within the court's remit, so it is natural the prosecutor has started there. Moreover, the governments of the DR Congo, Uganda and the CAR have invited the prosecutor to conduct investigations, requests he has willingly accepted. This has advantages - the prosecutor is likely to get the support of those governments while he conducts his inquiries.

But it also has drawbacks, as that support is implicitly conditional on his not going after those in power - which is perhaps why in these three countries only rebels, warlords and opposition leaders have been indicted so far. Even Jean-Pierre Bemba was arrested for his role as a leader of a rebel group responsible for offences in the CAR rather than for his role in the DR Congo itself (see Gérard Prunier, "Chad, the CAR and Darfur: dynamics of conflict", 18 April 2007)

Sudan is different. The Darfur situation was sent to the court by the Security Council in March 2005, following a United Nations commission of inquiry which found that crimes against humanity and war crimes had been committed by government forces. This gave the prosecutor a strong incentive to carry out an investigation into atrocities there. This he has done, more aggressively as time has passed. Initially the prosecutor adopted a low-key and fairly conciliatory approach to the Sudanese government, with the hope that the regime would be cooperative in response. When it became clear that Khartoum had no intention of cooperating with what it perceived as a serious threat to its power, he became more prosecutorial. In the early months of 2008 he has assailed the regime for its repudiation of the Security Council's directive for it to cooperate with the ICC, and taken the international community to task for its abject failure to respond to Sudan's non-compliance.

The way ahead

But the ICC, and particularly the prosecutor, could make four moves to enable the court better to tackle impunity.

First, the court needs to expand its focus beyond Africa. The prosecutor is already conducting preliminary analyses of atrocities in Colombia and Afghanistan. If the evidence warrants it, he should launch proper investigations in these countries, particularly in Afghanistan where warlords, commanders and insurgents have continued to commit systematic abuses in recent years.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, the prosecutor must start pursuing perpetrators in positions of power in those countries that invite him in or in which he chooses to investigate. Government leaders shouldn't think that by calling in the ICC they can use it as a tool against their opponents, and avoid rigorous scrutiny themselves. If the court is to have the impact its founders hoped of it, it needs convictions of government leaders who abuse human rights. Such convictions give deterrence and delegitimisation a force that prosecutions of rebels do not. Just look at how the Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor prosecutions have resonated around the world.

Third, the prosecutor needs to be clearer about his strategic objectives in countries in which he operates. Is he just focused on his own cases, or is he also committed to building domestic prosecution capacities and supporting overall efforts to end impunity and encourage stability? The latter are critical and often lacking, as the Ituri case in particular demonstrates - though three suspects are in custody, and the arrests have not destabilised the government, a strategy that combines further prosecutions with effective outreach and support is still needed.

Fourth, the prosecutor must continue to shame the international community, and particularly the European states who were cheerleaders for the court's creation, into turning their high-flown rhetoric into concrete action. The west has stood by while Sudan has defied the court (see Nick Grono & David Mozersky, "Sudan and the ICC: a question of accountability", 31 January 2007). And it is all too ready to pressure the court to defer to the uncertain benefits of fledgling peace processes, when it should instead recognise that the prosecutor has a job to do, and his mandate is to pursue justice.

Although the ICC is in motion, it still needs to pick up the pace. For the court truly to serve a deterrent effect for those who may contemplate atrocities in the future, it needs to expand its horizons, and do more to pursue high-level abusers in power. And the court's founding states must begin to provide real political support to the court if it is to ever hope to end the impunity of those responsible for conscience-shocking crimes.

Open Democracy Net

Zarganar still under detention

Mizzima News
10 June 2008
( Interview with his mother-in-law Daw Kyi Kyi Soe )

News circulated some corners in Rangoon that famous comedian and actor Zarganar (tweezers) was released from detention on Monday and is now under house arrest. He conducted relief efforts actively providing relief supplies to cyclone victims.

Mizzima tried to contact him last night, but in vain. Mizzima, however, got in touch with his mother-in-law Kyi Kyi Soe today. She said that the news of Zarganar being released is not true and his family members still do not know his whereabouts. Huai Pi contacted and interviewed his family member.

Q: We heard that Zarganar has been released. Is it true?

A: This is just concocted news. We still don't know his whereabouts since he was taken from here. His wife, who is in the US called me at 2 a.m. today after seeing the news of his release on some websites. The news also said that he has been put under house arrest after being released from detention. I told my daughter this was not true. I am answering your phone call from his bedroom staying with my granddaughter's pet dog. I am not lying. I am telling the truth. He has not yet been released.

Q: What do you think about Zarganar's detention?

A: The authorities forced Zarganar to sign a pledge on 28th October last year not to talk to the media. After Cyclone Nargis struck Burma, he did relief work and talked to the media. I think this is the reason why the authorities took him away.

Q: Are there any surveillance teams outside your residence?

A: Yes, a lot, but I don't know the exact number. I don't know to which units they belong. Yesterday two police officers came to my home. One was from the West District Police Force and was of captain rank. Another one was a police inspector who always watches and monitors Zarganar.

Q: Did you ask them about Zarganar?

A: Yes, I asked them but they could not answer. They said that they also don't know about Zarganar. They were responsible for monitoring Zarganar's movement and had to hand him over to the higher authorities on that day. An unknown couple asked my younger daughter Ma Nyein to harbour a youth aged about 23 at our home as they have been fired and are unemployed at the moment. We happily accepted this boy and he is living together with my two grandchildren. We simply thought it is a good deed to provide food to anyone who is in trouble. He reached our home just three days before Zarganar was taken away. He accompanied Zarganar in his relief campaign to cyclone-hit areas.

He was out of the house when the police came and took away Zarganar. Our neighbours informed him about Zarganar 's arrest when he came back. He left immediately. I don't know where he's gone. He's left here himself. We don't know even his name. We simply called him 'Kadone' (clean shaven head).

Q: Did the police visit your home again in the meantime?

A: They came and asked about this youth on the 6th of this month. I told them I don't know about him as he has not come back since that day. I told them we don't know about him and his parents. I am worried about the police visiting the couple and inquiring about the youth. They are simple persons like Zarganar. The police came at noon and searched all three bedrooms.

The police said that they have to take away my daughter Ma Nyein and the youngest one if we cannot find this youth. My youngest daughter is suffering from heart disease and she is nervous and timid. She was shocked and collapsed when the police said this. Only after that, a woman police sub-inspector, a woman police sergeant and other personnel who came to our home when Zarganar was taken away, left our home at about 10 p.m.

Supreme Court Justices, Former European Presidents, Nobel Laureates and Other World Leaders Headline Vienna Forum on Movement for Justice

Over 90 countries on five continents to be represented

Washington, D.C. (PRWEB) June 10, 2008 -- The tragic effects of ineffective legal and administrative decisions, endangering the lives of millions of Myanmar's people following a devastating cyclone, spotlight the vital role of the rule of law in daily life – one that extends far beyond courts and law.

An array of high-profile leaders from around the world will discuss at the upcoming World Justice Forum the importance of the rule of law to healthy communities, the negative consequences communities face when the rule of law breaks down, and how multidisciplinary collaboration can strengthen the rule of law.

Participants in the four-day conference, from July 2-5 at the Austria Center in Vienna, will include Supreme Court of the United States Associate Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony M. Kennedy. In addition, Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, and Former Romanian President Emil Constantinescu will present keynote remarks during the opening session. The Forum will feature leaders in the fields of law, religion, education, engineering, health and other disciplines from more than 90 countries around the world.

Additional speakers and attendees include:
  • Cherie Booth Blair, Queens Counsel, London

  • Hilario G. Davide Jr., Former Chief Justice of the Philippines

  • Hernando de Soto, President, Institute for Liberty and Democracy, Lima, Peru

  • Adama Dieng, Assistant Secretary-General and Registrar, UN Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

  • Ashraf Ghani, Former Finance Minister of Afghanistan

  • Kunio Hamada, former Justice, Supreme Court of Japan

  • Parvez Hassan, lawyer and human rights activist, Lahore, Pakistan

  • Nemata Majeks-Walker, founding President, The 50/50 Group of Sierra Leone

  • Beverly McLachlin, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Canada

  • Mohammed Sa' ad Abubakar, President-General, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs

A complete agenda may be found at

The World Justice Forum will bring together 500 participants from 15 disciplines to focus on the rule of law’s contribution to education, environmental protection, poverty alleviation, access to justice, public health, labor rights and business opportunity, among other issues. Participants will develop concrete proposals for multidisciplinary programs to strengthen the rule of law following the July event.

The conference will also feature the unveiling of a new Rule of Law Index which measures more than 100 factors such as freedom of expression, protection of property rights, transparency in law and administration, and government officials’ accountability to the law. Preliminary data from the following nations: Argentina, Australia, Chile, Columbia, India, Nigeria, Spain, Sweden and the United States will be discussed to demonstrate the Index's efficacy.

The Forum is hosted by the World Justice Project, which has convened cross-disciplinary conferences on five continents leading up to the Vienna meeting. The Project has also assembled two international teams of experts to conduct scholarship on the rule of law. The first is led by Nobel Laureates Drs. James Heckman and Amartya Sen; the second, by Professor Yash Ghai, chair of the Constitutional Advisory Unit for Nepal.

The World Justice Project's sponsors include the World Federation of Public Health Associations, People to People International, Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, the International Trade Union Confederation, the International Chamber of Commerce, Human Rights Watch, the Association of International Educators and the American Society of Civil Engineers. The American Bar Association, the world’s largest volunteer professional association, is a founding member of the project.

Participation in the World Justice Forum is by invitation only. For additional information and for media registration, visit

With more than 413,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

Warren Hazelton

Patricia Gaul


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Asia is different when it comes to applying compassion

By Ian Buruma

Why are French, British, and American warships, but not Chinese or Malaysian warships, sitting near the Myanmar coast loaded with food and other necessities for the victims of Cyclone Nargis? Why has the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) been so slow and weak in its response to a natural calamity that ravaged one of its own members?

The French junior human rights minister, Rama Yade, declared that the United Nations' principle of the "responsibility to protect" should be applied to Myanmar, forcibly if necessary. And Malaysian opposition leader Lim Kit Siang has said that Asian countries' inaction "reflects dismally on all ASEAN leaders and governments. They can definitely do more."

So, are Europeans and Americans simply more compassionate than Asians?

Given the West's record of horrendous warfare and often brutal imperialism, this seems unlikely. Moreover, the way ordinary Chinese rallied to help victims of the earthquake in Sichuan has been quite remarkable, as have been the spontaneous efforts of people in Myanmar to assist their fellow citizens, even as the military did very little. Buddhism stresses compassion and mercy as much as Christianity does. Indifference to suffering is not inherent to any Asian culture.

Indeed, none of the Asian members disagreed when the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Nevertheless, there may be cultural differences in understanding how compassion should be applied. The ideal of universal equality and rights does owe something to the history of Western civilization, from Socrates' "natural justice" to Christianity and France's Declaration of the Rights of Man. Western peoples have not always lived up to their universalist ideals, but they have in modern times built institutions designed to implement them, in Europe and beyond. There is, so far, no Asia-wide institution to protect the human rights of Asians, let alone mankind.

In fact, Chinese and other Asians frequently criticize the West for using human rights as an excuse to impose "Western values" on former colonial subjects. To be sure, such accusations are especially common in autocracies whose rulers, and their apologists, view the idea of universal human rights as a threat to their monopoly on power. But distrust of universalism in Asia is not confined to autocrats.

In many Asian countries, favors invariably create obligations, which is perhaps why people are sometimes disinclined to interfere in the problems of others. You are obliged to take care of your family, your friends, or even your fellow countrymen. But the idea of universal charity is too abstract, and smacks of the kind of unwelcome interference that Western imperialists - and the Christian missionaries who followed them - practiced in the East for too long.

The notion of "Asian values," promoted mostly by Singaporean official scribes, was partly a critique of universalist Western claims. Asians, according to this theory, have their own values, which include thrift, deference to authority, the sacrifice of individual to collective interests, and the belief that countries should not stick their noses into others' affairs. Hence, the hesitant response of Southeast Asian governments - and public opinion - to the Myanmar disaster.

One possible line of criticism of this kind of thinking is simply to claim the superiority of Western values. But another, more sympathetic response would be to show that individual rights and notions of freedom are by no means alien to non-Western civilizations.

Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, has pointed out that great Indian rulers, such as Ashoka (3rd century BC) and Akbar (16th century), advocated pluralism, tolerance, and reason long before the European Enlightenment. He has also observed that famines don't occur in democracies, because freedom of information helps to prevent them.

Sen, not surprisingly, is a trenchant critic of the "Asian values" school. It has, nonetheless, become a commonly held opinion that democracy, like universal human rights, is a typically Western idea, and that Asian autocracy, as practiced in China, for example, is not only more suited to Asians, but also more efficient. Democratic governments are hampered by lobby groups, special interests, public opinion, party politics, and so forth, while Asian autocrats can make unpopular but necessary decisions.

The two recent natural disasters in Myanmar and China have put this idea to a severe test. China has not fared too badly, largely because its government was forced by the Myanmar example, bad publicity surrounding the Tibetan demonstrations, and the impending Olympic Games, to allow far more freedom of information than it normally does. One can only hope that this crack of freedom will widen in time.

Myanmar failed miserably, and, despite belated efforts to make the best of terrible circumstances, so has ASEAN. In the end, of course, it doesn't matter much whether or not we ascribe the failures of autocracy and non-intervention to anything specifically "Asian." Whatever the cause, the consequences remain deplorable.

Ian Buruma is a professor of human rights at Bard College. His most recent book is "Murder in Amsterdam: The Killing of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance." THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate (c) (

Myanmar: Private donations for cyclone victims decline

By Zarni

Chiang Mai – Private donations for Cyclone Nargis victims are slowly petering out one month after the cyclone struck Burma. Private donors are financially depleted and physically exhausted.

Private donors from across the country made small scale relief efforts for cyclone victims in worst-hit Irrawaddy Delta region. Now donations have fallen drastically.

"This is our second relief effort. There were many donors and donations in the first relief campaign conducted in mid-May. Now donations have fallen drastically," Ko Kyaw Kyaw from Rangoon who visited and donated in Labutta Township, Irrawaddy Division told Mizzima.

Similarly people from Mandalay who are providing relief supplies to victims in Pyapon Township, Irrawaddy Division by pooling in funds donated by friends are facing the same difficulty.

"We cannot continue our relief campaign through to the end of this month. The people are exhausted and the fund is dwindling," a member of this relief aid group said.

They started their relief campaign by providing food, clothes and medicine on a small scale. After donating thrice, they are exhausted, he added.

Local residents in Bogale Township conducting relief work said that the number of private donors coming to their region fell by 33 per cent.

A monk from 'Maha Gandar Yone' monastery said, "Private donors of our laity and devotees are donating less than before. As time passes, we are exhausted and the donation has decreased too".

Private donors donated cash and relief supplies to cyclone victims by collecting these from friends and community members.

Some donated cash and materials to charitable groups such as 'Free Funeral Service' in Rangoon which visited victims.

"I have donated twice and provided food and clothes to the victims. Now we are finding it difficult to collect enough materials and cash," a private donor said.

"The misery and sufferings they are facing is worse than ours. Though we want to continue our donations, we must think of ourselves too. I feel extremely sorry for them," a private donor in Rangoon said.

Relief Web

Myanmar regime assess needs of cyclone survivors

YANGON - A MAJOR operation has been launched to assess the needs of Myanmar's storm survivors in a sign the military regime is finally cooperating in international aid efforts five weeks after Cyclone Nargis buffeted the country.

However, Tuesday's positive development contrasted with reports that 18 cyclone victims - women and children - on their way to the United Nations office to plead for help were arrested in the commercial capital, Yangon.

Some 250 experts from the UN, the Myanmar government and Southeast Asian nations headed into the Irrawaddy delta on Tuesday by truck, boat and helicopter for a village-by-village survey, the United Nations said.

Over the next 10 days, they will determine how much food, clean water and temporary shelter the 2.4 million survivors require, along with the cost of rebuilding houses and schools and reviving the farm-based economy.

'It has taken quite a long time but this shows the government is on board by its commitment to facilitate the relief operation and the scaling up that people are asking for,' said Ms Amanda Pitt, a UN spokeswoman in Bangkok, Thailand.

The UN estimated Cyclone Nargis affected 2.4 million people and warned more than 1 million of them, mostly in the delta, still need help. The cyclone killed more than 78,000 people in impoverished Myanmar.

The ruling junta has been sharply criticised by foreign governments and aid agencies for its ineptness in handling the disaster. It also has come under fire for forcing survivors from camps and allegedly dumping them in their destroyed villages.

Authorities detained 18 women and children on Tuesday as they walked to the UN offices in Yangon to complain about not receiving any government assistance, according to a government official who refused to be identified for fear of retaliation.

The group, from Dagon township on the outskirts of Yangon, was bundled into a waiting police car and remains in detention, witnesses said.

Ms Pitt said she was hopeful the start of the international assessment signalled a greater willingness on the part of the government to work alongside aid workers to reach survivors and allow them to better understand their needs.

'This should give us a comprehensive, across-the-board understanding of who has been reached, which responding agency reached them and what they received,' Ms Pitt said.

The information will be collected in a report to be released next month by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and should motivate more countries to donate to the cyclone relief operation, she said.

AP-Straits Times