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Posts Tagged ‘Human rights

Challenge impunity in Myanmar

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Challenge impunity in Myanmar

Yozo Yokota, Tokyo | Tue, 07/06/2010 9:07 AM | Opinion

Last month, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, told the United Nations that Myanmar’s ruling military junta may be committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that these international crimes should be investigated. I agree.

The past three years have drawn the world’s attention to the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Myanmar as never before.  Now Myanmar’s dictator Than Shwe is hoping the world has a short memory; he plans a façade of an election later this year, to put sheen of legitimacy on dictatorial rule.

The courageous protests led by Buddhist monks in September 2007, and the regime’s shocking crackdown, including the killing of Japanese photojournalist Kenji Nagai, exposed more clearly than ever before the regime’s cruelty.

Eight months later, Cyclone Nargis ripped through the country, leaving death and devastation in its wake, and the regime’s initial refusal to accept international aid workers evidenced its inhumanity.

The continuing military offensives against civilians in ethnic areas, particularly in eastern Myanmar, the assassination of at least one prominent ethnic leader and attempts on the lives of others and a callous disregard for a famine in Chin State all expose once again the regime’s agenda of ethnic cleansing.

As the regime prepares to hold elections this year, the world must remember the backdrop of the past three years. Last year, a report was published by Harvard Law School called Crimes in Myanmar.

Commissioned by some of the world’s leading jurists, including Judge Patricia Wald (US), Hon. Ganzorig Gombosuren (Mongolia), Sir Geoffrey Nice QC (UK), Judge Richard Goldstone (South Africa), and Judge Pedro Nikken (Venezuela), the report concludes that the regime’s violations of human rights may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that these should be investigated by the United Nations. As a former UN special rapporteur, I agree.

During my period as UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, I received incontrovertible evidence that forced labor, the forcible conscription of child soldiers; torture and rape as a weapon of war are widespread and systematic in Myanmar. Since that time, the evidence has grown stronger. It is claimed by the Thailand-Myanmar Border Consortium that as many as 3,500 villages have been destroyed in eastern Myanmar since 1996. Villagers have been used as human minesweepers, forced to walk through fields of landmines to clear them for the military, often resulting in loss of their limbs and sometimes their lives in the process.

I visited prisons and heard many testimonies of cruel forms of torture. Today, over 2,100 political prisoners are believed to be in Myanmar’s jails, and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s democracy leader, remains under house arrest. She has spent over 14 of the past 20 years in detention.

Religious persecution is widespread. The regime is intolerant of non-Myanmarese ethnic minorities and non-Buddhist religious minorities. The predominantly Christian Chin and Kachin peoples, as well as the partly Christian Karen and Karenni, face discrimination, restriction and persecution, including the destruction of churches and crosses. Christians have been forced to tear down crosses and built Buddhist pagodas in their place, at gunpoint. The Muslim Rohingyas face similar persecution, and are denied citizenship in the country despite living in Myanmar’s northern Arakan state for generations. As a result they face unbearable restrictions on movement and marriage, and have almost no access to education and health care.

The United Nations has been documenting these crimes for many years. My fellow former rapporteur, Rajsoomah Lallah, concluded as long ago as 1996 that these abuses were “the result of policy at the highest level, entailing political and legal responsibility.” A recent General Assembly resolution urged the regime to “put an end to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law”. The UN has placed Myanmar on a monitoring list for genocide, while the Genocide Risk Index lists Myanmar as one of the two top “red alert” countries for genocide, along with Sudan.

Non-Governmental Organizations have made similar assessments. Amnesty International described the violations in eastern Myanmar as crimes against humanity, while the Minority Rights Group ranks Myanmar as one of the top five countries where ethnic minorities are under threat. Freedom House describes Myanmar as “the worst of the worst”.

Human Rights Watch and the International Center for Transitional Justice draw similar conclusions.  With “elections” looming and an increase in crimes against humanity already prevalent in Than Shwe’s attempt to end all ethnic minority resistance to his rule, now is the time for concerted international action before more lives are lost.

Impunity prevails in Myanmar and no action has been taken to bring an end to these crimes. That is why we believe the United Nations has an obligation to respond to the current rapporteur’s recommendation and establish a commission of inquiry, to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity and propose action. The UN Security Council should also impose a universal arms embargo on Myanmar’s regime. The regime has been allowed to get away with these crimes for too long. The climate of impunity should not be allowed to continue unchallenged.

The writer was UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar from 1992 to 1996 and a member of the UN Sub–Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights from 2000-2009.

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

July 8, 2010 at 5:11 pm

World focus on Burma (31-12-2009)

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Fresh misery looms large in New Year in Burma – ‎

The junta’s Border Guard Force (BGF) plan places the military forces of the ethnic groups under direct Burmese Army control leaving only their political …

Strategic cabinet meet in Naypyidaw –

… of the Burmese military government were summoned to Naypyidaw today, in what is likely to be a strategic meeting to be chaired by junta supremo Senior …

Drugs worth US$ 15 million seized in Thailand –

However, the New York-based, Human Rights Watch, early this month urged the Thai government to end police abuses after a district court in Bangkok on …

SP story saves man from deportation

StarPhoenix – Jason Warick

I don’t want to go back to Burma,” he said at the time. Veeman and other advocates said his case was clear — his status as a military deserter, …

Distinct possibility of renewed civil war – Brian McCartan

Chiang Mai, Thailand (Mizzima) – The New Year may bring fireworks of a different kind in northern Burma this year. December 31 marks the final deadline for …

China takes flight

Boston Globe – Alan Berger

The party also needs to rein in corrupt officials, respect the human and civil rights of Chinese citizens, allow Tibetans to have cultural autonomy in their …

Leading article: The year and the decade pass on, even as hope revives

Independent –

Iran’s election brought forth an opposition movement that fights bravely on. There are stirrings in Burma, North Korea and Cuba. Nor, mostly, did the worst …

More a case of survival than of winning or losing

Irish Times –

It’s Burma,” he explained, raising the hitherto unexpected vision of O’Brien as an Aung San Suu Kyi-like figure. O’Brien’s Sandwich Bars (no relation) never …

MediaWATCH: Phuket Kate’s Very Mossy Christmess

Phuketwan – ‎

Human rights groups say Rohingya Muslims have fled religious persecution in Burma and do not want to return to their home country. January 4, …

Gwynne Dyer: A look back at 2009 – Gwynne Dyer – ‎

In Burma, pro-democracy leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi, though still under house arrest, has supported efforts by the United States to open up channels of …

Diplomacy’s limits on display in 2009

San Antonio Express –

For human rights, 2009 was a dismal year: in Iran and Sudan, as noted above; in Burma, where Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to …

BURMA: China’s Oil, Gas Pipelines Recipe for Abuse, Warn Activists

Inter Press Service – Marwaan Macan-Markar

Yet as the junta in Burma, also known as Myanmar, prepares the initial groundwork to build the twin pipelines that will cut across the country, …

Burma’s Independence Day

Voice of America – ‎

January 4, 2010, marks the sixty-second anniversary of Burma’s independence from British rule. The United States has expressed its warmest wishes to the …

Is Zuma foreign policy a change of style or substance?

Tehran Times – Steven Gruzd – ‎

South Africa does seem to have learned some lessons from its public relations disasters on Myanmar/Burma and the Dalai Lama. Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim …

Kasit defends record in office

Bangkok Post –

If Burma was successful in its election, it would help strengthen the grouping and improve human rights issues, making the Asean Charter stronger. …

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

December 31, 2009 at 9:43 am

World focus on Burma (11-12-2009)

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Does Burma need another UN envoy? – ‎

While he was able to have talks with the junta officials and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, he failed to facilitate a process of political …

Obama Outlines a Vision of Might and Right

New York Times – David E. Sanger

He seemed to be thinking of Darfur, Somalia, Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and perhaps the long-running cases of North Korea’s gulags and Myanmar’s repression.

Australia urged to blacklist MOGE –

… the Australian government to include the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) in its list of sanctions. Burma Campaign Australia (BCA) in a …

Report: Burma, Yemen and Vietnam Hardest Hit by Extreme Weather in 2008

Democracy Now – ‎

And Burma, or Myanmar, Yemen and Vietnam were the three countries which were most affected in 2008. But then, we also have looked to the period from 1990 to …

Waffle Wildly, and Carry A Big Speech: Obama’s Meandering Nobel Road Trip

Huffington Post (blog) – ‎

… that Barack Obama, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, George Bush, The Chinese Government, the UN, the World Court, Aung San Suu Kyi, …

Chinese Vice-President to visit Burma – ‎

He said the situation along the Sino-Burma border is still unstable following the clash between the ethnic Kokang Army also known as Myanmar Nationalities

Family worried over detained Burmese-American’s health – ‎‎

The state-run media, New Light of Myanmar, reported that he had visited Burma eight times in the past to instigate public unrest. But the charge-sheet filed …

The joy of the envoy

The Age – ‎

”Certainly easier than Myanmar [Burma].” She bursts into laughter, straightening a fold in her saffron-coloured sari as she gets to the sighing stage of …

Dialogue helps overcome difference in atomised world

The Age – Martin Flanagan – ‎

Their organisation, Global Reconciliation, counts Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as Australian Sir William …

British govt launches innovative Burma campaign

Democratic Voice of Burma – Francis Wade -‎

Elections in Burma will have no credibility or legitimacy until these prisoners are released.” Burma’s most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, …

Chinese, Burmese Military Leaders Discuss Border Security

The Irrawaddy News Magazine – Wai Moe – ‎

… the state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar reported on Friday. Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping is scheduled to visit Burma in the near future, …

Dissident Groups Urge UN Not To Recognize 2010 Myanmar Election

RTT News – ‎

On the occasion of International Human Rights Day (December 10), three dissident Burmese groups–All Burma Monks’ Alliance, 88 Generation Students, …

UN Urged to Investigate Junta’s Crimes Against Humanity

The Irrawaddy News Magazine – Lalit K Jha – ‎

US Congressman Joseph Pitts in a statement, “This letter demonstrates that the eyes of the world are on Burma, and that we will call attention to the …

UN Security Council Criticized for Failure to Act Against Abuses in Burma – Patrick Goodenough – ‎

Protesters in the Philippines call for the release of political prisoners in Burma, outside the Burmese Embassy …

UN asked not to recognise 2010 Myanmar election

Press Trust of India – Lalit K Jha

… dissident Burmese groups have asked the United Nations and the international community not to recognise the scheduled 2010 elections in Myanmar unless …

Why the daughter of jailed activist continues his fight

Daily Gazette – ‎

Burma, officially the Union of Myanmar, is just one of the countries highlighted by students at Wivenhoe Park, with many able to tell personal stories of …

Lawmakers worldwide urge Myanmar probe

CNN International –

“The longer the council waits, the more people in Burma will die,” the letter concludes. The military junta has ruled Myanmar, also known as Burma, …

Testing Obama’s Foreign Policy

Korea Times – Joseph S. Nye, Jr

Critics charge that these accomplishments, as well as efforts to unblock the stalemates in Sudan and Myanmar (Burma), have been achieved at the price of …

US president accepts the Nobel Peace Prize

Aberdeen Press and Journal – Matt Williams – ‎

America, he said, would continue to bear witness to the struggle of people such as Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, reformers in Zimbabwe and protesters in Iran. …

President accepts Nobel Peace Prize

AZ – Christi Parsons – ‎

The president praised the dignity of Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi, the bravery of Zimbabweans who insisted on the right to vote despite threat of …

‘Judiciary system’, junta’s arm for abuses: Rights group – ‎‎

The charge, the trial and sentence of the Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi attracted international attention to the flaws of the Burmese judiciary,


Financial Mail (subscription) – Richard Steyn, Timothy Garton – ‎

… to Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, to the laptop-wielding mullahs of Iran, to the US of Bush the Younger, and to most outposts of his beloved Europe. …

President reiterates his call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi

Miadhu –

President Mohamed Nasheed has reiterated his call for the release of Burma’s Opposition Leader Aung San Suu Kyi. In a letter sent to the President of Burma …

BURMA: Exiled Media Brace for 2010 Election Challenge

Inter Press Service – Marwaan Macan-Markar -‎

But in truth, the military leaders of Burma, officially called Myanmar, have still to formally announce two important laws that will make the promised poll …

World’s parliamentarians petition UN on Burma

Radio Australia – ‎

More than 440 members of parliament from 29 countries have petitioned the United Nations Security Council, calling for immediate action on Burma’s …

Iranian regime weakening, forum told

Irish Times – Jamie Smyth

… UN human rights day with a demonstration outside Leinster House to protest against the house arrest of prominent rights campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi. …

Pelosi: On Human Rights Day, We Rededicate Ourselves to the Cause of …

PR Newswire (press release) –

In Burma, democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi still languishes in detention. In China and Tibet, people are imprisoned for only expressing their ideas and …

Lalin’s Coloumn: Military men as heads of state (HOS)

Asian Tribune – Lalin Fernando – ‎

In Asia the rot started in Burma with the killing of Premier General Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi) and 6 cabinet ministers inside parliament. …

With Guinea’s Strongman Speechless, Burkina Pauses, France Snarks, UN-Democracy?

Inner City Press – Matthew Russell Lee – ‎

… Council asking for them to setup a commission of inquiry on what the call crimes against humanity committed by the military government of Myanmar/Burma. …

Rights Group: New Report Shows UN Rights Council Shielding Worst Abusers …

GlobalPost (blog) – ‎

Of the 20 worst violators on Freedom House’s annual survey, the council censured only Burma (Myanmar) and North Korea. While it did adopt two resolutions on …

Sri Lanka Falls Off Radar of UN and US, Despite Rapp Report and Disappearances

Inner City Press – Matthew Russell Lee

… Council asking for them to setup a commission of inquiry on what the call crimes against humanity committed by the military government of Myanmar/Burma. …

UN USA – Remarks by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, US Permanent Representative to …


… Council asking for them to setup a commission of inquiry on what the call crimes against humanity committed by the military government of Myanmar/Burma. …

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

December 11, 2009 at 5:17 pm

World focus on Burma (19-11-2009)

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Obama’s Asia Trip: Too Focused on Common Ground?

TIME – Michael Scherer

In the meeting with the Burmese, for instance, the President spoke out on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader who lives under house arrest. …

Private oil wells seized for Chinese company

Democratic Voice of Burma –

Nov 19, 2009 (DVB)–Private oil wells and farmland in western Burma have been seized by government authorities to ready for exploration by a Chinese oil …

Myanmar refugees still flood the borders

Mission Network NEws (press release) –

Patrick Klein with Vision Beyond Borders says, “There are currently over 150000 refugees that have come into Thailand from Burma. …

Searching For That Glimmer Of Hope: Plight Of Refugee Children

Bernama – Mohd Ariff -‎

… who came to Malaysia about 25 years ago looking for a safe haven to escape from religious persecution in their home country, Burma (now Myanmar). …

UN Body Postpones Action on Burma’s Maritime Claim

Narinjara News –

“Consequently, further action on Myanmar’s claim on the outer limits of the continental shelf remains suspended,” said the foreign ministry in its statement …

Journalist faces 10 years’ jail for video of orphans

New Zealand Herald – Peter Popham

Photo / AP If a shocking documentary about the fate of Myanmar’s cyclone orphans wins a video-journalism award in London tomorrow, it will be some time …

Burma and a Lifetime of Human Rights Advocacy

UCLA Asia Institute –

In this capacity, he works tirelessly for the release and return to power of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma. …

Chinese Dissidents Barred From Meeting With Obama (press release) –

… ASEAN leaders of joining forces to challenge Burma and call for the release of all political prisoners, including the democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, …

Burma – Fish farming

Meattradenewsdaily (blog) – ‎

Fifteen fisheries officials from the Department of Fisheries and Myanmar Fisheries Federation (MFF) will depart on a month-long study tour to Vietnam that

Will Myanmar junta chief meet the lady? — Nirmal Ghosh

The Malaysian Insider – ‎

The senior general is trying to engineer a potential milestone in modern Myanmar’s history — ensuring that army-backed parties win next year’s election …

Conflicts and Interests

Back Stage – Simi Horwitz

Their next stop is Myanmar, formally known as Burma, where it will collaborate with a local theater company. Thanks to globalization and the Internet, …

Corruption Index Today, Election Tomorrow, Aid Revamp the Day After?

Brookings Institution – ‎

… including Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Chad, Somalia, Myanmar (Burma), Equatorial Guinea, Venezuela, Haiti, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. …

Myanmar warned of wind, but not the water

Globe and Mail – Laura MacInnis

World Meteorological Organization (WMO) expert Dieter Schiessl told journalists that authorities in the former Burma began issuing forecasts of strong winds …

Around the world in a single day

Stillwater Gazette –

… Germany, Ivory Coast, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Holland, Myanmar (Burma), Bulgaria, Zimbabwe, France, Lebanon, Mongolia, Finland, Mexico and Nicaragua. …

Special Report: Dalpino on the US-ASEAN Summit

Asia Security Initiative News & Blog (blog) – Catharin Dalpino – ‎

ASEAN leaders welcomed the shift in US policy for Burma that allowed engagement with the government – personified at the meeting by the participation of …


India/USA: Open Letter to Barak Obama Ahead of his Visit to India

Amnesty International USA – ‎

… the Burmese authorities to end serious and systematic human rights violations and to release over 2100 political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi. …

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

November 19, 2009 at 2:18 am

World focus on Burma (20-10-2009)

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Qantas won’t stop Jetstar’s Burma route

Brisbane Times – ‎

Its democracy icon, the Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has spent 13 of the past 19 years in detention since the junta refused to recognise her …

MediaWATCH: Tourists Bring Unwanted Baggage

Phuketwan – ‎

… Burma has scuttled a plan by fellow Asean members to issue a public appeal seeking amnesty for detained pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. …


Lanka Everything –

Last but not least, let us look at the Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been placed under house arrest for several years by the Burmese…


Burmese woman in exile to represent CSO at ASEAN summit –

… singled out Burma for its systematic human rights violations and called for the release of all political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, …

US Charge d’Affairs meets with opposition leaders – Myint Maung – ‎

On October 9, the Burmese junta granted detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi her request to meet with diplomats from the US, UK and Australia in …

A new tactic?

Frontline –

MYANMAR’S celebrated democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi is the only Nobel Peace laureate to languish in detention now. While this is a widely discussed …

Asean appeal blocked

Straits Times –

SINGAPORE – MYANMAR has scuttled a plan by fellow Asean members to issue a public appeal seeking amnesty for detained pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, …

Southeast Asia to have rights monitor

The Associated Press – Denis D. Gray – ‎

I don’t have any high hopes,” said Nyan Win, spokesman for Suu Kyi’sMyanmar. ASEAN consists of Brunei, … National League for Democracy party in Yangon,

Asean, gov’t execs snub people’s forum – ‎

Asean groups together Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Does Obama Believe in Human Rights?

Wall Street Journal – Bret Stephens – ‎

… Mr. Obama renewed sanctions on Burma. In August, he called the conviction of opposition leader (and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner) Aung San Suu Kyi a …

A New Era for Global Women’s Rights?

Campus Progress – Carly Groff – ‎

After learning the extent of the brutal human rights violations committed against women every day, every hour, every minute, it is evident that this issue …

Rights groups condemn Asean

บางกอกโพส – ‎

Instead of nominating delegates who work in the field of human rights, several Asean governments had appointed, or influenced the selection of, diplomats or ..

Why is Barack Obama appeasing mass murderers in Sudan? – Nile Gardiner – ‎

If anyone still naively believes the Obama administration attaches much importance to human rights …

Eastern Burma facing ‘severe’ food crisis

ReliefWeb (press release) – ‎

A report by the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), ‘Starving them out’, pointed to increased activity by the Burmese army as a major factor in the food …

Burmese civil society groups call on ASEAN leaders –

The groups, in their statement released on Monday, said military operations and human rights abuses by the Burmese regime have recently increased around the …

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

October 20, 2009 at 1:12 am

Letter to Japan Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada on the Burma policy review

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Letter to Japan Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada on the Burma policy review

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada
Kasumigaseki 2-2-1
Tokyo 100-8919

Re: Burma Policy Review

Dear Foreign Minister Okada:

We write to you on the occasion of your inauguration as Foreign Minister of Japan to discuss the human rights situation in Burma.

Human rights violations remain rampant all over the world, including in Asia. Across the region, civilians are killed in wars, millions of people are forced to flee violence and persecution as refugees, and many are unlawfully jailed for expressing views critical of their governments. While the past Japanese government made commitments to promote human rights and the rule of law, it was reticent in translating these commitments into concrete and visible actions. Now is the time for Japan to revise its foreign policy and make promotion of human rights a central pillar. Burma is a very good place to start.

As repression continues ahead of the elections planned for 2010, we believe the new Japanese government should urgently undertake a thorough policy review on Burma. As intractable as the situation in Burma may seem, Japan does have a role to play in improving the human rights and political situation there.

As you know, Burma remains one of the most repressive countries in the world. There are strict limits on basic freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. The intelligence and security services are omnipresent. Censorship is draconian. More than 2,200 political prisoners suffer in Burma’s squalid prisons. These prisoners include many members of the political opposition, courageous protestors who peacefully took to the streets in August and September 2007, and individuals who criticized the government for its poor response to Cyclone Nargis in May 2008. All have been sentenced after sham trials, summary hearings that often take place in the prisons themselves. The recent conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi on ridiculous charges reminded the world of the despotic nature of the military government that has been in power since 1962.

At the same time, military abuses connected to armed conflicts in ethnic minority areas continue. Human Rights Watch has for many years documented the recruitment and deployment of child soldiers, the use of forced labor, and summary killings, rape, and other abuses against minority populations, including the Rohingya, Chin, Shan, and Karen. Recent attacks against Shan and Karen communities have once again led to large-scale displacement of ethnic communities and needless death and hardship. Fighting between the Burmese army and ethnic militias has also driven thousands of refugees from northern Shan state into China.

In addition to rampant violations of civil and political rights, corruption and mismanagement have meant that under military rule Burma has become one of the poorest countries in Asia. The government seems to care little for the basic welfare of its people; to give but one example, while the Burmese government received an estimated US$150 million per month in gas export revenue in 2008, its last announced annual budget to address its AIDS crisis in 2007 was a mere $172,000. While most Burmese struggle to subsist, the country’s leaders have the comfort of “5 star” lives of luxury generated through corruption from the plunder of the country’s natural resources.

There is no mystery in the military’s long-term intentions, as the ruling junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has been totally open about its plans to stage-manage an electoral process that will ensure continued military rule with a civilian face. Burma’s generals have learned from their resounding defeat by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in 1990 and periodic protest movements that it cannot risk staging a credible election (indeed, last year the government announced a 98 percent turnout and a 92 percent vote in favor of a new constitution, just months after the 2007 street protests that rocked the country). They doubtlessly hope that this will mollify countries that have imposed sanctions and oppose military rule and end the pressure to make progress on political reform and national reconciliation, and encourage large-scale international aid flows.

Based on the experience of the 2008 referendum, the harsh prison sentences handed down to activists, the lack of serious dialogue with the political opposition and Burma’s many ethnic groups, the stonewalling of United Nations and ASEAN efforts to discuss political and human rights issues, the lack of any reform measures, and the trial and conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi on ridiculous charges, it is clear that there will be no meaningful change in the political direction of the country before or after the 2010 elections unless concerned governments and international bodies take steps to change the SPDC’s calculations.

We recognize the scale of this challenge. The military government has close relations with its neighbors China, India, and Thailand, and has large revenue streams from these countries from the sale of gas, timber, gems, and other natural resources. China, Russia, and even South Africa have protected the government from action at the United Nations Security Council. Japan, thankfully, changed its policy in this respect in 2006, yet still has fallen far short of being a strong public critic of Burma. In short, while much of the world sees Burma’s rulers as isolated, ruthless, and despised, from the SPDC’s perspective it has influential friends in the region that provide massive resources through the purchase of energy and other commodities, and shield Burma from concerted action at the UN, ASEAN, and other international fora on subjects like effective arms embargoes or targeted sanctions.

According to Keiichi Ono, Director of the First Southeast Asia Division of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan’s current policy towards Burma is predicated on “retaining dialogue, providing limited economic assistance, [and] cooperating with the UN and international community.” This approach misses an important tool for change: using Japan’s international and regional standing and status as one of the world’s largest donors to put public pressure on the SPDC.

For years, Japan has been reluctant to exert pressure on the SPDC and its senior leadership. Now is the time to consider a different and stronger approach. With the right calibration and a more unified approach with other states, pressure on Burma can work.

We suggest that Japan’s policy review should, therefore, aim at making more effective all three prongs of Japanese policy – diplomacy, sanctions and aid – and not placing one ahead of the others.


On diplomacy, Human Rights Watch supports Japanese government efforts to speak to the Burmese government at the highest levels. But there should be no wishful thinking or illusions that more conciliatory talk from Japan and others will somehow cause Burma’s senior leadership to alter its plans. The Burmese military is committed to remaining in complete control, whether through managed elections or the current system and has exploited engagement by the Japanese government and others by making close contact and relations the primary goal of Japanese policy. The Japanese government should make it clear that as a rights-respecting democracy Japan stands by its principles and the protection of the rights of Burmese and a genuine and credible political reform process needs to be the primary goal of any talks with the Burmese leadership.

Second, Japan should keep in mind that the Burmese officials who normally speak to foreigners – whether the foreign minister or the functionaries involved in the post-Nargis reconstruction – have no real authority in the government and are probably as fearful of Than Shwe and other senior leaders as anyone else. Many foreign diplomats and others who have invested a great deal of time and energy in pursuing relations with the second tier of leadership have told us that it was time largely wasted. Those who do have the authority – Senior General Than Shwe, Vice-Senior General Maung Aye, Lt. General Thura Shwe Mann, Prime Minister Thein Sein, and key regional commanders – usually do not engage with outsiders. Talking to the deputy health minister and mid-level civil servants can be useful in facilitating humanitarian relief and resolving discrete practical problems on the ground. But it is not a way of addressing the fundamental issues in the country or causes of friction between Burma and Japan – including the recent meeting of Htay Oo, minister for agriculture and irrigation and secretary-general of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, with your predecessor Hirofumi Nakasone.

On key political matters, the engagement that has taken place thus far has not been very meaningful and in some cases has even been counterproductive. During the crackdown following the 2007 demonstrations, for instance, diplomatic action merely allowed the SPDC to buy time and pretend that it was engaged in serious discussions. For example, the efforts of the UN secretary-general’s special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, have failed to achieve anything of substance. The situation has devolved to the point that at times getting a visa or a short meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi was treated as a success, with the unintended but predictable consequence of being used by the SPDC for its own propaganda. Ban Ki-Moon’s most recent visit also failed to achieve anything of substance; he was not even allowed to meet Aung San Suu Kyi and was given empty promises to release political prisoners.

Human Rights Watch recommends that Japan appoint its own special envoy. That envoy should have a direct line to the foreign minister and specific instructions to engage in a principled way with the SPDC and other key bilateral and multilateral actors. Vigorous and principled diplomacy is needed with China, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and other influential actors, to ensure that new revenue streams are not made available to the government.

We also encourage you to consider the establishment of a Burma Contact Group or some form of multilateral grouping, in close contact with the US, to meet and regularly discuss diplomatic engagement with the Burmese government on a range of issues. This could have the effect of converging the views and policies of China, India, Thailand, Indonesia and others, and gradually minimize the ability of the SPDC to play states off against each other. There is considerable common ground on a range of issues, including the need for political reform and credible elections involving the political opposition, concern over Burma’s trafficking in heroin and methamphetamines, and the need for a regional approach to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Another topic could be the growing defense links between Burma and North Korea, as evidenced by the recent publication of photos showing North Korean assistance building tunnel complexes in Burma. Such a Contact Grouping would, of course, have to be predicated on Japan sticking to human rights principles and not engaging in diplomatic horse-trading on core issues of reform.

As the United Nations has long been the focal point for diplomacy on Burma, we urge Japan to keep supporting the continuation of a special envoy of the secretary-general. It is crucial that the secretary-general and the special envoy not get sucked into the game of access or high-level meetings being the goal or a sign of progress. The envoy must be an individual with the principles, skills, and backing of the international community to make an impact.


There is now a strong and even emotional debate on sanctions against Burma. Some argue that sanctions have not had any discernible impact on the military government and should be lifted. Others argue that for political and technical reasons they have never been properly implemented and, therefore, more pressure should be applied by imposing sanctions on additional companies and individuals, and also by encouraging countries and institutions that have not imposed sanctions to do so.

Part of the problem is that this debate tends to treat all sanctions as the same, when in fact they should be differentiated. In our work in various countries around the globe, we have found that properly imposed targeted sanctions can be effective in bringing about improvements in human rights. Targeted sanctions include arms embargoes and restrictions on military assistance, travel bans on individuals, financial sanctions on individuals and entities, and investment and trade sanctions that are specifically focused on companies or economic sectors of greatest concern.

Perhaps the most effective of these are financial sanctions. As with countries like the US, EU, Switzerland, Australia, and Canada, which already have financial sanctions in place, we urge Japan to impose financial sanctions as part of a coordinated approach to put maximum pressure on Burma’s leaders. Human Rights Watch supports sanctions, including financial sanctions, targeted at leading officials, both military and civilian, who bear responsibility for abuses. Targeted sanctions don’t impose hardship on ordinary people, but do provide leverage if effectively implemented. Going after financial transactions by key individuals in the SPDC and others with close ties to the oil and gas authority and other key revenue-generating entities in Burma will require the dedication of intelligence resources and continual monitoring and adjustment by Japan, as it does by the US and other governments which have imposed financial sanctions. These individuals are at the apex of the system inside Burma and susceptible to this kind of coordinated pressure.

Human Rights Watch also believes Japan, as a leading proponent of human security at the UN Security Council, should pursue openings for targeted military sanctions through the UN Security Council’s agenda on children and armed conflict. The Security Council has stated in two resolutions (SC Res. 1539 and Res. 1612) that it will consider bans on the export and supply of small arms, light weapons, and other military equipment and assistance to parties that refuse to end their recruitment and use of child soldiers. The Burmese military retains thousands of children in its ranks and has been identified repeatedly since 2002 by the UN secretary-general for its continued recruitment and use of child soldiers. While the imposition of sanctions by the Security Council against Burma has proven nearly impossible, the children and armed conflict agenda provides a useful avenue for stronger Security Council action. A credible threat of military sanctions can be used as leverage to gain concrete improvements in ending the widespread recruitment and use of children as soldiers.

Humanitarian and Development Aid

On humanitarian aid, Human Rights Watch has long called for increased assistance to deal with acute humanitarian needs in Burma. Japan funding can increase on certain conditions outlined below. But first, it is necessary to recognize that the cause of Burma’s humanitarian problems is not a lack of available resources. Burma has made gas deals with Thailand that provides the government its largest source of revenue, worth approximately $2 billion annually. A new deal to supply natural gas to China via an overland pipeline will significantly add to that sum. Burma’s leaders also count on large earnings from sales of gems and timber, and ongoing hydroelectric projects are expected to generate additional lucrative export revenue.

Despite these large revenue sources, the military government spends next to nothing on the welfare of its people. The largest share of the state budget is allocated to the military, as much as 40 percent, while combined social spending is estimated to be a paltry 0.8 percent of GDP for 2008/09, making public expenditures on health and education in Burma among the lowest in the world. Huge numbers of Burmese live in grinding poverty, brought upon by decades of government economic mismanagement and corruption. For this reason, the suggestion that foreign business investment in Burma would somehow open up the country is fallacious. Foreign investment in Burma is concentrated on the extraction of natural resources and building of hydropower projects. The resulting revenues are largely squandered, stolen, or used for military spending instead of to meet humanitarian and development needs, thereby resulting in the strengthening of those in power and robbing the Burmese people of basic economic and social rights.

Donor discussions with the SPDC over the provision of humanitarian assistance should not neglect the government’s ability to contribute substantially to such assistance. Donors should also remember that the purpose of humanitarian aid is humanitarian – to keep people alive and healthy – not political. No one should expect humanitarian aid itself to have a significant political effect in opening up the country or changing the government’s policies. Donors will also need to stress the importance of transparency and accountability in the delivery of humanitarian aid, including the need for approaches that strengthen civil society rather than existing corrupt power structures and that respond to the views and needs of ordinary people.

The SPDC does not want to be totally dependent on China. For this reason, it also wants assistance from Japan, the US, and EU. Development aid is a very important incentive for change in Burma. However, we do not believe development aid from Japan or other countries should be made available until there is significant political reform, progress on human rights, better governance, and the possibility of consulting civil society and local communities in setting development goals. Likewise, World Bank lending for development should also not be resumed until these conditions are met. Unfortunately, the SPDC gives priority to development initiatives that are “vanity projects” for its leaders, facilitate abusive military campaigns, and help generate funds to strengthen military rule, when what is needed is development that would alleviate the poverty and deprivation of ordinary citizens.

Helping the Burmese people is one of the most difficult and intractable problems the world has faced in recent decades. We don’t underestimate the challenge, but we think a new and principled approach by the international community with Japanese leadership can make a significant difference in the years ahead.


Kenneth Roth
Executive Director

© Copyright, Human Rights Watch 350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor New York, NY 10118-3299 USA

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

September 18, 2009 at 5:20 am

World focus on Burma (17-9-2009)

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Food insecurity aggravates in Chin state – ‎

by Salai Pi Pi New Delhi (Mizzima) – Unabated rat infestation continues to create acute food shortage for people in Chin state and northwest part of Burma, …

Calgarians receive humanitarian award

Calgary Herald –

The Semkuleys continue to return to seven locations along the Thai-Myanmar (formerly Burma)border where fleeing refugees have set up camps, built villages, …

Raytheon gets $22.2 million Navy contract extension for advanced …

Gaea Times (blog) – ‎‎

… JoeTacopino Mission of Burma? RT @BreakingNews: Myanmar Radio and Television-4 reports the Myanmar government has granted amnesty to 7114 prisoners. …

UN to resume work in northeastern Burma

Democratic Voice of Burma – Nan Kham – ‎

… rare rebuke to Burma, urging it to “properly deal with its domestic issue to safeguard the regional stability in the China-Myanmar [Burma] border area”.

Junta defends barring Suu Kyi from attending hearing – ‎

An article “Court rules of conducts and rights of defendant” published in the New Light of Myanmar on Thursday said, while the defendant has the right to …

Seven bomb blasts in Burma, no casualties: police

บางกอกโพส – ‎‎

Seven small bombs exploded in the suburbs of Burma’s commercial hub Rangoon but did not cause any casualties, police in the military-ruled nation said …

Opposition coalition ‘unable to materialise’

Democratic Voice of Burma – Khin Hnin Htet – ‎

Among the group’s leading members, chairman Aung Shwe, Lun Tin and U Lwin are in poor health while Aung San Suu Kyi, Tin Oo, Khun Htun Oo and Kyaw Min are …

Human Rights Report Showcases Political Prisoners

The Irrawaddy News Magazine – Lalit K Jha

Webb, who met Sen-Gen Than Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi during his trip, has been advocating a more open US policy towards Burma. It is understood that Webb

Seven blasts hit Rangoon

Democratic Voice of Burma – ‎

Sept 17, 2009 (DVB)–Seven blasts hit industrial zones in Burma’s former capital of Rangoon yesterday evening, according to local authorities who said the …

Human Rights Report Showcases Political Prisoners

The Irrawaddy News Magazine – Lalit K Jha

Webb, who met Sen-Gen Than Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi during his trip, has been advocating a more open US policy towards Burma. It is understood that Webb …

U2 blows roof off SkyDome

Toronto Star – Ashante Infantry – ‎

And they made sure to hit the political marks – dedicating “Walk On” to Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi as fans walk the stage perimeter with paper masks, …

Myanmar state media defends Suu Kyi’s exclusion from appeal

GulfNews –

AP Yangon: Myanmar’s state media has defended a decision to bar detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from attending her appeal Friday, …

Spate of small bombs in Rangoon

The Nation – ‎

By Deutsche Presse Agentur Rangoon- A series of small bombs went off in the suburbs of Yangon Wednesday and Thursday in what appeared to be an act of …

Myanmar defends Suu Kyi’s exclusion from appeal

Philippine Star – ‎‎

YANGON (AP) – Myanmar’s state media defended a decision to bar detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from attending her appeal Friday, saying judicial …

U2 raises the roof

Globe and Mail –

Non-music moments came in the form of a video address by Desmond Tutu and an appeal to consider the situation of Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi …

Junta defends court ban

Straits Times –

… state-run Burmese language newspapers. ‘Courts hear criminal cases in accordance with the existing laws…. Therefore, it is fair to say that Myanmar’s …

Bolivia seizes 19 tons of cocaine

People’s Daily Online – ‎‎

Bolivian President Evo Morales said Wednesday that Bolivia has seized a total of 19 tons of cocaine so far this year, more than the 11 tons for all of 2005. …

An Open Letter by Geng He, Wife of Human Rights Attorney Gao Zhisheng

The Epoch Times – ‎‎

Very recently, I noticed among those who appealed for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, there were, unexpectedly, Chinese Communist Party members. …

Bolivia angry over US drugs black list

euronews – ‎

Along with Venezuela and Myanmar, Bolivia faces the prospect of Washington cutting off all aid other than humanitarian and community development programmes. …

Jamaica on US drug black list

Jamaica Observer

Meanwhile, the State Department said Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela “failed demonstrably during the last 12 months to adhere to international …

Morales: US Has No Right to Judge Bolivia’s Anti-Drug Fight

Latin American Herald Tribune – ‎

LA PAZ – Bolivian President Evo Morales said Wednesday that the United States “doesn’t have the authority or moral standing to question” his country’s …

Asean Can Learn From Africa On Human Rights

Bernama –

Human rights activists alleged that Asean stripped the commission of any teeth in order to appease perennial human rights violators such as Burma,” he said. …

Myanmar Doubles Political Arrests; Elections a Sham, Group Says

Bloomberg – Ed Johnson

The US, China, India and Southeast Asian countries “should make the release of all political prisoners a central goal of their engagement with Burma. …

Myanmar Doubles Political Arrests; Elections a Sham, Group Says

Bloomberg – Ed Johnson – ‎

The US, China, India and Southeast Asian countries “should make the release of all political prisoners a central goal of their engagement with Burma. …

2 ‘princesses’ enter politics

Straits Times –

YANGON – TWO more ‘princesses’ are jumping into the fray of MyanmarMyanmar prime ministers are aiming to join a new politics. The daughters of two former

Burmese opposition meets in Prague, seeking unity

Prague Daily Monitor – ‎

The Czech Republic actively supports the efforts at the democratisation of Burma (Myanmar) in which a military junta has been ruling for over 47 years. …

BURMA: Rights Group Tallies Growing Ranks of Political Prisoners

Inter Press Service – Eli Clifton

Most recently, the ruling junta has come under fire for its decision to prosecute Nobel Peace Laureate and opposition party leader Ang San Suu Kyi, …

Burmese political prisoner count ‘doubled’ since 2007

Democratic Voice of Burma – Francis Wade

Sept 16, 2009 (DVB)–The number of political prisoners in Burma has more than doubled in the past two years, according to a report published by a New …

Destination Laos: The sublime magic of Luang Prabang – ‎

Tucked between Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and China, this little gem–pronounced most commonly without the ending “s“–has a turbulent …

Burma and Webb, What Everyone Needs to Know

The Weekly Standard – ‎

Steinberg’s new book is titled Burma/Myanmar, What Everyone Needs to Know. Makes you wonder what approach he might have taken to Hitler’s Germany, …

Rights Group Says Burma Has Intensified Political Arrests

Voice of America –

By VOA News Human Rights Watch says Burma’s military government has doubled the number of political prisoners over the past two years. …

Political prisoner numbers double in Burma –

THE number of political prisoners in military-ruled Burma has doubled to more than 2200 in the two years since a crackdown on protests. …

US Cites 20 Countries for Illegal Drugs

Voice of America – ‎

A statement released by the department says Bolivia, Burma and Venezuela have “failed demonstrably” to meet their obligations to fight drugs as promised …

US keeps Venezuela, Bolivia atop narcotics list

Reuters – ‎

In an annual report, the United States said Bolivia — the world’s third-largest cocaine producer — Venezuela and Myanmar had all “failed demonstrably” to …

US slams failed anti-drugs efforts in Venezuela but will not cut …

El Universal –

Venezuela, Bolivia and Myanmar “failed demonstrably” one more year lo live up to their obligations under counternarcotics agreements, the United States …

Obama follows Bush in arbitrary drug decertification


Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela, ‘failed demonstrably’ during the last 12 months to adhere to international counter-narcotic agreements and take …

US Myanmar policy review almost complete: Obama aide


… Rights Watch unveiled a report spotlighting the fate of what it estimated to be about 2100 political prisoners in Myanmar, which Washington calls Burma. …

International Trade Compliance Update

Linex Legal (registration) –

56 (Public Law 111- 42), a resolution to approve the renewal of import restrictions on Burma (Myanmar). The law approves the renewal of import restrictions …

US new energy dependence: Leftist Bolivia for electric car’s lithium –

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Just when you thought the US might begin to break its energy dependence on unfriendly regimes, comes electric cars. …

Obama maintains drug blacklist of countries

USA Today – ‎

Of these, Bolivia, Burma (also known as Myanmar) and Venezuela were found to have “failed demonstrably” to meet commitments to combat production and …

US slams ‘failed’ anti-drug efforts in Burma

Democratic Voice of Burma – Francis Wade

Sept 16, 2009 (DVB)–Burma is one of three countries that have ‘failed demonstrably’ to stem the production and trade in illegal drugs over the past year, …

Rights group: Free Myanmar prisoners before polls

eTaiwan News – ‎

AP A leading US-based human rights group launched a campaign Wednesday for Myanmar’s military government to release more than 2200 political prisoners …

Getting the United Nations to Refocus

The Jewish Week – Daniel S. Mariaschin – ‎

In contrast, states like Iran, North Korea, and Myanmar (Burma) have few or no resolutions passed against them. In order to be taken seriously, …

Burma: Surge in Political Prisoners

Human Rights Watch (Communiqué de presse) –

When visiting Burma, foreign officials should ask not just to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, but with other Burmese political activists in prison to solicit …

Africa: US Emphasizes Freedom of Expression At Human Rights Council – Jane Morse

… the United States is concerned about the human rights situation in Burma, particularly after the recent trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi …

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

September 17, 2009 at 10:08 am