Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Burma 101 for Obama; Three quarters rights in military constitution is slavery

By May Ng
Mizzima News

When the American Declaration of Independence was famously penned by Thomas Jefferson in 1776 that, "all men are created equal," the black African slaves were not included as part of the men who were considered equal. Section 2 of Article I of the original Constitution of the United States defined slaves as "three-fifths" of a person for calculations of each state's official population. And the failure to resolve the issue of slavery became a bitter factor that contributed to American Civil War which almost ended the first young liberal democracy on earth.

One hundred years after the 1863 'Emancipation Proclamation' and the 1865 'Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution' prohibiting slavery officially;-- in 1964, strongest civil rights law in history, the Civil Right Act banning discrimination based on race, colour, national origin, religion, or sex was passed.

And now almost fifty years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that, "I have been to the mountaintop-- and I have seen the promised land,"--a descendant of an African from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas will become the most powerful leader in the world, as a president of the United States.

No longer three fifths of a person, this African American is bearer of the torch of future hopes for his people and the world at one of the most turbulent time in history.

Believing that challenges bring opportunities, Obama seems poised to face the world he inherited. But the plight of Burmese people did not rank very high in the priority list of the US president even during George Bush's administration. Even though Burma is not on top of Obama's stack of cards now, Burma is one of a few George Bush's legacies that Obama cannot abandon.

During the 2008 terrible Cyclone Nargis in Burma, the Burmese military leaders ignored international pleas to let in rescuers for over a month. Instead, the army generals abandoned the appearance of legitimacy, and triumphantly announced winning of the referendum on military's constitution.

According to their constitution only military leaders have one hundred percent right to become leaders of Burma. Everyone else will only have seventy five percent of the rights to become a political leader of Burma. This will effectively reduce every Burmese citizen except the military generals to become three quarter of a person in Burma.

It took Americans, 'the inventors of modern democracy', over 200 years and many deaths to come full circle and have the courage to elect a great leader by abandoning fear and racial prejudices.

Today, powerful neighbours of Burma like India, China, and Thailand, by citing hundred years old British colonialism in Burma, insist that as long as they are Burmese the cruel military dictators can do no wrong to their people in Burma. But the 2008 military constitution will enslave the Burmese people with laws that only allow ordinary Burmese citizen three quarter of rights.

Obama's presidency should not let hypocrisy cloud the reasoning that "when foreigners enslave you it is wrong but when your own people enslave you it is no one's business."

With this on their mind the people of Burma will be welcoming the new great American president.

(May Ng is a member of Justice for Human Rights in Burma. To view her poems about Burma, please visit: http://www.othervoicespoetry.org/vol33/ng/index.html)

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