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)

READ MORE---> Burma 101 for Obama; Three quarters rights in military constitution is slavery...

No Election Participation, No Disarmament: Mon Party

The Irrawaddy News

The New Mon State Party, an ethnic armed ceasefire group in southern Burma, decided at its congress not to participate in the 2010 Burmese election, said a member of the executive committee.

About 101 members of the party approved the decision after the party held a two-week congress which ended on Jan 17 at its central headquarters in Ye Township, Mon State. The party holds a congress meeting every three years.

Nai Shwe Thein, a member of the NMSP executive committee, said, “We didn’t get what we wanted at the constitutional convention. That’s why we will not join the election.”

Leaders also discussed the current ceasefire agreement it has with the military government, and the party decided it would not disarm, if asked by the military regime.

“If they [the Burmese military] ask us to disarm, we will do something,” said Nai Shwe Thein. “Our party policy is we will not give up arms, and we will not abandon our party.”

The party has maintained a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese military for more than 14 years.

Some Mon community leaders expressed concern they might be forced to disband their schools, and many Mon plantation owners and laborers are worried they will lose their rubber plantations if fighting should resume between the NMSP and the Burmese military.

Nai Aye Con, a member of the Mon National Education Department, said, “If there is a war, we can’t run the schools that are close to the Burmese military controlled areas.”

Rubber plantations produce daily income for many people, and some fear the recent NMSP decisions could threaten their livelihood.

The NMSP signed a ceasefire agreement with the military regime in 1995. Observers say there have been no political advancements in more than a decade, and the regime has continued a campaign of human rights abuses in Mon State.

In 2003, the party attended the national constitutional convention, but left after a proposal to federalize the constitution was rejected by the military-controlled convention. The party maintained observers at the convention.

In early March, the NMSP released a statement against the constitutional referendum, citing concerns that the constitution would strengthen the regime without resulting in any actual democratic changes in the country.

READ MORE---> No Election Participation, No Disarmament: Mon Party...

‘So far, so bad,’ But Nothing is Permanent

The Irrawaddy News

Will 2009 bring a positive change to Burma? A golden question, but no one has the answer. When asked “How’s it going in Burma?” a fellow Burmese journalist who is visiting Thailand answered: “So far, so bad.”

The young journalist said the phrase is used a lot by his friends in Rangoon. At first, it seemed funny, but I felt a pang in my heart, reflecting the real situation. All events to date point to the truth of the phrase.

The roots of the aging, military government, its decrepit system, our aging dissident leadership and their tired policies are firmly stuck in place.

Where are the new people and ideas to give birth to an effective, new pro-democracy movement? After 47 years under one of the most oppressive dictatorial rulers in the world, Burma needs a miracle, something we can’t imagine right now.

The unexpected can happen and change events: The Saffron Revolution, Cyclone Nargis. Who knows? Something extraordinary could happen within the junta’s leadership.

Before1988, no seasoned politician or political observer could foresee the nationwide pro-democracy uprising which toppled late dictator Ne Win’s authoritarian socialist regime. In 1988, the poor economic situation and political oppression suddenly led to a political explosion.

The situation now is worse than then, as my fellow journalist said. Politically the country still waits for a more democratic system and ethnically, the country has never been united. Worse, economically it is more battered than ever.

Burma, in fact, could explode at anytime. Repressive policies applied over the nearly five decades of military rule have piled up an immense dysfunctional bureaucracy which hides the smoldering anger and hate of the Burmese people.

Nobody knows when the country might explode. Unpredictable things can happen in 2009, before the military regime, known as the State Peace and Development Council holds the scheduled national election in 2010. Burma’s political organizations as well as international community should be prepared for such an event.

But for now, everyone must continue to work individually with new strength, with new resolve for the New Year. During the New Year period, the Irrawaddy has asked prominent persons in and outside Burma for their New Year resolutions.

“Things here don’t seem to bring change,” lamented the prominent journalist-politician Win Tin. “For 2009, however, my resolution is to continue working very hard for democracy and the freedom of the country and to work together with pro-democracy forces.”

It’s encouraging, even amazing, to hear such strong determination from Win Tin, an executive member of the main opposition National League for Democracy who spent 19 years in prison after the 1988 nationwide pro-democracy uprising.

Burma’s famous rock star Zaw Win Htut, said, “In 2009, I have a plan to travel across the country to perform music concerts in at least 25 cities. My purpose is to make people happy and joyful.” The rocker’s resolution isn’t political, but it can bring happiness to desperate people.

A prominent HIV/AIDS activist in Rangoon, Phyu Phyu Thin, said she plans to expand her projects across the country. “I will keep up my work in order to quickly provide ARV medicine to those in need,” she said.

Her resolution will definitely make a difference in Burma where there are 240,000 HIV/AIDS patients and 76,000 patients without ARV treatment, according to Médicins Sans Frontieres–Holland (AZG), a leading INGO.

An activist who works with Burmese migrants in Thailand, Moe Swe, said, “I will keep trying to be a real representative of the workers. This year I am determined to expose exploitation in factories, political groups and nongovernmental organizations.”

Each of these resolutions is inspiring. They are just a few of the resolutions of people we interviewed. If everyone keeps trying to make their resolutions true, we will all be contributing to different sectors of Burmese society.

Burma’s main problem remains political: The fight between the oppressor and the oppressed. Peaceful, national reconciliation is the most appropriate way to go forward, and the military leaders are still the main roadblock.

In Burma, a radical change—including regime change—is probably not realistic. As I said, we need a miracle for that. This year, everyone should make realistic resolutions to accomplish achievable goals.

Everyone who is politically involved in Burma should have one fundamental resolution to work for: The release of more than 2,000 political prisoners, including detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. It is an essential first step toward national reconciliation and needed to break the current deadlock.

Many people and groups in the international community, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, must be determined to achieve that goal as part of their 2009 resolutions.

Ban said in his year-end press conference at UN headquarters in New York. “I am disappointed by the unwillingness of the government of Myanmar [Burma] to deliver on its promises for democratic dialogue and the release of political prisoners."

He postponed his trip to Burma, which was scheduled for December, saying he will return to Burma only when he is assured that his visit will yield tangible results, such as the release of all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi.

Burma has a way of always disappointing us. But in 2009, we can’t give in to disappointment. Ban must seek more creative, decisive actions on the part of the UN.

“So far, so bad” may be true for now, but if everyone pushes forward with strong resolve, Burma will achieve some great steps forward in 2009.

Buddha’s fundamental philosophy still prevails in the universe: Impermanence is the only permanence. The phrase “So far, so bad” will not be permanent.

READ MORE---> ‘So far, so bad,’ But Nothing is Permanent...

Mixed Reactions to Obama in Southeast Asia

The Irrawaddy News

Throughout Southeast Asia, observers are busy trying to guess what Barack Obama’s remarkable ascent to the US presidency will mean for the region’s relations with the world’s most powerful nation.

In Indonesia, where Obama spent four years as a boy, the mood is celebratory. Children from his former school will mark his swearing-in by singing in downtown Jakarta, while former classmates of the president-elect plan to gather to watch his inaugural address.

Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, married Lol Soetoro in Indonesia, where she and her son lived from 1967-72.

The Jakarta Post reported that Obama’s half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who was born and raised in Jakarta but now lives in Hawaii, would be attending the inauguration, as would other members of Obama’s Indonesian family.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono congratulated Obama when he won the election in November, and expressed his hope that the new president’s leadership would help steer the world through the current global economic crisis.

However, other countries in the region are less certain about Obama’s likely impact on the struggling economy, which is the main focus of relations between the US and Southeast Asia.

An editorial in the Bangkok Post, Thailand’s leading English-language daily, was downbeat about the prospects for change, citing critics who warned that “the deepening economic woes and domestic dynamics within [Thailand and the US] will keep the two allies apart and maintain the status quo on pending free trade negotiations.”

Indeed, many fear that the Obama administration will merely follow in the footsteps of its predecessors, who showed little interest in supporting the region’s aspirations. For nearly two decades, the US has been unhappy with the notion of the region coming together, particularly when it relied on the anti-West rhetoric of leaders like Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to cement unity among the disparate members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, will also be watching to see if Obama will pay closer attention to them than Bush did in all his eight years in the White House,” Hardev Kaur, an editor for Malaysia’s leading newspaper, the New Straits Times.

One of the more difficult issues facing US relations with the region will be Burma. Although it remains to be seen whether the Obama administration will be able to make a breakthrough on Burma, the US ambassador to the UN-designate, Susan Rice, said last week that she favored “multilateral sanctions” with the support of regional powers as a measure to put pressure on the Burmese junta to release political prisoners and restore democracy in the country.

READ MORE---> Mixed Reactions to Obama in Southeast Asia...

Opposition Leaders Expect Obama to Stick to Burma Policy

The Irrawaddy News

Burmese opposition leaders expect US support for the pro-democracy movement to remain strong after President-elect Barack Obama takes office on Tuesday. Some said, however, the Burmese people themselves remained the most potent force for political change.

Nyan Win, spokesman for the National League for Democracy (NLD), told The Irrawaddy: “We believe that the US will keep up its support for human rights and the democracy movement in Burma.”

An ethnic Arakanese leader in Rangoon, Aye Tha Aung, chairman of the Arakan League for Democracy, said he didn’t expect greater support for political change in Burma. “The most important force for change in Burma are the Burmese people, opposition groups and ethnic leaders,” he said.

International pressure on the Burmese regime was still needed, however, he added.

Ludu Sein Win, a veteran Burmese journalist in Rangoon, said nothing more than condemnation of the regime could be expected from the Obama administration.

“I want to urge the Burmese people: Don’t rely on Obama and [UN Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon,” Sein Win said. “We must rely on ourselves.”

Sanctions alone were not enough to bring about political change in Burma, Sein Win said. He thought that sanctions had only a small impact and were insufficient to bring down the regime.

Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), said the Obama administration should maintain sanctions against the Burmese junta and its cronies.

Burma would not be a priority issue, however, in view of such immediate challenges as the conflict between Israel and Hamas and the US economic crisis.

Bo Kyi said Obama should try and persuade China and leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations to work on a solution of the Burma question. “We also want him to try to find out common ground in cooperation with the UN Security Council’s five permanent members and 10 non-permanent members.”

Bo Kyi said he would also like to see the new US administration continue to pressure the Burmese junta to release all political prisoners, including democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, to enter into a tripartite dialogue with ethnic leaders and opposition and agree to a constitutional review.

READ MORE---> Opposition Leaders Expect Obama to Stick to Burma Policy...

A Message to President Obama

The Irrawaddy recently spoke with Aung Din, executive director of the US Campaign for Burma, about the implications of an Obama presidency for future US policy on Burma.

Question: What is your message to President Obama?

Answer: I want President Obama to uphold the existing economic sanctions on the Burmese military regime and lead a strong diplomatic effort to organize the international community to put collective pressure on the regime. Instead of divided responses, what we need importantly from the international community is to speak with one voice to the generals and I believe President Obama, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and US Permanent Representative to the UN Dr Susan Rice will be able to make this happen. As the first step, we want President Obama to appoint someone whom we can trust and rely on to be his Special Envoy on Burma, as authorized by the Tom Lantos Block Burma Jade Act of 2008, and get Senate confirmation as soon as possible.

Q: What can you realistically expect the incoming administration to do on Burma? Do you think the policy will be more or less the same as Bush’s? Or will there be more engagement inside Burma, or even dialogue with the regime?

A: President-elect Obama and Secretary of State-designate Clinton have been among the strong supporters of Burma’s democracy movement since their Senate years. I expect they will continue to place significant pressure on the regime for the release of all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and for the realization of a meaningful and time-bound dialogue between the regime and democracy forces led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. I also expect that they will be able to organize the international community to stand together for the people of Burma and speak with one voice to the generals in Burma.

Q: What do you think of the efforts of George Bush and former first lady Laura Bush on Burma?

A: President Bush and the first lady have done their best for the people of Burma. They were both personally involved in Burma and have made Burma a higher US foreign policy priority. Even in the last days of his administration, President Bush and the first lady have put Burma in the international spotlight again and again and set a precedent for the next administration. We owe them a lot. I still believe that they will continue to be with us even they leave office.

Q: What do you think about Michael Green’s appointment as a special envoy on Burma?

A: I respect Dr Mike Green and I really want him to be the US Special Coordinator for Burma. I expect President Obama will continue to nominate him for the job when he takes office on January 20.

Q: We all know Burma won’t be a top priority, as there are many pressing issues ahead—Afghanistan, North Korea, Darfur, Iraq and of course Pakistan. Do you have any concerns that the new administration will not be able to adequately address the Burma issue?

A: It is true that Obama will be occupied with many pressing issues. We will continue to work with the Congress to remind him of the situation of the people of Burma. We still enjoy strong bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House. I believe the Congress will help us to put Burma on Obama’s foreign policy priority sooner or later.

Q: If Burma faces another major event like the Saffron Revolution, do you think the Burmese people will look to the US administration for support?

A: It is usual for any non-violent movement to expect international support in their peaceful struggle against brutal dictators. International support for the people of Burma and international pressure on the Burmese junta will continue to be a major factor to strengthen and empower democratic forces inside Burma. The United States will continue to play a leading role in the international community for both supporting Burmese democrats and pressuring the junta.

READ MORE---> A Message to President Obama...

Lawyer killed after opposing Russian colonel's release

Shot dead ... Stanislav Markelov.

A masked gunman on Monday killed a human rights lawyer who exposed one of the most notorious cases of abuses by Russia's army in Chechnya, together with a journalist who died later in hospital.

Law enforcement sources confirmed that Stanislav Markelov had been gunned down on a busy street in central Moscow, while a woman, Anastasiya Baburova, was hospitalised with a bullet wound to the head.

A spokeswoman for the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta confirmed the death of intern reporter Baburova in hospital on Monday evening.

Following the lawyer's death, the prosecutor's investigative department said: "The investigation is studying various theories on the killing, including a link to the deceased's professional activities."

Baburova, 25, had written a number of reports on Russia's growing problem of racism and ultra-nationalism for Novaya Gazeta, the paper of the campaigning journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was assassinated in 2006.

Human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, said: "The murder in the centre of Moscow of a man, of a lawyer involved in cases of political importance, has as much significance as the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya."

Markelov and Baburova had just emerged from a press conference given by Markelov on the latest turn in the case of Elza Kungayeva, the 18-year-old Chechen whose 2000 strangling by Russian army colonel Yury Budanov became a cause celebre, highlighting systematic abuse by the Russian army in the war in Chechnya.

Budanov was released from jail on Friday after serving most of his 10-year sentence for the young Chechen woman's murder.

Markelov had vowed to challenge the granting of early release to Budanov, who was convicted in 2003 after pressure for a conviction by human rights activists, while ultra-nationalists had rallied to his side.

Budanov's release from jail had prompted street protests in Chechnya attended by both human rights activists and representatives of the region's Moscow-backed authorities.

Kungayeva's father, Visa Kungayev, told Echo of Moscow radio Markelov had recently received death threats.

The murdered lawyer had also provided legal help for Politkovskaya, whose work centred on the war-torn southern region of Chechnya, where Russia has fought two full-scale wars since the 1991 Soviet collapse, said Novaya Gazeta.

RIA-Novosti news agency quoted a police source as saying evidence had already been gathered from witnesses to the killing, who testified the gunman had lain in wait as Markelov gave the lunchtime press conference.

"The killer chose his moment, when there weren't many people in the way, quickened his step and shot the lawyer in the back of the head.

"The murder was committed in broad daylight in front of dozens of people," the police source said.


READ MORE---> Lawyer killed after opposing Russian colonel's release...

Burmese and Laos workers arrested in a Mall in Bangkok

(GRHE) -
Thai authorities raided Ban Kae Mall and arrested Burmese and Laos security guards.

The 49 workers, all from Burma and Laos, had been working at the shopping mall as security guards for many years. This is the first time that such a large number of people have been arrested at the mall. Most of the workers can speak and write Thai.

The police will send all the arrested people to court for illegally entering the country and for illegally working in Thailand. The police will also send an official letter to the company that hired the illegal workers.

As a result of the world economic crisis many foreign investment companies and factories closed down in 2008 and many Thai labors have made unemployed.

IT is normal for Thai police to arrest Burmese workers and ask them for money but now the world economic crisis has affected Burmese and other illegal migrant workers more, many more are being arrested.

According to a Burmese trader, the authorities sent a letter to all the factories and companies telling them to fire illegal workers from the beginning of 2009.

Meanwhile, for Burmese workers it is very difficult to go to the border to get a legal passport as a result of the Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) between the two governments of Thai and Myanmar.

Burmese workers are giving false names and ages to make it easier for them to get a job.

There are many reasons for the Burmese having difficulties in getting a passport on the border. Sometimes difficulties are related to Burmese politics and sometimes it is because the migrants were not registered for a national ID card in their hometown in Burma. They are also very afraid that the Thai police will arrest them at the border and they worry about accommodation and others expenses during the process of applying for a passport.

READ MORE---> Burmese and Laos workers arrested in a Mall in Bangkok...

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