Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Burmese lawyers says junta should be taken to ICC

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima)– The Burma Lawyers’ Council in exile has said it is gathering evidence and collating ideas on how to produce the Burmese military generals in the International Criminal Court (ICC), for the crimes it had committed, including crimes against humanity.

The BLC, formed with Burmese lawyers in exile, on Tuesday said, it was looking for a way to file a case against the Burmese junta, for its crimes against the country’s citizens.

“We are looking at ways to determine how we can file a case against the junta, for their brutal actions against the Burmese people,” Thein Oo, Chairman of the BLC, told Mizzima.

He said, as a step towards looking for a way to bring the junta to the ICC, the BLC along with the International Federation for Human Rights (IFDH) is bringing together international experts, Burmese activists and others to a two-day seminar in Bangkok.

“This seminar is to brainstorm on how best to get justice for the suffering people in Burma and how the international community can take action against the brutal regime,” Thein Oo said.

The campaign to bring the Burmese military junta to the ICC began about two years ago, with a vague idea by the BLC. However, today, it has gained momentum and is able to draw the attention of international experts as well as the Burmese regime.

On Friday, May 1, 2009, Burma’s military regime in its official mouthpiece, the New Light of Myanmar, declared the Burma Lawyers’ Council and other associated organizations and persons as unlawful.

The paper said, acts of the BLC and its members were harmful for the stability of the nation and therefore, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), Snr Gen Than Shwe declared the BLC and its members unlawful.

Although this gesture of the Burmese regime may seem to be a mere coincidence, sources in the military establishment told Mizzima, the junta fears that the BLC’s efforts might gain greater momentum.

According to sources, the Burmese embassy in Bangkok was diplomatically approaching Thailand, where the seminar is being held on May 4 and 5.

During the seminar, Burmese activists and international experts discussed how the regime had perpetrated human rights abuses with impunity and how they could be made accountable for the crimes they had committed.

But, as Burma has not rectified the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court in July 2002, the ICC does not have any jurisdiction over Burma.

However, a clause under the statute of Territorial Jurisdiction of the treaty allows the ICC to act on a case based on a referral by the United Nations Security Council. The clause says the court is allowed to exercise jurisdiction, “where a situation is referred to the court by the UN Security Council”.

Thein Oo said, “The case of the UN Security Council referring it to the ICC might not take place soon but we are already in the process of campaigning for it.”

He said, they would present the case to the UNSC explaining how Burma’s military regime’s actions were threatening peace and security in the region.

Rights groups have accused Burma’s military junta of systematically abusing the rights of its own citizens, causing outflow of a large number of refugees and migrants. The junta’s military actions in eastern Burma have also particularly caused thousands of people to become homeless and live in the jungles.

READ MORE---> Burmese lawyers says junta should be taken to ICC...

Police ordered not to charge politicians in political cases

Sittwe (Narinjara): The police department in Arakan state has strict orders from the military junta authorities in Naypyidaw not to sue any politician on political cases (lawsuit) even if they are arrested on political grounds, said a police official.

“This is intended to send a message to the international community by the junta that Burma has no political prisoners, only criminals. This is the reason authorities do not want to bring political lawsuits against politicians.”

The junta has been persistent in its denial that Burma has no political prisoners whenever right groups and the international community have alleged that Burma has many political prisoners detained by the military regime.

“Recently we arrested some politicians and democracy activists in Arakan state for involvement in anti-junta activities but we charged them on other grounds like immigration cases, not political ones due to the order from higher ups,” he said.

The regime authorities arrested some activists including Ko Mrat Tun and Ko San Lwin recently in Arakan but they were charged under the immigration law even though they were involved in political activities.

After charging them under the immigration law, the courts sentenced them to five years in prison each.

Many Arakanese activists were arrested after the saffron revolution but they were charged with criminal cases, not for political activity.

This is the reason, many political prisoners are not being provided with political prisoner status and therefore deprived of the living standard in prison meant for politicians.

READ MORE---> Police ordered not to charge politicians in political cases...

Pa.O rebels wipe-out Junta patrol

By Khun Aung Kham

(SHAN) -A Burma Army patrol was ambushed by a joint Pa.O National Liberation Army (PNLA) – Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) force on 3 May near Wanyen (Banyen) village, Hsihseng Township, 57 miles south of Taunggyi. The following are excerpts from an interview conducted with Col Khun Thurein, Commander of PNLA.

SHAN : We heard that there was a clash near Wanyen village which Pa.O National Liberation Army (PNLA) together with Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) fought against SPDC’s troops, on Sunday. It’s that true?
Khun Thurein : Yes, the clash took place, between our troops (PNLA) led by Lieutenant Colonel Khun Kyaw Htin and Major Khun San Yu together with KNLA and the SPDC troops. It started at 10:00 and lasted about 20 minutes.

SHAN : What did casualties report say?
Khun Thurein : All 12 SPDC soldiers led by Lieutenant Colonel Myo Min Htun were killed, but as we were ambushing them from vantage points, there were no losses on our side.

SHAN : How many guns and other weapons did you capture?
Khun Thurein : We got 13 assorted weapons, 1 60 mm mortar, 1 machine gun, 1 RPG 9, 8 MA 1/ 2/ 3/ 4 rifles, 2 pistols and 3 communications equipment.

SHAN : How about the situation around the Wanyen village after the clash? Are they still continuing human rights violations such as beating and questioning villagers?
Khun Thurein : The area commander Myint Naing went and inspected the situation around Wanyen and brought 5 battalions with him in order to chase us. They were LIBs 426, 425, 424, 423 and 427 from Loikaw Township, Kayah State. And they did interrogate the villagers to make sure that there were no rebels is in the village.

SHAN : Why did KNLA decide to join with the PNLA to attack SPDC’s troops in Wanyen? Do the two sides have prior agreement with each other?
Khun Turein : We are allies, not only with KNLA but also other groups such as Shan State Army (SSA) South and Karen National Progressive Party (KNPP). We have common aim to protect our people and bring down the dictatorship. If the SPDC is still committing human rights violations we may attack them not only in the countryside but also in the cities, too.

SHAN : May I know who led the KNLA and their strength during the combat?
Khun Turein : Sorry, this question concerns our security. So we can’t tell you their names and strength.

SHAN : Do you have anything that you would like to add?
Khun Turein : We are fighting in order to bring down the military dictatorship, not against Burmese people. We will follow the aims stated in our statements. We will keep on fighting until the people in Burma achieve genuine democracy and our Pa.O people obtain their genuine rights. We will oppose the generals’ 2010 election in every way possible.

READ MORE---> Pa.O rebels wipe-out Junta patrol...

Food Insecurity Threatens Cyclone Survivors

The Irrawaddy News

OUTKWIN, Irrawaddy Delta —Whenever the time comes to cook a meal, 32-year old Than Myint feels suffocated.

With the meager income her husband and her eldest son earn, Than Myint finds it very hard to cook meals for her eight-member family.

Since December, she has not received any food aid from the humanitarian agencies and has faced severe shortage of rice. There have been times her family has had to skip a meal.

”I often have to go around the village to borrow rice," the mother of six said in the kitchen of her makeshift hut in Outkwin Village, near Pyapon Town, one of the hardest-hit areas during the cyclone last year.

"Sometimes, I have to exchange some of our clothes for rice," she said.

Beside her, a four-year-old child was crying incessantly to be fed.

Prior to the cyclone, Than Myint’s family never found it difficult to make both ends meet. While her husband worked as a fisherman, her eldest son worked as a day laborer in the paddy fields surrounding their village.

However, after the cyclone that struck Rangoon and Irrawaddy Delta last year, Than Myint's husband and eldest son could barely make enough money to buy basic food rations.

There are thousands of families like Than Myint’s in the cyclone-affected townships of Rangoon and Irrawaddy divisions who still have been unable to earn enough food for their families, even though one year has already passed since the category-four cyclone destroyed their livelihoods.

The storm devastated the agricultural, fisheries and small-sale livestock sectors, which are the main livelihoods of the delta people, making most of the cyclone-affected people solely dependent on food aid for the past one year.

In a response, international and local nongovernmental organizations delivered food aid to the needy households in cooperation with the government. They also helped the landless, the poor, and female-headed households in restoring their livelihoods.

However, until now, the majority of families are still finding it hard to feed themselves.

According to a survey conducted in the worst-hit Laputta and Bogalay townships in February by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), 51 percent of households reported that they are still relying on food aid from humanitarian agencies, while only 25 percent said they could feed themselves.

The report—named the Rapid Food Security Assessment (RFSA)—also said about 83 percent of households said they have been in debt through the purchase of rice.

"There are pockets of concern over food insecurity in most of the households in the delta," a UN official from WFP said.

He also said that there is a “pressing need” to assist the landless, the poor and female-headed households in terms of food aid until they can feed themselves.

In fact, even some farmers who own dozens of acres of paddy are unable to feed themselves.

There are hundreds of farmers who have had bad harvests over the last year, and have had to buy rice on credit from the fortunate farmers who maintained good harvests.

"I feel so sad whenever I think of borrowing rice from those who have very limited paddy harvests,” said U Nyo, a 52-year-old farmer.

U Nyo told The Irrawaddy he could grow 15 acres of paddy in the previous rice-planting season. However, this year he only harvested around five acres, he said. The rest failed.

"I cannot store the rice for my family,” he said. “I had to sell it to pay off the debt that I took during the rice-planting season last year.”

He added that the money he received from selling rice was not enough to cover his debt.

This year, most of the farmers dare not store too much rice, since they fear another disaster such as Nargis and most said they expect food prices to rise.

"The price of rice could be much higher than in previous years," a farmer from Asel Lay Village in Dedayal Township said. “That’s because most of the farmers do not have any rice in storage. They have to pay whatever the traders say the current price is.”

READ MORE---> Food Insecurity Threatens Cyclone Survivors...

Lawyers’ group slams ruling

(DVB)–The secretary of an exiled Burmese lawyers group recently declared illegal by the Burmese government has reacted to the ruling by saying that the government is itself an illegal entity.

Last week the Thailand-based Burma Lawyers’ Council (BLC) was declared an illegal organisation under the Unlawful Association Act.

In April the BLC had called for the abolishment of the Unlawful Association Act, citing the malleability under which the government uses it to sentence opposition members, journalists and activists.

Aung Htoo, secretary of BLC, said that under the Unlawful Association Act, only the president, whose party is legitimately appointed to be the government, has authority to declare an organisation illegal.

“The State Peace and Development Council chairman is not the president of the country so their announcement carries no value and is completely out of the regulations appointed in the law,” he said.

The ruling State Peace and Development Council is an offshoot of the State Law and Order Restoration Council, who came to power in a military coup in 1988.

“Even for the president to approve such a declaration, he or she would need to show strong evidence regarding the concerned group’s committing of violent acts or its support of such activity by other groups or individuals.”

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma, the act has so far been used to sentence 365 political activists.

Reporting by Aye Nai

READ MORE---> Lawyers’ group slams ruling...

Calls for release of imprisoned cyclone aid workers

(DVB)–Calls for the release of over 20 aid workers who were arrested after assisting in cyclone Nargis relief efforts last year, have been issued by a number of Burmese groups to mark the cyclone’s one-year anniversary.

The cyclone, which made landfall on 2 May last year, killed nearly 140,000 people in Burma’s Irrawaddy delta, and is thought to have affected up to 2.4 million people.

Relief efforts were initially hampered by the ruling State Peace and Development Council, who refused offers of international aid and warned anyone against helping victims of the cyclone.

Last year, in a wave of sentencing of activists and journalists critical of the regime’s response to the cyclone, 21 aid workers were sentenced under charges ranging from sedition to the Unlawful Association Act.

“Firstly, these people were not arrested under criminal charges and also they did not do anything wrong,” said Bo Kyi, joint secretary of Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).

“They were only helping the cyclone victims and it was a very graceful act according to Buddhist teachings.”

His statement was echoed by the leader of 88 Generation Students group, Htun Myint Aung.

“The government not only failed in their responsibility to take the lead in aid work for the cyclone victims, but even arrested people who were doing what they can to help,” he said.

“This was such a very ugly crime committed [by the government] and they should release these people immediately.”

Burmese comedian Zarganar was sentenced last November to 59 years (later reduced to 35) after giving interviews critical of the regime’s response to Nargis to foreign media, and for helping to coordinate relief efforts.

Six students were sentenced last month and sentenced to between two and four years each under charges of sedition for collecting and burying rotting corpses in the aftermath of the cyclone.

U Pyinyawuntha, spokesperson of the All-Burmese Monks Alliance, said the aid workers should be released given that they did nothing wrong.

“They didn’t commit any political crime and were only helping out collecting corpses,” he said.

“I want to make a request to the government to see the same view as us and release these people immediately.”

Reporting by Aye Nai

READ MORE---> Calls for release of imprisoned cyclone aid workers...

Burma rejects appeal for Suu Kyi release

(SMH) -Burma's junta has rejected an appeal to free pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose most recent period of detention will expire May 27, her party spokesman says.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has spent more than 13 of the last 19 years - including the past six - under house arrest in Rangoon despite international pressure for her release.

Burma has been under military rule since 1962. The current junta came to power in 1988 after crushing a nationwide pro-democracy uprising.

It held elections in 1990 but refused to honour the results after Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory.

National League for Democracy spokesman Nyan Win said the country's military authorities summoned the assistant to Suu Kyi's lawyer to the administrative capital of Naypyitaw last Friday and handed over a letter rejecting the appeal for her release.

Nyan Win said the letter stated that "grounds for her appeal were not strong enough".

"The rejection is not fair because the appeal was not given a proper and full hearing," he said.

Suu Kyi's lawyer, Kyi Win, in October last year filed an appeal with the military government against her detention based on nine reasons, including one asserting that "she was never a threat to the security of the state."

The 1975 anti-subversion law under which she has been confined without trial says detentions of up to five years at a time are permissible for those who could be a threat to public order.

Her house arrest was extended by one year in May last year, an apparent violation of a law that stipulates that no one can be held longer than five years without being released or put on trial.

However, a commentary in the state-owned New Light of Myanmar (Burma) newspaper last June said detentions were permissible for as long as six years.

The commentary said yearly extensions must be approved by the Council of Ministers and then by the Central Body, which includes the home, defence and foreign affairs ministers.

Nyan Win said he is still hopeful Suu Kyi will be freed later this month when her six-year detention expires, although there were no indications that she would be released.

READ MORE---> Burma rejects appeal for Suu Kyi release...

Kill or be killed: 11-year-olds forced to fight for Tamil Tigers

No place for a child ... (left)
Young fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka,
and (right) a 14-year old conscript at the Kegalle district centre.
Photo: AP/Gemunu Amarasinghe/Matt Wade

By Matt Wade - (SMH)

IT IS hard to imagine Christine* in combat. But the diminutive 14-year-old with a cheeky smile and dancing eyes knows how to handle a Kalashnikov and detonate grenades.

A Tamil speaker from northern Sri Lanka, Christine says she was abducted by Tamil Tiger cadres in March and forced to undergo military training. She performed drills using dummy weapons in preparation for battle and, as with many female recruits, her hair was cut short.

"I was full of fear when they came and took me," she said. "I was crying every day."

Sri Lankan commanders on the battle front say they are encountering more and more children as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) try desperately to stave off defeat. The rebels are trapped on a 4.5-kilometre strip of land on the north-eastern coast of the island.

Major-General Jagath Dias, the commander of the Sri Lankan Army's 57th Division, said his men had been fighting girls as young as 11.

"It's very difficult [to shoot at children] but when someone has a weapon and is firing it at you, it doesn't matter what age, you have to shoot."

His colleague, Brigadier Shavendra Silva, the commander of the army's 58th division fighting on the front line, said "most of" the Tiger cadres captured since April 23 were aged between 11 and 18.

"There were many young girls aged 13 and 14. All of them had short hair," the brigadier said.

"They don't have the numbers of fighters they need so they conscript civilians forcefully."

Sri Lankan officials involved in the rehabilitation of children affected by the war say they have identified about 400 child combatants from among the tens of thousands of civilians who have fled the fighting since April 20.

Officials from UNICEF, the UN's child welfare agency, are also deeply concerned about the apparent rise in the number of child combatants being recruited by the Tigers.

A UNICEF spokesman in Sri Lanka, James Elder, said child combatants bear deep psychological scars. Even those spared from combat lost precious years that cannot be replaced.

"Child soldiers in Sri Lanka live in a theatre of violence and suffering," he said.

"Many in this current conflict may be thrown into the front line at a time of fierce fighting where they can be killed or maimed. Instead of hope, fear defines their childhood. Their recruitment is intolerable."

The Tigers have a long tradition of recruiting child soldiers. UNICEF has recorded more than 6000 cases of children recruited between 2003 and the end of last year.

Christine was saved from the front line by her mother, who managed to smuggle her out of the Tigers' camp about 17 days after she was forcibly conscripted.

But her ordeal wasn't over. She ended up in a refugee camp in the town of Vavuniya where her short hair raised suspicions that she had been with the Tigers. She confessed about her rebel training and was again separated from her family, this time by Sri Lankan authorities.

Christine is one of 58 child combatants who arrived at the protective accommodation and rehabilitation centre in the Kegalle district in the early hours of Friday morning. Here children and young women forced into combat by the Tigers undertake a rehabilitation program.

The arrival of this big group at the camp run by the Sri Lankan Government and UNICEF supports the accounts that the Tigers have committed more children to the front line in recent months.

Soon after arriving at the centre 20 girls, aged between 14 and 18, sat around a large table speaking to a UNICEF social worker about their experience. Some said they were given just seven days training before being sent into combat against well-equipped and battle-hardened Sri Lankan troops.

Many asked if they could be put in touch with their parents, now in crowded refugee camps across northern Sri Lanka. Deepa, dressed in a frayed olive shirt and skirt, had a heavy limp thanks to a leg injury sustained as she fled. Like Christine, she was also vetted because of her short hair.

"Please let my father know I am safe here," she asked the social worker.

Kala, 28, has been at the rehabilitation centre for three months. In 2007 Tiger cadres came to her home near Kilinochchi and demanded that her brother become a fighter. Kala said she would go instead so he could finish his schooling.

"If I didn't join, my family would have been punished," she said.

Kala was taught to use an AK47 and handle explosives during a month of combat training. The trainees were shown motivational videos and were instructed to commit suicide rather than face capture.

Last November Kala was sent into battle. She wore a blue checked shirt commonly worn by junior Tiger cadres and was given a machine-gun and grenades.

The inexperienced groups of fighters she was with were drawn into a fire fight with Sri Lankan soldiers. "They surrounded us," she said.

Kala sustained a serious shrapnel injury to her arm after a grenade exploded in her bunker. Two girls with Kala obeyed instructions and blew themselves up with grenades rather than be captured. But Kala decided to surrender. "I wanted to live," she said.

*Names have been changed

READ MORE---> Kill or be killed: 11-year-olds forced to fight for Tamil Tigers...

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