Welcome to India, Junta Leader

Aung San Suu Kyi

Myanmar’s junta leader, General Than Shwe has been given the red carpet treatment during his visit to India.  India should be telling this dude that he should be releasing thousands of prisoners of conscience including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.  Do you think that’s what the Government of India is doing?  It would make sense given India’s strong democratic credentials.


Instead, India is talking about how they score up on natural gas and oil stuff.  According to the BBC:

… analysts say India’s desire to do business with Burma, reputed to have large reserves of natural gas and precious stones, has since outweighed concerns over human rights.

That hasn’t stopped Indians and Burmese exiles in India from protesting this visit and India’s approach to the visit.

Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians(GCIC) has sent an appeal to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking the Indian government for a greater commitment to restoring democracy and respect for human rights in Myanmar.

Kyaw Than, president of Burma Student League, says: “Having adopted a policy of engagement with Myanmar, India can not do things that may irritate the Burmese military clique. Everyone knows they know that the Burmese elections will not be free and fair, but India does not see this as a negative factor. For this reason, the government will not speak out on the issue in order not to disturb the general. “

They have a good point.  India’s attitude towards Myanmar has been pathetic.

That's Totally Lame

So the Government of India claims that its approach towards its human rights violating neighboring Myanmar (aka Burma) is all swell as the dickens.

Um, no.

In fact, as Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s most famous prisoner of conscience and Nobel laureate languishes in prison for another year, India has been totally lame in its approach towards the Myanmar  This is especially the case as Myanmar is set to hold elections widely seen as not conducive to promotion of human rights.

With Myanmar’s first elections in two decades approaching, the three freedoms – of expression, association and peaceful assembly – essential for people to freely participate in the political process, are increasingly being denied. Daw Suu Kyi is one of some 2,200 political prisoners in Myanmar. None of them will be able to participate in this year’s elections under new election laws – laws that the Indian government has failed to condemn.

What was particular lame was India’s decision to cop out of condemning Myanmar’s pretty horrible human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council.  Not only that, but India is even considering selling weapons to this odious regime.  That’s not only lame, that’s jhol.

As the Myanmar elections approach India needs to do the right thing and to publicly call for the three freedoms – of expression, association and peaceful assembly – to be guaranteed throughout the election period. This is the time to show true human rights leadership as befits a key regional player – and not the time for silence.

In other words, India, stop being totally lame about the way you deal with Myanmar.

Stand with Aung San Suu Kyi on her 65th Birthday!

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi, © Chris Robinson

As Myanmar prepares for its upcoming elections, a sense of concern and tension is in the air. Many fear that there will once again be political unrest, resulting in widespread arrests from election-related crackdowns. Moreover, contributing to the anxiety is the anticipated release of democracy leader and co-founder of the National League for Democracy (NLD) Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has endured unofficial detention and has been held under house arrest for about 15 years in Yangon.

Will you be among those calling for justice in Myanmar on Friday?  On June 18th, Amnesty International and other NGOs will be holding a demonstration and panel discussion in New York to commemorate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s birthday. Activists will also participate in a procession to the Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to deliver 65 yellow roses in honor of Suu Kyi’s 65th birthday.  Amnesty International members, the Burmese community, and other activists will be calling for her release, as well as for the over 2,100 political prisoners of Myanmar.

Can’t make it to the demonstration in New York? You can still support Amnesty’s efforts by joining our “Stand with Suu Kyi” photo action.

Stand with us as we stand with Suu Kyi and the more than 2,100 political prisoners in Myanmar!

Will you stand with Aung San Suu Kyi?

Amnesty International is asking you to stand with Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Myanmar through a symbolic photographic action.  We are hoping to gather at least 2,100 photos by June 19 – Aung San Suu Kyi’s 65th birthday – to represent the 2,100 political prisoners detained in Myanmar.

I wanted to show my support for Suu Kyi by standing with her by another liberation giant: Abraham Lincoln.

Myanmar is not a place that had crossed my radar until I traveled to Thailand in October 2008.  If you are like me, you might have heard about monks protesting and a devastating cyclone hitting the country, but mostly this is a place that remains shrouded in mystery.  Through some fortuitous networking in Thailand, I connected with a Burmese refugee community and learned about the issues in Myanmar firsthand from those fighting to create change in the country and hopefully one day return.  Personally, I know that I feel powerless when I think about the weight of what is happening in Myanmar and how little I can do alone.  However, when we stand together, we are strong.

At the heart of the movement for Myanmar is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner and co-founder of the National League for Democracy (NLD), a pro-democracy political party that sought to counter the military junta that has reigned over Myanmar since 1962.  In 1990, the NLD won the majority of the seats in the parliamentary election, but the military junta refused to recognize these election results and instead jailed scores of political activists.  For 14 of the past 20 years, Aung San Suu Kyi has endured unofficial detention, house arrest and restrictions on her movement. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Myanmar: Repression at Home, Starvation Abroad

A 50-year-old refugee mother sitting beside a pot of rice that she got from begging – all the food her family of four will have for the entire day. Her husband was arrested by Bangladeshi police for stepping outside the makeshift camp at Kutupalong. She had not seen him in 15 days. (c) Physicians for Human Rights

A 50-year-old refugee mother sitting beside a pot of rice that she got from begging – all the food her family of four will have for the entire day. Her husband was arrested by Bangladeshi police for stepping outside the makeshift camp at Kutupalong. She had not seen him in 15 days. (c) PHR

For the first time in twenty years, Myanmar (Burma) is preparing for elections.  To prevent another loss to the National League for Democracy like in 1990, the military junta has begun its crackdown on opposition forces and passed new election laws in order to solidify a win this fall.  The new laws have not only annulled the results of the 1990 election, but have also banned political prisoners, civil servants and monks from being affiliated with political parties and thereby standing in the polls.  Much of the recent news coverage and the State Department’s release of the Human Rights country Report on Myanmar today, has focused on the domestic situation leading up to the elections and prospects for future engagement with the West.  All the while, the often catastrophic situation for Burmese refugees in neighboring countries has largely gone unnoticed.  Concerned about a large increase in refugees leading up to the election, the Bangladeshi government has decided to adopt questionable practices that violate human rights to dissuade an influx of Burmese coming across its border. 

Refugees Face Humanitarian Crisis
Physicians for Human Rights’ (PHR) new Stateless and Starving report, calls attention to the campaign of discrimination being waged by the Bangladeshi government against Rohingya refugees and the humanitarian crisis faced by refugees.  Although the number of Burmese refugees in Bangladesh is said to number between 200,000 and 400,000, there are only 28,000 officially registered refugees in jointly administered UNHCR and Government of Bangladesh camps.  Since Rohingya refugees were not granted protective status after 1993, the “illegal” refugees have been subject to arbitrary arrest, illegal expulsion, and forced internment.  In addition to these human rights violations, PHR has documented that the Bangladeshi government has been actively blocking humanitarian aid which has contributed to the squalid living conditions and malnutrition of Burmese refugees.

Physicians for Human Rights is asking everyone to participate in its online action  to end the expulsion of Burmese refugees and ensure the delivery of critically needed food aid. We need to make sure that if Burmese escape the repressive confines of their own country they are not facing the same discrimination and human rights abuses outside or are being forcibly returned to Myanmar where their human rights are jeopardized.

Crackdown on Refugees from Burma

The humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is reporting that the Bangladesh government has launched a crackdown against the Rohingya community around the Cox’s Bazar district (see map).  The site of the crackdown is a makeshift camp of refugees in Kutupalong that is not recognized by the Bangladeshi government and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has limited access to the area.  From MSF’s press release:

More than 6,000 people have arrived at the makeshift camp since October—2,000 in January alone,” said MSF Head of Mission in Bangladesh Paul Critchley. “People are crowding into a crammed and unsanitary patch of ground with no infrastructure to support them. They are prevented from working to support themselves and are not permitted food aid. As the numbers swell and resources become increasingly scarce, we are extremely concerned about the deepening crisis.”

The Myanmar government (note that Amnesty International requires use of the UN-recognized name of the country widely known as Burma) refuses to acknowledge that the Rohingya are from Myanmar rendering them stateless.

MSF is asking that the UNHCR increase protections to these Rohingya seeking protection in Bangladesh.  At the moment, only 28,000 of the estimated 200,000 of the refugees in Bangladesh are recognized as refugees.  The result, in an already overcrowded and poor country, is that the Rohingya are vulnerable.  Human rights groups have been campaigning on the plight of the Rohingyas for a number of years, but Myanmar’s neighbors have grown impatient with the scale of the humanitarian need.  But, as MSF makes clear, the international community must support the Government of Bangladesh and UNHCR to adopt measures to guarantee the unregistered Rohingya’s lasting dignity and well-being in Bangladesh.

Hey India, Help Free Aung San Suu Kyi


India should use it’s democratic cred and influence as a rising global power to help Aung San Suu Kyi and other Prisoners of Conscience (POC) in Myanmar.

In 1993, the Government of India, outraged by the continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders of the National League for Democracy, awarded their highest honor to the pro-democracy leader, the Jawaharlal Nehru Award.  In the late 1990s, then Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes assailed the Myanmar junta’s lack of protection for human rights.  The Government of India, whether led by Congress (I), by the BJP or by the Janata Dal have made it a policy to encourage the protection of human rights in Myanmar (widely known as Burma, but Amnesty International follows the United Nations naming conventions).

But now, not a peep from the Indian Government.

On May 14, 2009, Aung San Suu Kyi and two of her assistants, Khin Khin Win and Khin Khin Win’s daughter, were taken from Daw Suu Kyi’s home to Insein PrisonInsein Prison is known to be a harsh facility with substandard conditions of detention including poor food and poor medical care. For 14 of the past 20 years, Aung San Suu Kyi has endured unofficial detention, house arrest and restrictions on her movement.  But, she is just one of the hundreds of POCs that have been languishing in prisons in Myanmar (also called Burma).  You can take action to help free Aung San Suu Kyi.

India proudly trumpets (rightfully so) that it is the “world’s largest democracy”.  In fact, despite the human rights violations in the country, India can be justifiably proud of its vibrant civil society and chaotic yet stable and functional political system.  India can be a model for other countries in the global south as they manage a possible transition from American hegemony.


Write-a-Thon Series: Aung San Suu Kyi

This posting is part of our Write-a-Thon Cases Series. For more information visit www.amnestyusa.org/writeathon/


Aung San Suu Kyi, © Chris Robinson

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has called for political change in Myanmar and has spent 14 of the last 20 years being punished for it. The military junta that has run the country since a 1962 coup has cracked down on political dissent, jailing thousands of reformists and activists. Aung San Suu Kyi, the primary face of the movement for democracy, has been kept under house arrest, unofficially detained, and subjected to other restrictions since the National League for Democracy (NLD), which she co-founded, won a 1990 general election. The NLD was immediately denied power by the ruling State Peace and Development Council.

Aung San Suu Kyi is one of Amnesty International’s 10 priority cases who you can help free by participating in our Global Write-a-thon running from December 5-13. She has most recently been placed under 18 months’ house arrest in August, a move that the international community has censured as a government pretext to prohibit her from participating in state elections scheduled for 2010.


Myanmar releases over 115 political prisoners

Thank you to all the Amnesty activists who sent postcards calling for the release of more than 2,000 people detained in Myanmar.

Thank you to all the Amnesty activists who sent postcards calling for the release of more than 2,000 people detained in Myanmar.

Big news.

According to our latest count, the Myanmar government has granted amnesty to at least 126 political prisoners, including high profile Amnesty cases Khaing Kaung San, Ko Aung Tun and Myo Yan Naung Thein. The repressive Myanmar regime tried to silence these peaceful voices by putting them behind bars.

We’ve been ratcheting up pressure on Myanmar for months, and it’s working. Just a few weeks ago, 20,000 Amnesty activists sent postcards calling for the release of more than 2,000 people detained in Myanmar simply for exercising their human rights. Amnesty members helped secure the release of Burmese dissident Ma Khin Khin Leh earlier this year.

These amazing developments give us hope for the release of Nobel Laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, convicted in a sham trial and wrongly sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Thank you for all your help.

Torture of U.S. Citizen is First Test for New U.S. Policy Towards Burma

Burma's Insein Prision, where Kyaw Zaw Lwin is held. © 2009 Digital Globe. All Rights Reserved. Image taken from Google Earth.

Burma's Insein Prision, where Kyaw Zaw Lwin is held. © 2009 Digital Globe. All Rights Reserved. Image taken from Google Earth.

Shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a shift in U.S. policy towards the oppressive military regime in Burma (Myanmar), new details emerged about a U.S. citizen who was arrested on September 3: Activist Kyaw Zaw Lwin is being held in the infamous and feared Insein Prison, where Burmese authorities tortured him during recent interrogations. The torture and ill-treatment that Kyaw Zaw Lwin suffered included beating and kicking. He has also been denied medical treatment for the injuries he sustained from the torture.  He was deprived of food for seven days and moved between different interrogation centers. He was not allowed to sleep at night and was kept awake during interrogation by the authorities. Details of the charges against him are not known.

We put out the following statement today on his case in light of the U.S. administration’s shift in policy:

This is the first test for the United States’ new policy of engagement. Amnesty International hopes that this new engagement also covers protecting human rights in Burma. If Secretary Clinton fails to act, there will be many questions about the United States’ latest strategy to end the oppression of the Burmese people.

In its new approach, the U.S. administration is planning more engagement with the regime, while maintaining sanctions:

(…) we will be using a mix of policy tools. Sanctions remain important, as the Secretary said today, an important tool. By themselves, they have not produced the results we would like, but that does not mean they don’t have value. And also dialogue, as well as continuing things that help the people of Burma – humanitarian assistance, those sorts of things. So going forward, we can expect to use a mix of tools. (…) we think that going forward with a more nuanced approach that focuses on trying to achieve results and that’s based on pragmatism, it increases the chances of success over time.

Recent reports suggest that U.S. officials have protested Kyaw Zaw Lwin’s mistreatment and American officials have visited him in Insein prison last weekend. However, more urgent action is needed.