US President Barack Obama sits near Myanmar President Thein Sein as they participate in the US-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in 2011. Photo credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
On the eve of President Obama’s historic visit to Myanmar (Burma), the first ever by a U.S. President, his host, President Thein Sein, has released 450 prisoners, a move surely calculated to curry favor with the United States. A smaller amnesty announced in September, just before the UN General Assembly convened, included about 60 political prisoners.
It remains to be seen whether any of an estimated 300 remaining political prisoners will be scattered among the latest batch of parolees. Nonetheless, the prisoner release is, by any measurement, an encouraging step. It says something important about the power and influence of the United States, and the desire of the new government of Myanmar to kiss up to President Obama and bask in the economic possibilities of a post-sanctions environment.
Hundreds of homes were destroyed in the city of Kyaukphyu, Rakhine state. This Digital Globe satellite image from October 25th captures the aftermath. (c) DigitalGlobe 2012
In the Rakhine state (also called “Arakan” by some) of Myanmar, the unfortunate evolution of discrimination, unequal application of the law, and forced displacement into violence and humanitarian crisis has come to bear. Since June, fits of violence between Buddhist and Muslim Rakhine, and Muslim Rohingya communities have likely left tens of thousands displaced and scores dead.
In the most recent incident of ethnic clashes, thousands of Rohingya muslim, but also Rakhine Buddhist, homes have reportedly been burned down. Part of the destruction was captured by a satellite image (courtesy of Digital Globe): The image of Kyaukphyu from October 25 shows a cindery scar on the face of the earth where hundreds of homes used to be (see the area before the destruction here). SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
Some superstars take pride in being known by just one name, but Amnesty International USA’s star guest on September 20th goes by five: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. A town hall event aimed at the next generation of activists had young people on busses at 4 AM to make the trip to Washington, DC. The venue was perfect — the Newseum, a museum dedicated to the First Amendment.
Addressing the Rights Generation, Amnesty’s Frank Jannuzi asked the audience to keep their phones and electronic devices on during the event. Hashtags and suggested messages scrolled on the large screen as students found their networks and tweeted the story. Mid-Atlantic student leader Stephanie Viggiano was on Facebook with a video she created that day with her phone.
By Alex Wagner, MSNBC host and moderator of Amnesty’s “Rights Generation” Townhall with Aung San Suu Kyi
If people have heard of the Southeast Asian country known alternately as “Myanmar” or “Burma,” they are just as likely to have heard mention of its national heroine: pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi.
When Burma— as it has always been known in my family— was plunged into economic ruin, crippled by ethnic strife and subject to gross violations of human rights at the hands of an oppressive and illegitimate military regime beginning in 1962, my family emigrated to the United States, where they would eventually become American citizens. But not once in the last half decade did they— or I— ever lose sight of the faraway country once called home, a place shrouded as much in secrecy as it was sadness.
For both exiled Burmese and the global community that has followed Aung San Suu Kyi’s decades-long struggle for human rights in the face of one of the world’s most brutal military juntas, her recent release from 15 years of house arrest has capped a stunning series of changes inside the country, led in large part by newly-elected president Thein Sein.
In October, Amnesty applauded the announcement that the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize would be awarded to three world-changing women—Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman. In addition to celebrating the work of these women, we’re also very happy that they’re all free to attend the award ceremony tomorrow.
While this year’s winners travel to Oslo to accept their awards, this freedom of movement is not the reality for many activists around the world, including past prize recipients. Today, we remember five past recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize who have been unable to attend the award ceremony due to persecution:
Fall is my favorite time of year: the air is cooler, the leaves are pretty, Amnesty International student groups are back together again, and people start signing up for the Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon.
In this—the world’s largest human rights event—we use letters, cards and more to demand the human rights of individuals are respected, protected and fulfilled. We show solidarity with those suffering abuses and work to improve people’s lives.
Keys inscribed by activists to encourage the release of the more than 2,000 political prisoners in Myanmar.
By Ulana Moroz Senenko, Individuals at Risk Campaigner for Asia
Last November, Amnesty International welcomed the release of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from detention. Although her release was certainly a reason to celebrate, more than 2,000 political prisoners remain behind bars in Myanmar.
In honor of Suu Kyi’s 66th birthday, Amnesty International activists around the world signed thousands of keys urging the authorities to unlock the prison doors and free all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally.
Members of Amnesty International Group 159 in Arlington, VA delivered these keys last Friday to the Myanmar embassy staff in Washington DC. The keys were presented adhered to a paper scroll more than 50 feet long. This dramatic visual advocated for those whose rights have been denied as a result of their peaceful activism. In accepting the keys, the authorities are forced to acknowledge those who are unjustly imprisoned in Myanmar.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has been the beacon of hope and change for nearly two decades in Myanmar (Burma), will be celebrating her birthday on June 19th.
Though the celebration may be inhibited, as over 2,000 political prisoners remain in prison in Myanmar. Their conditions of detention are often inhumane and horrific; they have been convicted without the benefit of effective counsel or fair trials; and they have been convicted under vaguely worded laws that criminalize peaceful dissent.
Amnesty International members across the globe have urged the Myanmar authorities to unlock the prison doors and release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally.
Even at nine in the morning on a Friday, when most of us would normally be counting down to the weekend, the energy in the Foundry in Washington, DC is phenomenal. In the sunshine outside, groups color flags in support of Filep Karma, while inside roses and key actions are passed around for signatures. Larry Cox hasn’t even arrived yet, and everyone is already buzzing with excitement.
By the time everyone has settled inside for the opening speeches, the count is well over one hundred Amnesty International activists. The various speakers infect the crowd with even more passion and anticipation, reaching a pinnacle when Larry announces that he has decided that joining us for Get on the Bus is more important than going home to meet with the IRS.
The group splits, half heading to demonstrate for the Women of Zimbabwe (WoZA) at the Zimbabwe Embassy and half for Walid Yunis Ahmad at the Iraqi Consulate. We march in long ovals, chanting and holding our signs, the very picture of peaceful protest. At the Iraqi Consulate, faces peer out from the windows and passers by stop to watch.
There is an antidote to the weariness, cynicism and paralysis perpetuated by the heartless churn of our 24-hour news cycle: Just listen to the voices of those who walk the razor’s edge each day as they fight to change the world. Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi addressed Amnesty activists by phone at the end of Day 2 of our 50th anniversary conference, graciously acknowledging the role of grassroots activism in her release after 15 years of detention by the military junta and encouraging us not to forget the 2,000-plus political prisoners who remain locked up in Burma.
Her brief address was followed by a riveting speech by Jenni Williams, co-founder of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, a group of women who have been jailed, tortured and persecuted for their non-violent demonstrations to demand social justice. Williams recalled one August night when police abducted seven WOZA members. “The phone calls started at 3 a.m. We heard our members had been arrested in suburbs, so we called Amnesty International. By 12 noon, all seven members were delivered back to their homes by the same police officers who had abducted them,” said Williams.
Earlier in the day, I spotted New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof listening to similarly harrowing tales at the well-attended panel discussion, “Muzzling the Watchdogs,” featuring Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho, Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam and Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi. All three had been arrested, imprisoned and persecuted for their work to expose injustice, and each was the subject of Amnesty International urgent actions and/or international letter campaigns demanding their freedom.