Our Work in Myanmar Isn’t Done Yet!

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Labor activist Su Su Nway was arrested for putting up an anti-government banner near the hotel in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, where the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar was staying. After a few previous close calls, Su Su Nway went in to hiding before the Special Rapporteur’s visit in order to avoid arrest by the oppressive dictatorship which presides over the small Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar (Burma). It is estimated that Su Su Nway is one of over 2,200 political prisoners currently being detained in Myanmar.

Prisoners in Myanmar are held in poor conditions and are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. Su Su Nway suffers from a congenital heart condition, high blood pressure and, according to a July 21, 2010 “Radio Free Asia” report, malaria and gout, which are all made worse by conditions at the prison where she is held. The prison is 1,200 miles from her family’s home in Yangon, so it is very difficult for them to visit and bring her necessary food and medicine. Prisoners typically rely on their families to bring them medicine and food, as supplies in prison are completely inadequate.

Wonderful news has come out of Myanmar recently with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Laureate and symbol of hope for eventual Burmese democracy. However, thousands of others, including Su Su Nway, are still being punished for the peaceful expression of their views; the government continues to deny its citizens the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. But you can make a difference. Write a letter on behalf of Su Su Nway and join with thousands of others in this year’s Global Write-a-thon who are writing to uphold human rights throughout the world.

Lisa Hart, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.

Aung San Suu Kyi Finally Free!

By Jim Roberts, Myanmar Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA

STR/AFP/Getty Images

In this season of giving thanks, we are thrilled and grateful for the release today of Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar (Burma)!  The government released her after seven and a half years of house arrest.

Will she re-form the National League for Democracy?  Will she continue to advocate for democracy?  Will her release be for good this time, or will the government find another reason for imprisoning her yet again?  Only time will tell.

While we couldn’t be happier about Suu Kyi’s release, time continues to run short for the over 2,200 other political prisoners who are still behind bars in some of the most notorious prisons in the world.  They suffer from lack of medical care, proper nutrition, and lack of contact with their families.  Many are imprisoned hundreds of miles from their homes, making travel for their families difficult if not impossible.

So while we give thanks for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release, let’s do something for the others.  Join us in calling for freedom for all prisoners of conscience in Myanmar!

We’ll Know Aung San Suu Kyi’s Fate Within 24 hours

By Michael O’Reilly, Individuals at Risk Campaign Director

After being detained for 15 of the past 21 years, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi could be free tomorrow… if Myanmar’s rulers don’t change the rules first.

We’ve been waiting for this day for so long – the release of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi could be set free tomorrow, November 13.  Our anticipation is high, but we’ve also been here many times before.

In fact, Myanmar’s rulers could decide to tack arbitrary conditions on to Suu Kyi’s release that bar her from any and all future political activity. That is, if they decide to release her on this date at all – she could be held until February 2011, depending on when they actually dated the start of her 18-month term of house arrest. No one knows for sure.

Less than a week ago, Myanmar’s military party swept the country’s first elections in more than 20 years amid heavy criticism and allegations of widespread fraud. As a result, thousands are fleeing the region as violence erupts.

The growing tension puts Suu Kyi’s release date even more at risk of falling under the regime’s capricious judgments.

But releasing Aung San Suu Kyi, while still blocking her rights and freedoms, would be a flat-out violation of all laws, rules and basic respect for humanity.

Suu Kyi’s freedom should have never been stolen in the first place. Join me in telling Myanmar’s rulers that Amnesty International is keeping track and according to our records Aung San Suu Kyi’s unconditional release is long overdue.


This Weekend, All Eyes on Myanmar

Update (November 5): Government attacks on freedoms compromises elections (AI Press Release)

This Sunday, Myanmar will hold its first national election in twenty years. Considering the authorities ongoing restrictions on the freedoms of expression, association and assembly, its outcome is expected to be deeply flawed. Many people, including political prisoners, have been banned from voting. The UN and international human rights groups have called on Myanmar to release over 2,100 political prisoners.

A student activist from the 1988 generation, leads a crowd of demonstrators in a chant of 'Free Burma'. Trafalgar Square, London 2007. (c) AI

Ethnic tensions have also risen. The junta has barred voting in about 3,400 villages and some ethnic candidates or parties have been barred from participation. Additionally, no foreign media will be allowed to cover the election. Only some diplomats and UN representatives based in Myanmar will be allowed to observe the vote.

The main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, announced last March that it would boycott the elections. The group, which won the 1990 elections but was denied power, is led by Aung San Suu Kyi. The junta has kept Suu Kyi under either house arrest or detention for over 14 of the past 20 years.

In case you will be in San Francisco this Friday, come to Amnesty International’s rally in support of human rights in Myanmar!


The people had clearly voiced their aspirations in the 1990 election, but the government has ignored the results. Now is the opportunity for the public to retaliate for what the government had done in 1990—Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as quoted through her lawyer Nyan Win

It is clear the process remains deeply flawed. The conditions do not show that these elections will be inclusive, free and fair. The potential for these elections to bring meaningful change and improvement to the human rights situation in Myanmar remains doubtful—UN human rights envoy for Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana

Background Info

Countdown to Burma's Elections

Add this badge to your website or profile to show your solidarity with Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma.

In three short weeks, Myanmar (formerly Burma) will hold its first national elections in two decades.  Regretfully, the polls will be overshadowed by a backdrop of political repression and fear.

Many of Myanmar’s 50 million people live in poverty and suffer from ongoing human rights violations. Those who express dissenting views face harassment, arbitrary arrest, torture, imprisonment and sometimes even executions.  And political prisoners now number over 2,200.

When elections were last held in 1990, the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won a resounding victory, but the military government ignored the election results and arrested scores of opposition activists. This has haunted the government both domestically and internationally ever since.

With new elections, Myanmar had an opportunity to place the 1990 elections firmly behind them.  However the new election has already been tainted as in June political parties were banned from undertaking campaigning activities that could “harm security, the rule of law and community peace”. This provision is so broad that it allows for the criminalization of peaceful political activity.

For decades, the government has used vaguely worded security laws to suppress peaceful political dissent and there is a real fear that activists, especially those from ethnic minorities and the NLD, which is boycotting the elections, will come under increased repression as the election approaches.

Myanmar’s government must halt its repression of activists. The people of Myanmar must be allowed to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association throughout the election period and beyond.

Join us in using this opportunity to call for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience in Myanmar.

Has India Abandoned Burma?

By Anil Raj, Myanmar (Burma) Country Specialist

Gandhi once said, “An ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of preaching.” But in the decades since Gandhi and in an environment premised on India’s towering pursuits of economic development and regional security, I am beginning to wonder if India is doing more preaching than practice when it comes to promoting democracy and freedom – the very things that it fought so hard to win over from the British Raj.

Aung San Suu Kyi

India has traditionally been a key ally for Myanmar’s (Burma) democratic opposition, most prominent is sure to be none other than Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has remained under detention or house arrest for the last 15 of 21 years.  India has long provided safe haven for fleeing pro-democracy Burmese activists and has bestowed Suu Kyi with India’s highest civilian honors.

However, in the last two decades Indian foreign policy vis-à-vis Myanmar has made an about-face from its former ‘principled’ approach, and reached an unprecedented threshold when Myanmar head of State, Senior General Than Shwe, visited India for five days in July.  The visit ushered in a new strategic partnership between the two neighbors as part of India’s “Look East” policy aimed to enlarge India’s presence in the region and to keep China’s growing presence at bay.

But it wasn’t the panoply of high-level and expensive agreements that were reached, nor was it the fact that none of these agreements were contingent upon Myanmar’s willingness to release Aung San Suu Kyi or the 2,200 other political prisoners, or any push to ensure free and fair elections in Myanmar later this year – the first in 20 years.  What was shocking to me was that India allowed Than Shwe to pay homage to the burial site of Gandhi.

It was entirely unpalatable to me that India could allow one of the world’s most flagrant violators of human rights to stain the legacy of a man who led masses to peacefully overthrow a repressive colonial overlord not entirely different from that of the present-day Myanmar, or to symbolically forsake its support for Aung San Suu Kyi, herself a sort of “Burmese version” of Gandhi in her own right.


Hearty Congratulations to Burmese Junta Leader Than Shwe

This is not Myanmar junta leader General Than Shwe

The military junta leader of Myanmar (Burma), (senior) General Than Shwe, went on a multi-day visit to India.  While there, Than Shwe (responsible for widespread human rights violations in Burma, including the detention of thousands of prisoners of conscience) received a most marvelous gift from the Government of India, a bust of Mahatma Gandhi, the “apostle of non-violence.” Surely the sense of irony is lost on the victims of human rights in Burma.

So, again a hearty congratulations to the leader of Myanmar junta Than Shwe for the successful trip to India and a special congratulations to the Government of India for undermining the shreds of hope for the people of Myanmar.  It’s a job well done– I hope the Government of India enjoys the undeserved fruits of its cynical foreign policy until human rights comes to Myanmar.  And then…?

Check out Amnesty’s brand new action page on MyanmarStand with the People of Myanmar. Demand they be given the three freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Also, show your support on twitter by start using #3freedoms.

Burma VJ: Human Rights Activism at Its Finest

UPDATE: Check out Amnesty’s brand new action page on Myanmar: Stand with the People of Myanmar. Demand they be given the three freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Also, show your support on twitter by start using #3freedoms

This is the first post of our human rights film series.

August 8, 2010, marks 22 years since Myanmar’s massive crackdown against student protesters, resulting in the deaths of 3,000 and the detention of countless opponents of the military junta.  Although 8/8/88 remains a disheartening defeat, it also continues to symbolize the hope for change.

Similarly, in 2007, citizens took to the streets again to wage anti-government protests.  However, this time, the demonstrations were led by thousands of monks, heralding the movement as the “Saffron Revolution” due to the color their robes.  Within weeks, the military brutally squashed the peaceful protests, evoking international condemnation and outcry.

That outcry was only made possible  by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a non-profit media organization based in Norway, which  filmed the events with hand cameras and smuggled the footage out of the country for international broadcasting. They communicated to the world the tense atmosphere, desire for basic human rights and desperate hope that Myanmar experienced in August and September 2007. The reporters of DVB took great personal risk to give the international community unprecedented access to the political and social atmosphere in Myanmar.

Cameras vs. Guns

Yesterday, I finally got a chance to watch Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country, an Academy Award nominated documentary created from the footage captured by the Democratic Voice of Burma during the “Saffron Revolution.”  The documentary is incredibly powerful and inspiring; Burma VJ highlights more than the overwhelming human rights abuses present in Myanmar by emphasizing the everyday devotion to freedom as well as the great personal risks that ordinary citizens assume to record political events. While emotionally poignant and insightful, Burma VJ also chronicles the challenging footsteps of video journalists in Myanmar in their quest to capture the truth. The desperate expectation for change is evident in the documentary and reminiscent of the political and social environment of August 8, 1988. 

To catch a glimpse of daily life in Myanmar and view human rights activism and advocacy at its finest, watch Burma VJ. The documentary, produced by Anders Østergaard, was just released on DVD in the United States, so update your Netflix queue, sit back and get ready for some serious human rights activism!


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.