Burma update

New readers here (welcome!) may not be aware that I am half Burmese on my fathers side. I have only really been aware of this for the last 15 or so years and since then have taken a keen interest in Burma as a nation. Things are moving positively in this nation … but with the release of Aung San Sui Kyi I have noticed a complacency setting in from the west thinking that the country is now sorted. It isn’t …  Sui Kyi was recently asked ‘where do you think Burma is on a scale of 1 to 10 in its move to democracy?’ her response ‘on the way to one’.

Please keep campaigning; the start is good but there is a long way to go! Please respond to the letter below as best you can:

Dear friend

My name is Wai Hnin Pwint Thon. In less than 2 weeks’ time, on Saturday 20 October I will be jumping from a plane 2 miles high. I am jumping to raise funds to campaign for the release of all political prisoners in Burma and also to provide direct help and support to those prisoners who have been released.

Please support me by sponsoring me.

There are hundreds of political prisoners who have been released who need direct support and who are suffering form trauma and stress after years of torture and persecution in Burma’s prisons. Hundreds more remain in prison now.  Hundreds of families are suffering as I did. Sons are without their fathers and daughters are without their mothers.

As a daughter of a former political prisoner, I know how it feels to be separated. When I was four, I first saw my father, a democracy activist, through prison bars during the first of two long prison sentences. When I was growing up I always wondered why my father could not be with us.

I am determined to bring freedom for all jailed political activists in Burma and to provide direct help and support for when they’re released.

Please support me by sponsoring my jump. Your help will give enormous encouragement to them that they are not alone in this struggle for freedom in Burma.

Thank you for your support.

Wai Hnin

 

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Happy Birthday Aung Sang Suu Kyi

As someone of a half Burmese ancestry, it was amazing to be able to see Aung Sang Suu Kyi finally deliver her Nobel Peace Prize lecture …. albeit 21 years late. I am deliberately drawing attention to that speech today, because today is her birthday. Happy Birthday Aung San Suu Kyi; you shown great stamina and courage in desperate circumstances while the world has, shamefully, looked on, seemingly unable to intervene.

Please read and respond appropriately to the message below from Burma Campaign UK.  It is vital that we, the free world, do not start to believe Burma is fixed and democracy has come. It has not …. recently when interviewed and asked ‘how democratic is Burma on a scale of one to ten?’ Aung Sang Suu Kyi replied ‘on the way to one’. Progress may have started, last year Burma was not even on the way to one, but progress is painfully slow and atrocities still happen ….

Aung San Suu Kyi was finally able to deliver her Nobel Peace Prize lecture, 21 years after receiving the award.Significantly, she used the occasion to make an impassioned call on governments to increase funding for refugees from Burma who live in camps in Thailand. She recently visited one of the refugee camps, and was concerned to hear stories of the situation in the camps, where people have faced ration cuts of 25 percent and no longer get support for clothes and shelter.

Speaking in Oslo, she said: “Can we afford to indulge in compassion fatigue? Is the cost of meeting the needs of refugees greater than the cost that would be consequent on turning an indifferent, if not a blind, eye on their suffering? I appeal to donors the world over to fulfil the needs of these people who are in search, often it must seem to them a vain search, of refuge.’

TAKE ACTION NOW!

Please send an email to Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, calling on him to increase British government funding for refugees. You can send an email by clicking here. It will only take two minutes, and could stop a child going hungry.

‘on the way to one’

Dear friend
Today you will be seeing the wonderful scenes in newspapers and on TV of people celebrating Aung San Suu Kyi’s election victory. It looks as if the National League for Democracy has won most, if not all, of the 44 seats they contested.

In the past we always thought that Aung San Suu Kyi entering Parliament would be the final step on the path to democracy. As it turns out, it looks like this is just the first step. The NLD will only have around five percent of the seats in Parliament, while the military and the pro-military party have over 80 percent. Parliament itself has little power, and the Military have an effective veto over decisions by Parliament.

This is why, when Aung San Suu Kyi was asked last week to rank how democratic Burma is on a scale of one to ten, she answered: ‘On the way to one’.

Let’s not be in any doubt, Burma’s military rulers didn’t wake up one morning and suddenly decide they wanted Burma to be a democracy. They were under economic and political pressure, and they wanted that pressure lifted.  The sanctions and diplomatic pressure we have all worked so hard for over many years are now having an impact. Some reforms have happened, but there is still a long way to go.

Hundreds of political prisoners remain in jail, they must not be left behind. Human rights abuses actually increased last year, with the Burmese Army killing, raping and torturing.

Aung San Suu Kyi will try to use Parliament as a platform for further change, repealing repressive laws and changing the constitution, but the challenges she faces are immense. This is why we must continue to stand with her and all those still struggling for democracy in Burma.

Today is a day for celebration, but tomorrow it’s back to work. There is still a long road ahead.

The pressure is working. Please make a donation today to ensure we can keep supporting the people of Burma until they truly win their freedom. You can donate online here.

Thank you
Burma Campaign UK

PS:  Burma Campaign UK helped journalists from all over the world report on the by-elections from Burma. It’s one of the many ways we work hard behind the scenes ensuring the voices of people from Burma can be heard.

We also published a briefing paper here.

See Zoya Phan, Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK, interviewed on Channel 4 News here.  Donate online at: http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/donate

Burma update

The release of Aung Sang Suu Kyi was an amazing day, but there is a tendency, I think in the west to think that now Burma is ok. If only this were true … but things are progressing!  In the last few days many high profile political prisoners have been released in Burma.

Those released includes Ko Mya Aye, father of Wai Hnin, Campaigns Officer at Burma Campaign UK. Ko Mya Aye wanted us to pass on a message to supporters: “I would like to give my best wishes and many thanks to all the supporters of Burma Campaign UK, and people from inside and outside Burma for encouraging us and continuing our movement. This is one of the happiest days of my life to be with my family and continue my activities towards for democratic Burma. Thank you all.”

Wai Hnin is delighted her father has finally been released, speaking with him earlier today. “It was wonderful to hear his voice,” she said. “But typically it didn’t take long for him to start talking about politics, and how we must keep campaigning for the rest of the political prisoners to be freed.”

Ko Ko Gyi, another one of the leaders of the 88 Generation Students who were jailed again for their role in protests in 2007, and released today, told us; “Long ago you could just close the door and be in a dictatorship in one country, but now because of globalisation the role of international community and campaign groups has become very important to help those countries in dictatorship, so I would like to say thank you so much to all campaign groups and international community for their help for Burma.” (Ko Ko Gyi also joked with Wai Hnin about the fundraising bungee jump she did in 2010, which he heard about on the radio while in prison.)

Ethnic Rohingya MP U Kyaw Min, who has been in jail since 2005 and was also released today, also wanted to say thank you to Burma Campaign UK supporters, saying: “I really appreciate your support. Now we must work together to free those left in prison.”

These releases are fantastic news, but there are still many prisoners left in jail, and the laws under which released prisoners were arrested are still in place. We’ll be in touch soon about a new campaign to ensure independent monitors can enter Burma’s jails and assess how many political prisoners still need to be released.  You can read our media statement about the releases here.

 Ceasefire in Karen State?

In addition to the news on political prisoners,  there was another significant development, the agreement in principle of a ceasefire between the military-backed government and the Karen National Union (KNU). For many decades the Burmese Army has been committing horrific human rights abuses against the ethnic Karen of Burma. If the ceasefire does go ahead, and is followed by genuine political dialogue to solve the root causes of the conflict, it will be a very welcome step. However, what has happened is just a first step, there is still a long way to go.

Bwa Bwa Phan, a Karen community representative who used to work and volunteer with Burma Campaign UK, has written an article in Irrawaddy Magazine which explains why many Karen are still cautious. You can read the article here.

Developments in Burma this week show that campaigning does work, and is appreciated by those in Burma struggling for true freedom. We must keep up the pressure to keep making change happen.

You can donate to Burma Campaign UK – if you can please do … you can see from this update how our support is making an incredible difference.

Burma update

Despite some small reforms and the release of just under 300 political prisoners, most political prisoners, more than 1,000, remain in jail.

Most are kept in appalling conditions, some on death row or solitary confinement, in tiny dirty bare concrete cells with just as bucket as a toilet. They are not given proper food to stay healthy, and when they get sick they don’t get proper medical care. Some have been moved to remote prisons to make it very hard for their families to visit, and even if families to travel for days to see them, they are only allowed 15-20 minutes to talk. Torture is still being used against political prisoners.

Burma’s government is using political prisoners as human bargaining chips, releasing small numbers to gain positive publicity in an attempt to get sanctions lifted without making fundamental democratic reforms.

At the same time as promising reforms, the Burmese Army has stepped up attacks against ethnic civilians, with almost 150,000 forced to flee their homes in the past year. Women are being gang-raped and homes mortar-bombed.

Later this week UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will meet Burma’s new President, Thein Sein, on the fringes of a summit of South East Asian countries.

This is an opportunity for him to demand the immediate release of all political prisoners, and a nationwide ceasefire.

Send an urgent message to Ban Ki-moon now!

Aung Sang Sui Kyi Reith Lectures

Aung San Suu Kyi will be giving two of the 2011 Reith Lectures on the subject of ‘Securing Freedom’. Her lectures, which were recorded in Burma and smuggled out of the country, focus on the struggle for freedom and democracy, the meaning of freedom and dissent and the responsibility of the international community

Lecture 1 Dissent
On BBC Radio 4
Tuesday 28 June 9am
Repeated Saturday 2 July 22.15

Lecture 2 Liberty
On BBC Radio 4
Tuesday 5 July 9am
Repeated Saturday 9 July 22.15

On BBC World Service
Tuesday 28 June 16.05 (GMT +1)
Tuesday 5 July 16.05 (GMT +1)

The lectures will be repeated on BBC World Service at various times. For full details click here.

Burma: Crisis in Shan State

Out of site in the ethnic states of Burma, where journalists and diplomats are banned from visiting, the dictatorship has stepped up attacks against ethnic minorities. Last month we received reports from local organisationsin Shan State, Eastern Burma, telling us how the Burmese Army has been gang-raping women, torturing villagers, executing them, and firing mortar bombs into their villages. Many are taken as slaves to carry supplies for the Burmese Army.
With its fake election and release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the dictatorship is trying to fool the world into believing it has changed. But its actions speak louder than words.
The new attacks started when the dictatorship broke a ceasefire agreement with an armed ethnic political party, the Shan State Army ­ North. They had refused to join the Burmese Army, and so they were attacked. And as usual, the Burmese Army targeted civilians, raping, looting and killing.
What is happening in Burma is similar to what has happened in Libya and Syria ­ a brutal regime targeting civilians. But the response could not be more different. On Libya there is international action, on Syria there is international condemnation, but on Shan State, Burma, there is silence.
Help us break the silence, action is needed now!
Please write to the Foreign Secretary, William Hague MP, calling on the British government to act.
Foreign Secretary, William Hague MP
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London
SW1A 2AH
Here is a draft letter for you to print and send to the Foreign Secretary:
Your Name
Your Address
The Date
Dear Foreign Secretary,
I am writing to you regarding the current crisis in Shan State and the threat of increased conflict across Burma, which requires immediate international action.
On 13th March 2011 the dictatorship in Burma broke a 22 year long ceasefire agreement with the Shan State Army ­ North. 3,500 Burmese Army soldiers took part in a military offensive in north-central Shan State, an area with a population of 100,000. Sixty-five clashes were reported in the first three weeks of the dictatorship breaking the ceasefire. Civilians are being targeted in the military offensive, with mortar bombs fired at civilian villages. Abuses committed by the Burmese Army include arbitrary execution, arbitrary detention, torture, looting, rape, forced relocation and forced labour. These abuses are violations of international law. Since breaking the ceasefire, abuses continue on a daily basis.
Under the new 2008 Constitution, the Burmese Army is the only permitted armed organisation allowed in the country. The organisations with ceasefire agreements took part in the National Convention which drafted the principles of the Constitution. Every single one of their proposals which would grant some level of autonomy to ethnic states, and protection for ethnic rights and culture, were rejected by the dictatorship.
The British government has repeatedly stated that dialogue is the way to solve political problems in Burma. All armed ethnic organisations in Burma, those on ceasefire, and those not, are willing to enter into dialogue. The dictatorship, however, is once again using violence and military force rather than dialogue. It is also deliberately targeting civilians.
When the regimes in Libya and Syria attacked civilians, you led condemnation and international action. But on the situation in Shan State, and escalatingattacks against civilians in other ethnic states since the elections inBurma last November, you have been silent, and no practical action has beentaken.
I call on you to make a public statement condemning the dictatorship for breaking ceasefire agreements, and the serious human rights abuses it is committing in Shan State, and calling for a nationwide ceasefire in Burma.
The British government should also increase humanitarian assistance to those affected by conflict, including cross-border aid to areas where aid agencies and others do not have access.
Yours sincerely
Thank you for your support.
Anna