International Campaign for Freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Weekly Highlights: In Undermining Yanghee Lee, NLD-led Government Enables Military Power

    

In Undermining Yanghee Lee, NLD-led Government

Enables Military Power

Yanghee Lee takes questions from the journalists at the end of her 12-day visit to Myanmar on Friday. Photo credit: Thet Htun Naing/ 

The Irrawaddy

 

 

Last Friday, 21 July, 2017, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar,[1] Ms. Yanghee Lee, concluded her third country visit under the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led Government.

 

Her 12-day visit occurred amidst a precarious backdrop. In northern Rakhine State, security forces stepped up efforts arbitrarily rounding up suspected militants as a government-guided media delegation (the first to include foreigners) attempted to interview victims of human rights abuse committed by security forces in the area. In Mon State, over 2,000 locals protested a coal-powered cement factory as communities across the country pitted themselves against environmentally-destructive energy production. In northern Shan State, hundreds fled their villages amidst allegations of extortion by the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and fears of impending clashes between the Myanmar Army and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs). Abroad, in Thailand, Myanmar refugees from Mae La Refugee Camp, facing exacerbating funding cuts, made the difficult decision to return, and the Myanmar military, in adding yet another prick to the peace process, successfully compelled Thai authorities to ban a meeting of the Committee of Shan State Unity (CSSU) that was originally slated for 20-22 July in Chiang Mai. Meanwhile, the campaigns to review and amend the Telecommunications Act and the Unlawful Associations Act continued, as dialogues surrounding the 70th Martyrs' Day and ongoing tirades of ultranationalist monk U Wirathu served as reminders of the identity conflicts at the root of many of the country's nation-building and human rights issues.

 

In her end-of-mission statement, the Special Rapporteur highlighted her dismay over much of the same themes that dogged her visit—killings, torture, and restrictions to access by various actors in conflict-affected areas, allegations of forced recruitment by EAOs, livelihood and health concerns of those caught in areas of resource extraction and development, the repatriation dilemma facing internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, difficulties faced by minorities in obtaining civil documentation, as well as the increasing, disproportionate usage of defamation charges.

 

But perhaps what's most disappointing for the Special Rapporteur — as she alludes to herself in her statement — is that, after six country visits, she still finds herself facing the same restrictions that she did several years ago. That, despite the country's ostensible departure from a military dictatorship, the Myanmar military, with the tacit approval of the government, continues to exert undue influence on the information-gathering process.

 

Unsurprisingly, the military's presence was most evident in the "more sensitive areas," as the Special Rapporteur noted. Despite the deteriorating security situation in northern Myanmar and thus the urgent necessity for establishing the facts on the ground, the Special Rapporteur was denied access to northern Shan State, with the exception of Lashio, an administrative urban center shielded from the bulk of fighting. She was also prevented from visiting Hsipaw Prison, where the three journalists charged by the military under Section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act remain detained — despite the fact that, as the Special Rapporteur pointed out herself, Hsipaw is a tourist hotspot frequented by foreigners. Even near the relatively stable Karen State capital, Hpa-an, the Special Rapporteur was denied access to the military-owned Myaing Kalay cement factory due to "security concerns."

 

The military's determination to maintain control was also clear in the restrictions of people that the Special Rapporteur could meet. As highlighted in her statement, she requested but was ultimately unable to meet with anyone from the military — not the Commander-in-Chief nor any representatives from the military-controlled ministries for Defense and Home Affairs.

 

Civil society organizations (CSOs) that met with the Special Rapporteur, too, note the background influence of the military. Per testimony relayed to Progressive Voice by two CSOs, security forces were visibly stationed outside the meeting premises in Hpa-an, Karen State, and at least one member of the Special Branch (SB) police force entered the meeting room to ask questions and perform "security checks" ahead of the meeting. In Yangon, CSOs reported receiving phone calls from the SB, and being interviewed and photographed by intelligence pretending to be the media. As the Special Rapporteur highlighted in her statement, "individuals who meet with me continue to face intimidation, including being photographed, questioned before and after meetings and in one case even followed."

 

While the NLD-led Government does not oversee the security forces, it still played an active role in enabling their influence. As the Special Rapporteur notes, the government, as per usual, delayed confirmation of the dates of her visit and then used the excuse of short notice to deny access to certain sites. Also concerning is how the government, well-aware of the history of intimidation against the Special Rapporteur, tacitly encouraged demonstrations against her visit — in Rakhine State's Sittwe Airport, the Special Rapporteur was met with 200 government-approved protesters holding signs reading "get out Yanghee Lee" and "sorry Yanghee Lee, not welcome."

 

Ultimately, we are left to wonder what the Myanmar Government is trying to achieve. In failing to do its utmost to facilitate the discharge of the Special Rapporteur's mandate and thereby begin the project of dismantling the military's control, it chose to feed directly into the military's campaign to shield itself from accountability. At the end of the day, the Myanmar Government served only to undermine its own credibility as it calls for trust in its domestic mechanisms while obstructing access to the UN-mandated investigations.

 

Going forward, the Myanmar people deserve answers, not more questions. They deserve to know the full truth of what is happening in their own country — and a democratically elected government should give them nothing less.

 


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country's name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term 'Myanmar' in acknowledgment that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of 'Myanmar' rather than 'Burma' without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten.

 

 

 

 

LATEST FROM THE BLOG

 

Myanmar Government Must Hold Itself Accountable to Campaign Promises

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STATEMENTS AND PRESS RELEASES

 

Amid Concerns About Press Freedom in Myanmar, ASEAN MPs Call for the Release of Journalists and Repeal of Repressive Laws
By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

 

Statement on the Committee for Shan State Unity (CSSU) Meeting

By Committee for Shan State Unity

 

သွ်မ္းျပည္ညီညြတ္ေရးေကာ္မတီအစည္းအေဝးက်င္းပျခင္းႏွင့္ ပတ္သက္သည့္ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္
By Committee for Shan State Unity

 

ND-Burma Statement on International Justice Day
By Network for Human Rights Documentation-

Burma

 

Myanmar: Drop Trumped-Up Charges Against Human Rights Defender Khaing Myo Htun
By Fortify Rights

 

End of Mission Statement by Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
By Yanghee Lee /Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

 

ပူးတြဲထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္ – ျမန္မာအာဏာပိုင္မ်ားသည္ ဖမ္းဆီးခံသတင္းေထာက္သံုးဦးကို ခ်က္ခ်င္းလႊတ္ၿပီး စြဲခ်က္မ်ား ႐ုပ္သိမ္းေပးရမည္
By 68 Myanmar and International Human Rights Organizations

 

REPORTS

 

 

About Progressive Voice

 

Progressive Voice is a participatory rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 the same day that Progressive Voice was formally established. For further information, please see our press release "Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice."

     


This message was sent to icfab8888.peacefulway@blogger.com from info@progressive-voice.org

Progressive Voice
Progressive Voice
PO Box 96
Mae Sot, Tak 63110, Thailand


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Weekly Highlights: Myanmar Government Must Hold Itself Accountable to Campaign Promises

    

Myanmar Government Must Hold Itself Accountable to Campaign Promises

Military chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, left, and Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein, right. Photo credit: / The Irrawaddy

 

 

 

Double standards continue to be at play in the grievances between the Myanmar[1] Army and the National League for Democracy (NLD) led-Government as recent comments by Yangon Chief Minister, U Phyo Min Thein, sent the military into a frenzy when he asserted that "there are no civil-military relations in the democratic era" and for equating the military commander-in-chief's position to be same as a director- general. The statements suggesting that the Myanmar Army be placed under civilian rule reinforce undertones of sensitivity as relations between the Army and the Government remain at a standstill, while the country's governance is fueled by competing agendas.

 

Calling U Phyo Min Thein's remarks "reckless and confrontational," the Myanmar Army filed a complaint with the Government urging them to take action against him. U Phyo Min Thein's comments expose an ongoing, toxic narrative where the military presents itself as a victim against any rhetoric that stands to question its hold on power and the lengths that it is willing to go to preserve its status as the most powerful institution in the country. It also reveals the military's commitment to challenging anyone who threatens their legitimacy, despite being up against a backdrop of defamation related charges that reinforce the truth behind U Phyo Min Thein's claims.

 

A former political prisoner himself and MP for the NLD since 2012, U Phyo Min Thein was promoted to the Chief Minister post in 2015 by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi following her party's historic 2015 election victory. Perhaps what is most disappointing is that it was the Government who heeded the call of the military and issued U Phyo Min Thein a warning against the contentious comments through an internal memo, prompting him to send a letter of apology. The Government spokesperson, U Zaw Htay said the comments "caused misunderstandings between the Government and military. As the chief minister is responsible for what he said, we have instructed him to do what he needs to do."

 

Overall, the reactions by the military and the Government to U Phyo Min Thein's statements speak volumes about the entrenched power enjoyed by the military and the consequences for those who dare to challenge it. According to the 2008 military-drafted Constitution, the Myanmar Army controls three key ministries of Defense, Home Affairs (MoHA), and Border Affairs. Additionally, the military enjoys a de facto veto over amending the Constitution which requires over 75% of support from parliament, yet 25% of seats are reserved for the military, including subnational, regional and state parliaments.

 

Due to the entrenched power that the military has enjoyed under the 2008 Constitution, the NLD seems hesitant, if not reluctant, to rock the boat, in any attempt to dismantle military control. The contrast between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's adamant claims for constitutional reform during her 2015 election campaign and the silence on this issue today is striking. Defenders of U Phyo Min Thein's comments question the logic behind electing someone who cannot voice their opinion. As Mr. Moe Thway, Chairperson of Generation Wave stated, "An elected Chief Minister should have a right to speak, otherwise, why should we elect them?" While national reconciliation remains at the forefront of the NLD agenda, the NLD representatives appear reluctant to confront the military and its unwavering control of operations. Thus, this unwillingness has resulted in a lack of meaningful moves towards achieving substantive reforms or genuine national reconciliation, as well as accountability for the decades of human rights abuses committed by the military. 

 

Challenging the military has not been part of the NLD's discourse so far and as such the Myanmar Army continues to enjoy the political and economic benefits of power. Confrontations between the Myanmar Army and the Government have generally been approached with restraint - a tactic that some speculate has contributed to an 'overly cautious' style of governance that protects the military's interests. Soe Myint Aung, an analyst with the Yangon-based Tagaung Institute of Political Studies, stated, "For the military, their position is to remain in the leading role or the driver's seat as long as possible, so long as they are not sure about their own position or if they are not sure about civilian politicians." While Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Government continue to make excuses for the military's actions, allegations of state-sanctioned crimes against humanity continue.

 

The Myanmar Army's non-compliance with the NLD Government is nothing new, yet one that maintains a worrisome trend amidst the silence of a newly elected democratic government that had previously spoken out against the regime's hypocritical rhetoric. The Government has an obligation to put pressure on the military for the benefit of a true transition to democracy. In times where its representatives, or public, speak to morals to dismount the military power, the Government should stand by them, and support international and local calls to end military impunity and to curb human rights abuses. Ultimately, the 2008 Constitution must be amended to meet the criteria of a truly democratic country. This entails stripping the military of its disproportionate power and placing the institution under civilian rule. As the State Counsellor's 2015 election campaign message said, "it is time for real change in the political and administrative structure." Now is time for the State Counsellor and her Government to be accountable to their campaign promises and take a side with the truth.

 


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country's name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term 'Myanmar' in acknowledgment that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of 'Myanmar' rather than 'Burma' without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten.

 

 

 

 

LATEST FROM THE BLOG

 

Coal Not a Priority for Community Development

By Progressive Voice

 

 

ACTIONS

 

TAKE ACTION! 

 

In Hpa-an Township, Karen State, more than 1,000 residents signed a petition to oppose a joint coal-fired power plant that will produce 1800-megawatts, severely impacting community livelihoods and posing environmental risks 

 

In Dawei Township, approximately 250 residents hold a march calling for the regional government to stop power blackouts and lessen electric bills


In Mandalay, over 100 farmers launch a demonstration over land grabs, demanding the government to return their seized farmlands and protect them from property disputes

 

 

STATEMENTS AND PRESS RELEASES

 

Ambassador Nikki Haley's Statement on Burma Blocking United Nations Human Rights Fact-Finding Mission
By United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley

 

ဆက္သြယ္ေရးဥပေဒကို ျပင္ဆင္သည့္ ဥပေဒ (မူၾကမ္း)အား အဓိပၸါယ္ျပည့္ဝၿပီး အမ်ားျပည္သူပါဝင္သည့္ အႀကံျပဳေဆြးေႏြးမႈမ်ား လံုေလာက္စြာေခၚယူက်င္းပၿပီးမွသာ ျပဌာန္းရန္ အရပ္ဖက္အဖြဲ႕အစည္းမ်ားေတာင္းဆို
By Coalition on the Movement for the Telecommunications Law Reform and Art.66D Abolishment


Massive Police Force Traps Families Near Development Project in Myanmar

By EarthRights International

Thailand: Drop Criminal Defamation Complaints against Myanmar Workers

By Fortify Rights

 

Refugees International Releases New Policy Brief on the Ongoing Abuses and Oppression Aagainst Rohingya in Myanmar
By Refugees International

 

Joint Statement: Myanmar Authorities Must Immediately Release and Drop Charges Against Three Detained Journalists
By 68 Myanmar and International Human Rights Organizations

About Progressive Voice

 

Progressive Voice is a participatory rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 the same day that Progressive Voice was formally established. For further information, please see our press release "Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice."

     


This message was sent to icfab8888.peacefulway@blogger.com from info@progressive-voice.org

Progressive Voice
Progressive Voice
PO Box 96
Mae Sot, Tak 63110, Thailand


Monday, July 17, 2017

FBR: The Man Behind the Camera: Monkey\'s Story of a Rescue Under Fire


The Man Behind the Camera: Monkey’s Story of a Rescue Under Fire

17 July 2017

Mosul, Iraq

 

Dear friends,

Here is a message from "Monkey," our Karen cameraman, whose footage of a daring rescue of two civilians in Mosul with his FBR teammates has gone all over the world since it was taken on June 2nd. Monkey is one of FBR's deputy directors, our chief chaplain and one of our primary videographers. He is married to Hsa Po Gay and has four children. Below, he tells his own version of the story of the rescue that day.

Monkey with camera in hand in Iraq.
Monkey with camera in hand in Iraq.

‘Dear brothers and sisters,

I want to write and share what happened with God and me during our last mission in Iraq.

With every mission, after I get the call from FBR headquarters, especially for an international mission, I pray to God to make sure it is His time for me or not. It's a very simple prayer: "God, is it your call or not? If so, I will go. If not, please give me some action to stop me." I have had confidence every time I went – except during this last time in Iraq.

This time, I met very difficult situations, so that deciding to help the people in need was also difficult. I remember the time when we rescued the little girl: we saw many, many dead bodies in the main road and by the road. We also saw that some were still alive among the dead bodies. Some wounded men waved their hand for help and some children were walking, and some were playing among the dead bodies. It made me very sad, but it also made me afraid to help them. I tried to drive away the fear, thinking, 'what if it is my kids or family.' I thought of John 15:13 from the Bible, which says, "No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends." But I said in my heart, "Lord, I am not ready for this word."

I also remembered one of the mottos that all the Free Burma Rangers must follow: "Do not be led by fear or comfort." This rule also did not encourage me to do the rescue, as I am a person with fear, and lazy. When our leader, Dave, asked me, "Who will go with me?" I said, "Zau Seng," (another FBR cameraman) instead of myself. I knew many people all around the world were praying for us but still I was weak to make the decision of to go on the rescue.

When we talked about possible ways to do this rescue, we needed two things: One is the Americans to drop a smoke bomb; the other is a tank to in front of us for our cover and to shell ISIS as well. I thought, if we got smoke and a tank, I might dare take part in the rescue. But I did not want to pray for the smoke and tank because I was not 100% sure I would go even then, and I had ignored answers from God many other times in my life. I could not imagine how we could get the smoke from the US Army, and the local authorities had already refused our request for a tank. But Dave did not give up. He prayed and talked to friends, and our team talked and prayed together.

Then, while we were talking about how we could do the rescue, standing in a building by the main road, a smoke bomb from the air was dropped. We stopped talking and ran down to the corner of the road. A big tank came and turned toward the main road. Dave started running and shouting, "Whoever wants to go, let's go!" and led in front.

I did not have time to think and make a decision. Only one thing I shouted in my heart, was, "This is God! He is in it."

Monkey and the team following the tank.
Monkey and the team following the tank.

I ran and followed the group. I could not believe that we got the smoke and a tank. The tank was even bigger than I thought. After the rescue, Toh, our medic, and Zau Seng, our other cameraman, and I stood among the Iraqi soldiers. One of them looked into my eye for a while, saying nothing, but his eyes were kind. Then he turned into the building and came back with a hat: it had 'S.W.A.T.' on it, and he placed it on my head. "Wow, that is an honor," said Toh and Zau. I could not think too much. I was re-concentrating my mind.

That night, I reviewed what had happened and what I had done:

1)   We did the rescue.

2)   I refused God's word: John 15:13.

3)   I refused the Ranger motto.

4)   I refused my leader's call.

5)   We got what we wanted and needed, even though I personally did not even want to pray for it.

Just think. I was a part of it because of God's mercy and faithfulness. I realized the honor is His, not mine. I do not deserve it because I refused every thing to do the rescue. Only because of His mercy and faithfulness to all His creation, did I dare go. This is why I want to write and share with you, and give all the glory to Him.

He is very merciful and faithful to you, me and all.

I want to thank God for His mercy and faithfulness to all of us. I want to thank people all around the world for being in prayer for us. I want to thank our team for working together as a family. I want to thank our leader for leading us boldly and in love.

God bless you,

Monkey.’

Dave Eubank carrying a little girl to safety with help of US military, Iraqi Army, and FBR team.
Dave Eubank carrying a little girl to safety with help of US military, Iraqi Army, and FBR team.

Love one another
Unite for freedom, justice and peace
Forgive and do not hate each other
Pray with faith, Act with courage
Never surrender

The Free Burma Rangers’ (FBR) mission is to provide hope, help and love to internally displaced people inside Burma, regardless of ethnicity or religion. Using a network of indigenous field teams, FBR reports on human rights abuses, casualties and the humanitarian needs of people who are under the oppression of the Burma Army. FBR provides medical, spiritual and educational resources for IDP communities as they struggle to survive Burmese military attacks.

For more information, please visit www.freeburmarangers.org

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As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi proclaimed,

As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi proclaimed,
"Justice is a dream. But it is a dream we are determined to realize."