Monday, July 22, 2013

Weekly Highlights: Thein Sein’s Words Must be Followed by Action


15-22 July 2013


Weekly Highlights

Thein Sein's Words Must be Followed by Action

President Thein Sein completed his first visit to the UK and France on 18 July with more promises of reform and was prematurely rewarded with trade and investment discussions, military cooperation and a gloss of legitimacy. Although Prime Minister David Cameron, President François Hollande, as well President Thein Sein, paid lip-service to reform and human rights, this does not disguise the reality of a dire human rights situation, the stalled peace process, and the empty promises of reform that characterize Burma today.

One of the promises that Thein Sein made was that all political prisoners would be released by the end of the year. It has been over two years since Thein Sein assumed the office of President, and the amount of times that world leaders have pushed him on this issue has been countless. Yet there remain hundreds of people languishing in jail for their political activism, while the number of new political prisoners is increasing. On the very day that Thein Sein made this statement, a 74 year-old Rohingya human rights activist in Arakan State was arbitrarily arrested and detained. Just a few days later on 18 July, Daw Bawk Ja, a Kachin human rights activist and member of the National Democratic Force, was unlawfully detained on politically motivated charges.

Thein Sein also stated that a nationwide ceasefire was just weeks away, and this would mark the first time in over 60 years that the country would not be in a state of conflict. Yet the Burma Army offensive in Kachin State continues unabated, while there are more and more clashes in northern Shan State with the Shan State Army North and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army. The peace process has actually regressed since ceasefires were signed with many of the major armed groups since 2012.

Perhaps the most empty of Thein Sein's promises was a "zero tolerance approach" to those who are inciting racial hatred. As the extremist monk Wirathu travels the country spreading hate messages against Islam, Thein Sein has recently labelled him a "son of Buddha" and a "noble person." This is the same noble person who preaches that Muslims are repeatedly raping Buddhist women and imprisoning them in their home, that they are launching a jihad in Burma and as such, any Muslim businesses should be boycotted and restrictions placed on marriage between Muslim men and Buddhist women. His vitriolic, anti-Muslim 969 campaign is inciting hatred in the country, as seen in the many bouts of extreme violence against Muslims throughout Burma. Rather than a zero tolerance approach, the government is implementing a 100% tolerance approach.

It is of no surprise, therefore, that human rights groups in France and the UK, denounced Thein Sein's visit and urged Cameron and Hollande to press Thein Sein for concrete actions rather than simply words. It is of great disappointment that trade and investment are given priority over human rights by these two governments in their relationship with Burma. Worryingly, the UK has also pledged military cooperation, thus assisting the same military that is guilty of serious past and ongoing human rights violations in Burma's ethnic areas.

When the EU lifted sanctions previously, it ignored its own benchmarks that outlined the reasons for their imposition, renewal, and suspension. Thein Sein made some big promises on his trip to Europe. It is not only Thein Sein's responsibility to ensure that these promises are fulfilled but it is also the responsibility of the international community, especially the governments of the UK and France, as well as the EU, to pressure Thein Sein to put these words into action. Specific benchmarks must be laid out for an improvement of the human rights situation in Burma, and there must be consequences if these are not met. 

News Highlights


President Thein Sein says Burma will release all political prisoners "by the end of the year" but denies the existence of Rohingya and rejects plans to amend the 1982 Citizenship Law


Inside Burma

National police battalion is deployed in Arakan State to replace NaSaKa

Authorities lift the state of emergency in four Meikhtila townships on 20 July

Nearly 2.5 million people sign a petition in support of the proposed National Race Protection Law

The United Nationalities Federal Council proposes the presence of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at the next round of peace talks with the government but the Karen National Union and the Restoration Council of Shan State said she is too important a stakeholder to be a mediator

The government and the United Wa State Army sign an agreement to build mutual trust in an effort to defuse recent tensions

Police in Myitkyina, Kachin State, arrest and charge National Democratic Force MP Bawk Ja with negligent homicide in a year-old case

A new TV channel with shows in ethnic nationality languages to start this year  

In a new contract, the Myanmar Investment Commission gives 51% of the Letpadaung copper mine's profit to the Burma government

Burma Army will return no more than 6% of the land it confiscated during 1988-2010

Tests begin on the Shwe Oil and Gas Pipeline in Kyaukphyu, Arakan State



A survey conducted by the Karen Refugees Committee at the Tham Hin camp Southern Thailand finds that only 27% of the refugees would want to go back to Burma if peace is guaranteed

The Border Consortium will cut food rations to the refugees living in refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border

East Timor turns away fleeing Rohingya



UK Prime Minister David Cameron raises concerns over attacks on the Rohingya during Thein Sein's visit and offers increased military cooperation

UK parliamentary investigation shows that the government has approved export licenses worth over US$5 million that could violate the EU arms embargo

Thein Sein meets with French President Hollande



Abolishing Burma's Feared Border Force: PR or Reform?
By Francis Wade
Asian Correspondent

Tour of Shame for Thein Sein
By Matthew Smith
Asia Times

Platitudes Won't Stop Rape in Burma
By Zoya Phan
The Huffington Post

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Statements and Press Releases

Thailand: Ensure Access to Justice and Protection for Rohingya Asylum-Seekers
By Amnesty International

Myanmar: Arrests Continue Amid Promise to Release all Prisoners of Conscience
By Amnesty International

Burma: Identifying and Freeing Remaining Political Prisoners
By Asian Human Rights Commission

Burma: Police Torture of Gay and Transgendered People
By Asian Human Rights Commission

Kachin Civilian Sentenced to 2 Years in Jail on False Charges
By Burma Campaign UK

EU Re-opens its Market to Myanmar/Burma
By European Commission

Burma: Human Rights Defender Mr Wai Phyo Arrested for Organising a Campaign Calling for Freedom to Political Prisoners
By Frontline Defenders

Cameron Should Demand Thein Sein Withdraw Soldiers From Ethnic States
By Karen Community Association UK

Statement on the Occasion of Signing the Geneva Call Deed of Commitment Protecting
Children in Armed Conflict and the Deed of Commitment Prohibiting Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict and Gender Discrimination
By Karen National Union

Objection Against Unlawful Detention of a Human Rights Activist, Bawk Jar Lum Nyoi
By Legal Aid Network

Call for Probe Into Military Junta's Crimes Against the Media
By Reporters Without Borders

Burma's Extractive and Environmental Governance in Need of Overhaul
By Shwe Gas Movement

UK Encourages Progress on Reform and Announces New Support for Burma's Transition
By UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Myanmar: UN Expert Greets Abolition of Notorious Border Security Force in Rakhine State and Calls for Accountability
By United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana


Good Governance and the Extractive Industry in Burma
By Shwe Gas Movement

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