Monday, September 23, 2013

Weekly Highlights: Civil Society Commemorates International Peace Day in Burma



Weekly Highlights

Civil Society Commemorates International Peace Day in Burma

On 21 September, civil society from Burma and the region marked the International Day of Peace with many activities to highlight the urgent need for lasting peace in Burma.

Civil society in Rangoon organized a large event, including many young activists who were charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law and are still facing charges for marching on International Day of Peace last year. Around 300 people from 60 different civil society organizations marched through 8 townships from City Hall to the People's Park, shouting slogans "May the Union be peaceful," "Build national reconciliation" and "Stop war." Though plagued by constant heavy rain, the event, unlike previous years, was held with permission of local authorities. It was also attended by high-level government officials, including government peace negotiator, Minister Aung Min, and Minister of the President's Office, Soe Thein.

Members of civil society, after giving the opportunity for the government officials to make speeches, publicly stated their demands for peace, right in front of the ministers. They called for the immediate cessation of the Burma Army's offensives in Kachin State, a nationwide ceasefire, and most important of all, the realization of federalism through an all-inclusive national conference, reinforcing the statement endorsed by thousands of people on the 8888 Silver Jubilee.

Another event was also held in Tavoy, Tenasserim Region, to commemorate the International Day of Peace and show solidarity with ethnic nationality peoples who continue to suffer due to armed conflict and ongoing human rights violations. 

These calls were echoed in a short documentary film produced by Burma Partnership and released on the International Day of Peace. The film, entitled "Guns, Briefcases and Inequality: The Neglected War in Kachin State," questions whether the government's current process will really lead to sustainable peace and national reconciliation. It also highlights how development projects and natural resource management are exacerbating armed conflict and human rights violations in ethnic areas, without adequate means to justice for the people. Burma Partnership also released a briefing paper that looks more in depth at the flaws in the peace process so far.

Peace day in Burma was also marked by the Global Partnership for Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC)'s solidarity visit to Kachin State, where GPPAC members from Southeast Asia, who have been involved in successful and ongoing peace negotiations in their respective countries and in the region, met with the Technical Advisory Team of the Kachin Independence Organization and Kachin civil society organizations. They listened to the local communities and stakeholders, especially the victims of the ongoing conflict, and shared their experiences and inputs.

Also coinciding with the International Day of Peace, the border-based women's umbrella organization, the Women's League of Burma, and a network of local women's organizations in Burma, Women's Organization Network, jointly organized a women's forum from 20-22 September in Rangoon. As many as 400 representatives from women's organizations, political parties, women Members of Parliament, other civil society organizations and individuals of different ethnic backgrounds from inside Burma, the border areas and overseas, came together to discuss the issues of legal protection for women and gender equality, women and constitution, federalism and the peace process. This marked the first time that women activists from Burma came together to addressing these issues.

This surge of civil society voices demonstrates the desire for lasting peace throughout the country. Various ethnic communities feel that the government is rushing the peace process, something that has been reiterated by international actors involved in the process. There is increasing concern that the nationwide ceasefire accord that the government is currently striving for would not be the right step to take at the current stage of the peace process and will not address the underlying causes of armed conflict in Burma's ethnic nationality areas: the lack of equality, self-determination and justice. The government and the Burma Army must agree to engage in meaningful political dialogue with all ethnic nationalities on equal terms, including discussions on amending the 2008 Constitution. This dialogue is essential for Burma to achieve equality, national reconciliation, and most importantly, for the country's democratic transition, as the reform process will only be able to continue so far if there is not lasting peace and a solution to the issues of inequality, self-determination and lack of justice.

Burma's people have suffered long enough from decades of war and inequality. The government and those international actors who are supporting or involved in the peace process must ensure that their efforts reflect the reality on the ground, match the needs of the people, especially the non-Burman ethnic nationality people from conflict-affected communities, and do not exacerbate the long time suffering of these vulnerable people.

News Highlights


Daw Aung San Suu Kyi meets with the Dalai Lama on the sidelines of Forum 2000 in Prague, Czech Republic; calls on Czechs to support democracy in Burma and calls for the people of Burma to be "rich in hope"


Inside Burma

President Thein Sein meets members of 88 Generation Peace and Open Society for the first time and again pledges to release all remaining political prisoners by the end of the year

Vice-Chairman of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, Htay Oo, praises the Burma Army's role in the current political process and advocates for a sustained role in politics and says constitutional amendments must not harm the country's sovereignty

Union Election Commission (UEC) says country is "guaranteed" free and fair elections in 2015 yet UEC and immigration authorities blame each other regarding white card holders' right to vote and MPs propose to amend laws in order to stop non-citizens from voting

Talks between the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Union Peace Working Committee in Myitkyina, Kachin State, center on internally displaced persons (IDPs) and military matters while the Burma Army reinforces its positions near KIO-held areas in northern Kachin State

Second round of UN aid reaches IDPs in Laiza, Kachin State

More than 3,500 people remain without homes more than six months after inter-communal violence in Meikhtila, Mandalay Region

Karen Border Guard Force (BGF) Chief Major Naing Maung Zaw says all mines planted by the BGF in Karen State would be removed by the end of the year

Monks demand an apology for the brutal military crackdown 6 years ago during the Saffron Revolution

Central Bank confirms that the government has over US$7 billion in foreign reserves in overseas bank accounts



Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, discusses drug eradication cooperation and the Tavoy Special Economic Zone with Thai Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, in Bangkok

Burma pledges to tackle human trafficking through international collaboration

170 migrant workers return to Burma following crackdown in Malaysia



Burma signs agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to declare nuclear activities and allow inspections

Burma agrees to sign International Labour Organisation Convention 182 in order to end the worst forms of child labor

UN Office on Drugs and Crime will provide technical and capacity-building assistance to help the government transform police force into a national public service body

New Zealand opens embassy in Rangoon



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