Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Weekly Highlights: People of ASEAN Stand Up To Be Counted


17 - 23 March 2014

Weekly Highlights

People of ASEAN Stand Up To Be Counted 

The ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People's Forum (ACSC/APF) 2014, held in Rangoon, Burma, on 21-23 March, and co-organised by long-standing Burma advocates to ASEAN, namely Burma Partnership, Task Force on ASEAN and Burma, and Women's League of Burma, together with 80 other civil society organizations (CSOs) and community based organizations (CBOs), can be hailed as a great success as well as a historic event. Not only was it the first ACSC/APF to be held in Burma, it was also the highest attended ACSC/APF since the ACSC/APF first took place in 2005, with over 3,000 participants. It was a great opportunity for people of all ethnic nationalities from across Burma – CSOs, CBOs, rights activists networks, and grassroots activists – to meet people from their own countries and from others around the ASEAN region as well as from Timor leste and beyond, to share their concerns, and above all, to demonstrate the strength and solidarity of civil society in Burma and in ASEAN.

In addition, a number of solidarity activities were carried out by rights activists: an exhibition by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners and the Former Political Prisoners League on the lives of political prisoners, demonstrations by people from Latpadaung copper mine, and other activists fighting for their confiscated land; environmental activists protesting against the Salween Dam; sex workers voicing their struggle for a protective law; student and youth activists campaigning against hate speech; and LGBTIQ community members championing their rights in a display of celebration and color, to name but a few. There was also a solidarity night featuring a cultural show, whereby participants expressed their solidarity with each country's civil society delegates by sharing their culture with one another.

After a day of high profile plenaries on Myanmar's transition, globalization, and a broad sweep of the current situation for the benefit of the people of ASEAN, workshops began in earnest on day two. A statement was drafted based on the conclusion of five plenaries and thirty five workshops,  and was presented to the media on Monday, 24 March 2014. The statement highlights concerns and recommendations, and will be forwarded to ASEAN country leaders ahead of the ASEAN summit in May. Among a plethora of statements and recommendations regarding peace, justice and human rights, development, and democracy, perhaps the most pertinent words regarding Burma today came from National League for Democracy (NLD) patron, U Tin Oo who stated that "admitting one's errors is painful, but it is an important step for reconciliation. We cannot let our ego overtake the welfare of future generations. We should be brave enough to face the past with honesty, so that we can work together to solve the urgent problems of this country."

Despite this positivity, certain sinister activities harked back to the dark days of direct military rule. Dr May May Pyone, Chair of the ACSC/APF 2014 said "now is not a time for mistrust and fear, but a time for trust building and positivity", yet the heavy presence of Special Branch, the intelligence gathering body of the Burma government, whose apparatus and modus operandi have scarcely changed since the military regime, highlights the deep distrust that the Burma government still has of civil society. Furthermore, during the past nine months of preparation for the ACSC/APF, the Burma government tried to influence the process by various means including infiltrating or assigning their people to the relevant committees. However, it was not only the Burma government that placed intelligence units at the convention: during a workshop featuring prominent human rights defenders from Cambodia, Cambodian intelligence officials were also present in the room.

Perhaps one of the most anticipated issues was of how religious violence in Arakan State, and the persecution of the Rohingya, was going to be addressed. Unfortunately, despite a question from the audience on the third plenary of day one, the panellists speaking about Burma's transition did not answer the question, and civil society members otherwise seemed reluctant to raise the issue during workshops and plenaries. Indeed, reports of monks from the extremist 969 movement intimidating speakers at one of the workshops, imploring the speakers not to use the term "Rohingya", were also of grave concern. The Rohingya situation, one of the most serious issues in Burma and ASEAN over the last two years, was very much the "elephant in the room" during this year's ACSC/APF.

In spite of such methods, the 2014 ACSC/APF was a display of strength and solidarity of ASEAN civil society. It was a triumph for freedom of assembly, association and expression in a country long known as a denier of these human rights. Although there remains distrust of civil society on the part of the Burma government, particularly as regards sensitive issues such as ethnic persecution, Burma civil society and their counterparts across ASEAN can stand proud today.

News Highlights

Villagers in Tenasserim Division's Dawei District to file a legal complaint against Thailand's Myanmar Pongpipat Company and state-owned Mining Enterprise 2 operating the Heinda tin mine to seek compensation for severe environmental damage

Inside Burma

Four people face charges under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law after giving public talks to villagers about regeneration of mangrove forests in Irrawaddy Region

Burma Army shoots a humanitarian aid worker monitoring troop movements in Karen State

President Thein Sein and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, Min Aung Hlaing make a brief visit to Kachin State with President Thein Sein stating that the government wants peace

Karen National Union (KNU) state that the Hatgyi Dam project, which is in KNU-controlled area, will not go ahead until substantive political talks are held

The All Myanmar Islamic Association advises muslims in Myanmar to state their ethnic affiliation as oppose to merely 'Muslim' in the ethnic identity question for the upcoming census 

Two new media laws are passed, the Press Law, and the Printers and Publishers Registration Law, although potentially repressive restrictions remain on the latter


Burmese migrant workers in Thailand to start receiving regular passports while in Thailand although the process remains complex

Chinese NGO to provide microfinance programs in Mandalay, Myitkyina, Naypyidaw and Rangoon

Burmese migrant workers in Phuket, Thailand, told not to go out at night after fatal stabbing of Thai man



EU trade representative coming to Burma for talks over an investment pact with Burma to pave the way for preferential access for EU firms


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By The Editorial Board
The New York Times

The Tatmadaw's Divide-and-Rule Tactics in Burma
By David Brenner
The Diplomat

Laws Enforce Discrimination in Myanmar
By David I Steinberg
Asia Times Online

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TAKE ACTION! Send a letter calling for an investigation into the torture and death of a man while detained in police custody 

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Statements and Press Releases

Burma Census Should Be Postponed

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Burma: Ongoing Human Rights Violations Warrant the Renewal of the UN Special Rapporteur's Mandate

Burma Parliament Passes Dual Media Laws
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Burma Army Shelling of Villages, Torture, Looting Cause 2,000 Villagers to Flee their Homes Near Chinese Pipelines in North Shan State
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Burma Government's Response to the Human Rights Council Report of Tomás Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

By UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Myanmar: Act Immediately to Protect Displaced People's Rights
By Refugees International 

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