Thursday, 20 September 2012

Suu Kyi Receives Congressional Gold Medal

Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is presented with the Congressional Gold Medal at the US Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. (PHOTO: Reuters)
Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is presented with the Congressional Gold Medal at the US Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. (PHOTO: Reuters)
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was bestowed with the Congressional Gold Medal— the highest civilian award of the US Congress—on Wednesday at the Rotunda of the US Capitol.
“This is one of the most moving days of my life, to be here in a house undivided, a house joined together to welcome a stranger from a distant land,” Suu Kyi said moments after receiving the Congressional Gold Medal in the presence of top American lawmakers.

Very rarely bestowed to a foreign leader, Suu Kyi on Wednesday joined the group of small world leaders such as Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama who have received the Congressional Gold Medal.

“This is a moment for which I have been waiting for many years,” an emotional Suu Kyi said. “The great honor that you have conferred to me will be a lasting memento of the steadfast support of the United States Congress for the democratic aspirations of my people. From the depths of my heart, I thank you, the people of America, and you, their representatives, for keeping us in your hearts and minds during the dark years when freedom and justice seemed beyond our reach.

“It has always been my opinion that democracy offers the best balance between freedom and security for all of us. To be a full human being, we need both security and freedom. Without security, we cannot rest in the peace necessary to discover the world to be the beautiful place that it can be. Without freedom also we will be deprived of the many opportunities that would make us more human and more humane,” Suu Kyi said.

To the surprise of many, the event was joined by Aung Min, representing the Burmese President ‘s Office, and the new Burmese Ambassador, Than Swe, reflecting the changing times in Burma.
“It’s almost too delicious to believe, my friend, that you are here in the Rotunda of our great Capitol, the centerpiece of our democracy as an elected member of your Parliament, as the leader of the political opposition, the leader of a political party,” Clinton said in her remarks. “I am so deeply moved by what she has stood for and what she has represented, first and foremost for the people of her country, but for people everywhere who yearn for freedom, whose voices deserve to be heard. But I am also very impressed that she was not satisfied upon the release from house arrest to remain an advocate, a symbol, an icon,” she said.

“So as we honor her, a time that many of us feared would never happen. It’s good to recognize that one phase of her work may be over, but another phase equally important is just beginning, and that the United States will stand with her, with the President of Burma and those who are reformers in the executive branch and the legislative branch, with the activists, with civil society as they fan the flickers of democratic progress and press forward with reform. And we wish them all Godspeed,” Clinton said.

Laura Bush, a strong supporter of Burma and Suu Kyi during the previous Bush administration, said that the transition in Burma, like past events in South Africa or Eastern Europe, shows that history has a hopeful direction. “It’s capable of miracles. There is a part of every soul that longs for freedom. And any government built on oppression is built on sand,” she said.

One of the most repressive governments on earth attempted to isolate and silence one woman. It must have seemed an easy task. Instead, the regime encountered an immovable object and its legitimacy broke against here character, Bush said.

“Daw Suu became a symbol of courage, perseverance and defiance—a symbol that integrity was still possible in Burma, and this symbol became an inspiration for activists, monks and millions around the world,” she said.

“When her long isolation ended, some of us have finally met Daw Suu in person and found not a symbol, but a women of tremendous humor, honesty and grace. And that’s only increased our admiration,” Bush said, adding that Suu Kyi’s contribution to Burma is decades-old and just beginning.

“Today we celebrate Ms. Suu Kyi’s steadfast commitment to democracy, civility and human dignity, and we do so in a manner worthy of these ideals. After all, it was a House led by a speaker from the Democrat Party, Nancy Pelosi, that initiated this measure awarding this medal, and a Republican president, George W. Bush, who signed it into law,” said Joe Boehner, speaker of the US House of Representatives.

Congressman Joe Crowley, the sponsor of the Congressional resolution to award the Gold Medal to Suu Kyi, said it was an incredible day. “Who would have thought that when this bill was introduced in the House in 2008 when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest that in a few short years she would be standing here with us on US soil receiving this honor and as a member of the Burmese parliament,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Suu Kyi met top US lawmakers and discussed the current situation in Burma and the progress being made under the reforms.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

More protestors arrested at copper mine demonstration

Twelve women demonstrators were arrested on Monday in northwestern Burma, prompting a larger demonstration calling for their release. The women were arrested during a prayer ceremony in a pagoda.

The women planned to protest at the Monywa Copper Mine, located in Sagaing division’s Sarlingyi Township, according to one of the women.

The project developers are Wan Bao Co., a subsidiary of state-owned Chinese arms manufacturer North China Industries Corp. (Norinco), and Burma’s army-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holding.

“After we paid homage to the Buddha, about 30 security police followed us,” one of the women told Radio Free Asia (RFA), in an article published on Monday.

Among the 12 held was Thet Thet Win from Wetmhe village, who is a leader of the movement against the copper mine project.

Last week, hundreds of security forces stormed the copper mining site in search of land rights activists who helped organize earlier protests by 10,000 villagers demanding the return of land seized for the project.

The police arrived at the Monywa mine late in the evening of Sept. 6 but were fended off by hundreds of demonstrators armed with sticks and knives who were guarding the area.

Villagers say the mining companies have illegally confiscated more than 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) of farmland from 26 villages in Sarlingyi since 2011, said RFA.

Tensions have risen in recent weeks since Wan Bao has continued digging at the site and dumping waste soil on the confiscated land despite a request to suspend work and enter negotiations.

Villagers have been protesting near Wan Bao's offices since August to demand adequate compensation, the return of confiscated lands, a stop to forced relocations, the reopening of locked monasteries, and an end to the dumping of waste on their fields.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Firm steps needed to protect children from military recruitment


Last month, two ethnic armed groups in Myanmar – the Karenni National Progressive Party and the New Mon State Party – signed a ‘deed of commitment’ with an international NGO, Geneva Call, pledging to end the practice of underage recruitment and protect children in armed conflict.  The agreement with the two armed groups came close on the heels of the Joint Action Plan (JAP) agreed between the UN and the Government of Myanmar, which aims to bring an end to recruitment and use of child soldiers in Myanmar’s armed forces.

 This JAP, which was the culmination of five years of negotiations between the UN and the Myanmar military, incorporates a wide range of specific measures to be implemented by the government to prevent underage recruitment and to ensure the recovery and reintegration of children in the ranks of the armed forces. It marks a significant step forward, though effective implementation will be the true test of its significance.


The signing of the JAP came about in part because of the listing of Myanmar’s armed forces and armed opposition groups in ten successive reports of the UN Secretary-General. Recruitment and use of children by all parties to armed conflict has been a recurrent feature in Myanmar’s post-independence history. As is the case in other countries where children have been recruited and used in conflict, a range of factors, including socio-economic inequalities, insecurity and culture, have made children in Myanmar vulnerable to involvement in armed conflict.

Many of these drivers of underage recruitment in Myanmar are still in place. For the armed forces these include the continued expansion of the army and the high rates of attrition; the existence of a widespread but unofficial system of incentives for military recruiters to achieve recruitment quotas and punishments for those who do not, which has spawned a system of unofficial civilian brokers; and practices by which an individual wishing to leave the armed forces must identify one to two new recruits to replace them. Unaccompanied children are especially vulnerable to the pressure of these forces because of the absence of effective age verification procedures and lack of independent monitoring and accountability.

Effective implementation of the JAP is crucial because the recruitment and use of children by the military and other armed actors in Myanmar continues to occur despite the dramatic and welcome pace of other changes in the country over the past year. Information available to Child Soldiers International and others shows that the Myanmar military and other armed groups have militarily recruited children in 2012.

The UN and other agencies have evidence that the Myanmar military routinely falsifies ages, and in some cases the identity, of recruits to hinder parents or guardians from locating them. Trickery and bribery, along with threats and force are widely used to recruit children into the Myanmar military. Most children are recruited by military personnel (ranging in rank from privates, corporals, sergeants) who pick up unaccompanied children and take them to recruitment centres, while in a few cases recruitment continues to be conducted by civilian brokers. Civilian or military brokers are paid around MMK30,000 [$35] and a bag of rice or a jerry can of kerosene for each recruit.

This all occurs in spite of the fact that underage recruitment is illegal in Myanmar. The Myanmar authorities have begun to make efforts to enforce the law, for instance by punishing military personnel for breaches of the forced labour and underage recruitment laws. But over the past five years, most of those punished have been non-commissioned officers (NCOs) – sergeants, corporals and some privates – rather than more senior officers who may sanction illegal practices.

However, most of the action taken has been disciplinary; criminal investigation and prosecutions of perpetrators are very exceptional, with only one civilian broker being referred to the criminal court. Limited measures such as these have clearly failed to act as a real deterrent to those pursuing underage recruitment. Indeed, Child Soldiers International has found that the consequences for failing to meet recruitment targets are usually more severe than the disciplinary penalties applied in instances of underage recruitment.
To translate the commitments contained in the JAP into tangible progress, there needs to be effective implementation coupled with independent monitoring. To achieve this, the UN and other independent humanitarian actors need access to military sites and conflict areas to monitor, verify and release children recruited by the military and armed opposition groups in Myanmar. The JAP is a real opportunity to end military recruitment and use of children in the country. But that will only happen if concrete legal, policy and practical measures are implemented and effectively monitored.

-Richard Clarke is the director at Child Soldiers International.
Editor’s note: At the author’s request, Myanmar has been used in this article rather than Burma.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

88-generation students’ guitar most expensive in Burma

Rangoon (Mizzima) - A guitar, with a painting by three 88-generation student leaders, was sold for 58.8 million kyat (US$ 66,627) at a fund-raising music concert in Rangoon on Saturday – making it the most expensive guitar in Burma.
The '88 Student leaders guitar, which was sold to the highest bidder at a fund-raising concert in Rangoon on Saturday, September 1, 2012. Photo: Hein Htet / Mizzima

The picture, on the back of the guitar, jointly painted by Min Ko Naing, Htay Kywe and Pyone Cho, depicts the background of Rangoon University. The front of the guitar bears the phrase “The 88 Generation.”

Myanmar Football Federation chairman Zaw Zaw, who heads Max Myanmar, and Win Naing, the general manager of the Sky Net TV Channel, bid for the guitar. Finally, Win Naing made the highest bid.

88-generation student leader Pyone Cho, a former political prisoner who spent more than 20 years in prison, said, “After we were released from prison, we did the artistic work. Thanks for bidding for it to keep it as a memorable item.”

Youth sing the opening 88 Peace song composed by 88 leader Mya Ayeat at a fund-raising music concert in Rangoon on Saturday, September 1, 2012. Photo: Hein Htet / Mizzima

During the concert, 80 musicians entertained and 88-generation student leaders recited poems composed in prisons. The music concert took in more than 300 million kyat.

A woman attending the concert told Mizzima TV that earlier it would have been impossible to hold such a concert. “It was difficult to mention their [88-generation student leaders’] names,” she said.

Sixty million out of the 300 million kyat will be donated to flood victims, refugees in Arakan State and war refugees in Kachin State

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Returned exiled lawyer serving six-month prison sentence

An exiled defense lawyer who returned to Burma under the olive branch offered by the new government has been jailed for a previous sentence in absentia, and is now in Insein Prison.

The lawyer, Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, is a human rights defender and a former leading member of the National League for Democracy youth wing.

It is the first sentencing of an returned exile for a previous offense and it shows that “when it comes to human rights, the government of Burma still cannot be trusted,” the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP-B) said in a statement on Thursday, calling for his release.

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, 32, was originally accused of contempt of court while he and two other defense lawyers were defending 11 NLD clients in an October 2008 judicial proceeding, said the AAPP-B.

When another defense lawyer failed to appear in court, the judge forced a defendant to question the prosecuting police officer by himself.

To protest the unfair process, three of the defendants turned their backs to the court.

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min was charged with contempt when he refused the judge’s order to reign in his client’s behavior, and said: “We don’t want to forbid our clients from doing anything…We are defense lawyers, and we act according to our clients’ instructions.”

Fearing imprisonment, Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min fled to Thailand in October 2008, where he continued to promote the rule of law in Burma.

He was sentenced in absentia under Section 228 of the penal code and sentenced on Aug. 29 by the Rangoon Northern District Court.

Speech of General Aung San