Category Archives: human rights groups

Unhappy Human Rights Day in Burma

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While governments and groups around the world made effusive statements and gave awards to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, the Asian Human Rights Commission struck a more somber note.

“The celebration,” the regional body said, “is a grim reminder that even after 60 years of the adoption of this great declaration, the gap between what is declared and what is actually achieved … is enormous. Both in the field of civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights, people in Asia … have so little to celebrate.”

The downbeat mood was certainly shared in Burma. There, a handful of people belonging to local group Human Rights Defenders and Promoters gathered in Rangoon to mark the date.

Their International Human Rights Day event was muted by comparison to most around the world, and even compared to the one that they had held the year before. But that they got together at all demonstrated their commitment to what the day represents. Continue reading

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Who isn’t bombing Rangoon

When news spread that in the early hours of Oct. 13 a passenger vehicle had exploded in suburban Rangoon killing seven, the first response of some people was that it must have been another in the latest series of bombings to rock the former capital.

It turned out that the blast was the result of a natural gas cylinder crammed between the driver and tray in the manner of most fuel-converted trucks and vans in Burma, to the dismay of those squeezed in alongside.

But it was not long before the bombs started again. On Saturday, a small one went off at a football ground in Yankin, causing minor damage. On Sunday, another in Shwepyithar killed a man who, according to the state media, was building the device.

These followed a number of other incidents in September that left at least seven persons wounded. Bombs also earlier exploded at the main railway station, and near the high-class Traders Hotel and the town hall.

There is a lot of talk going around about who might be behind this new campaign. Some exiled opponents of the regime suggest, as in previous years, that it could be elements of the security forces. Others suspect renegade activists who have lost patience with both nonviolent resistance and the jungle-based insurgencies of old.

One person who wasn’t involved is U Myint Aye. That’s because he’s in jail accused of planting a bomb at the branch office of a government organizing body in July. It’s an odd turn of events for the 57-year-old chairman of Burma’s only out-and-out domestic rights group, Human Rights Defenders and Promoters. Continue reading

Human rights mean taking a stand, not sides

Amid all the reporting about the latest chaos in Bangkok was a remark from a very dangerous man who usually knows something about who is pulling the strings and why.

According to General Pallop Pinmanee, his old classmate and protest leader Major General Chamlong Srimuang had planned his arrest on Monday, which preceded the fighting outside Parliament, in order to “try to create a situation like the Black May incident” of 1992.

Little wonder. Chamlong emerged a hero then, seemingly urging people not to provoke violence, being pulled from the thousands sprawling on the streets after the army moved in, and finally, kneeling before the king with the unelected prime minister to claim his place in history.

Although things are very different this time around, one constant is that Chamlong and his allies have planned for people to be killed. Sixteen years ago, the numbers of casualties were perhaps more than they expected. This week, judging from the tone of Chamlong’s inane statement about national duty before death, maybe they haven’t been enough.

One of the difficulties for human rights workers in Thailand during the last few years has been how to stay involved in pressing national affairs without getting caught up in the scheming of Chamlong and others like him who inhabit all sides of the current fracas. Continue reading

Saneh must now resign

(ให้ประธานคณะกรรมการสิทธิมนุษยชนไทยลาออก)

The chairman of Thailand’s official human rights body, Saneh Chamarik (above), on July 29 sent an open letter to the head of the United Nations expressing his agency’s most serious concern and dismay at a “blatant violation of human rights.”

As the writing of an open letter to the U.N. secretary-general is an unusual step for a statutory rights bureau, and given its strident tone, readers might expect that its topic would be one of utmost importance to the defense of human dignity in Thailand.

This would be mistaken. The purpose of the National Human Rights Commission’s letter was in actuality to lay blame for a puerile spat over an historic temple between the governments of Thailand and Cambodia with a U.N. committee.

According to Saneh, it is the World Heritage Committee, rather than politicking and self-interested nationalist leaders, that has somehow “endangered the lives of those who live along the Thai-Cambodian border.”

But Saneh does not stop there. He goes beyond any pretence of concern for the integrity of people residing nearby the contested site to lobby unashamedly for his own country’s claims.

“It seems that the views of the Thai side have been consistently overlooked,” he shrills, before concluding with a demand for an inquiry of some sort or another.

Official politeness will oblige a response, but it is hard to imagine the letter being received in New York with anything other than incredulity.

Although the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand has had its share of ups and downs and is certainly not alone among its peers in Asia in having missed the point of its work from time to time, other blunders pale in comparison to the disgrace caused with this outburst. Continue reading

Thailand’s rights commission in limbo

Thailand’s human rights agency has been in limbo since September 2006 when the army took power for the umpteenth time.

The National Human Rights Commission was by no means the coup’s biggest casualty. After all, it wasn’t shut down completely, like the parliament and one of the upper courts. But the commission has not fared well since then, and its confused and contradictory response to the military takeover in some ways typified its deeper problems.

Commissioners took dramatically different stands on the coup, its chairman refusing to condemn it, one member joining protestors on the streets, ultimately to be forced out by the junta’s unelected legislature. Some others were gently critical, while a number were neither seen nor heard.

There was also disagreement about whether or not the commission even had a mandate to keep operating, given that it was a body expressly established under a constitution that no longer existed.

These sorts of inconsistencies have dogged the commission’s work for the last few years. Continue reading

What next for human rights abuse in Burma?

Burma’s military government has by now dramatically compounded the death and misery brought to its country with Cyclone Nargis. While carrying on with the same sort of games it has played against the global community for years, it has caused untold needless loss of life and greatly magnified people’s suffering today and tomorrow.

The regime has failed to open the door to sufficient foreign aid for the millions who need help. Its agents, whether under orders or of their own accord, have also obstructed local and overseas efforts to deliver relief and have misdirected their energies at futile exercises like the holding of the May 10 constitutional referendum and the arrests of state officers accused of not staying at their posts throughout the havoc of that day.

The authorities have been scrambling to get back on top and at least give the appearance of being in control. Once they’ve obtained a semblance of normalcy and official behavior becomes a little more coherent, human rights abuses directed against storm refugees and people in nearby areas especially will increase. Continue reading

Teachers do time while ASEAN toes the line

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In most countries teachers with talent and commitment are valued; in Burma some are jailed.

U Aung Pe is one. Last month he walked out of the central prison, and kept going all the way back to his town 17 miles away. After three years he needed fresh air, he told a journalist by phone.

Aung Pe’s crime was to have taught underprivileged children without a license. In fact he had had one, but couldn’t get it renewed as he didn’t get along with the local education board. He says that its officials had kept asking for extra payments, which he refused, pointing out that he had rented a room at his own expense and was tutoring orphans and poor students for free.

He was arrested in February 2005, and charged under a 1984 law on tuition, which stipulates prison terms for offences such obtaining a permit improperly, unauthorized advertising, and holding private lessons inside school premises. He was convicted in August.

But the court’s verdict betrays the real reason that Aung Pe was put behind bars; a reason not covered by the tuition law at all. Continue reading