Category Archives: UN

Thai lottery not child’s play in Burma

April Htun-Thuza Khaing1

The Supreme Court of Thailand on Wednesday found that a former deputy minister and two ex-officials had failed to comply with a number of laws when they set up a scheme to legalize two- and three-digit lotteries.

The politically motivated case has attracted a lot of media interest and online commentary. By contrast, the judgment this August of a court in Burma – also in a two-digit lottery case against three people who should never have been brought to trial – has not had any coverage at all.

The defendants in the latter case were not Bangkok bigwigs, but rural teenage girls. And unlike the group of accused who are in the news, they were not given suspended sentences but were immediately sent to prison for a period of one year with hard labor. Continue reading

Pinning hope on a hopeless constitution

constitution

Last year, amid the death and debris in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, Burma got a new Constitution. Now people inside and outside the country are readying themselves for a general election of some sort, followed by the opening of a new Parliament, which is when the charter will take effect.

The ballot is expected in 2010, although so far no details have emerged of how it will be run. The regime could yet give any number of excuses to postpone it if Senior General Than Shwe or his astrologers decide the time is not right.

Some analysts – including former diplomats and others who move in their circles – see hope for change in the 2008 Constitution and the anticipated elections. Their argument is that even though the parliamentary system will be under military control, it will still provide space for people that have not had a chance to participate in government for the last few decades.

One way or another, they say, power will be more diffused and that will create opportunities. And like it or not, they figure, the junta’s electoral circus is the only one in town.

But, in a statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council this month, the Asian Legal Resource Center has given a starkly different opinion. The Hong Kong-based group has argued that in its current form the 2008 charter cannot be called a constitution at all, let alone one that will permit people in Burma to shape their future. Continue reading

Thailand’s “unsubstantiated” police abuses

red faces

Thailand’s representatives to the United Nations still cling to the outdated idea that if they turn up at a big get-together and make nice comments about how they cherish human rights, then everyone will think things are fine in the land of smiles.

Not surprisingly, they are unhappy when other people tell a different story. So last March, when the Asian Legal Resource Centre addressed the U.N. Human Rights Council concerning Thailand, they weren’t at all pleased.

The Hong Kong-based group told the council that the police are the top abusers of human rights in Thailand, for which they enjoy impunity. The center did not make this statement frivolously. It has for years worked closely with people in the country on dozens of cases that speak to this fact, and it is aware of and has documented hundreds more. Many cases it cannot publicize because to do so would put lives at risk.

Notwithstanding, the government representative, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, claimed that the center’s remarks were “unsubstantiated.” Although his defense of his country’s record was not in itself surprising, the vehemence of his response was remarkable given the piles of evidence to the contrary which groups have accumulated and presented to international bodies over the last decade.

This week the center had a chance to rebut his claim. Continue reading

Bangkok court shoots self in foot, again

da torpedo

A court in Thailand inched closer to its counterparts in neighboring Burma last week when it sentenced an anti-coup protestor to 18 years in prison. The Bangkok criminal court convicted Daranee Chanchoengsilapakul on three counts of lese majesty arising from statements she made in a rally to support the ousted prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. In the speech, she connected the 2006 military takeover to the palace, and drew parallels between events in her country and the fate of the monarchy in Nepal, which was abolished in 2008 after a popular uprising.

The charges were brought against Darunee following a complaint from Sondhi Limthongkul, the leader of the army-sponsored anti-Thaksin movement that occupied the prime minister’s offices for three months and the national airport for about a week last year. Neither he nor any of his cohorts have been brought to justice over those events, despite the massive criminality involved, including assaults and alleged murders, wanton vandalism, and theft of public and private property. While targeting opponents for alleged crimes of thought and speech, Sondhi and allies continue to spread their own vitriol through a variety of broadcast and Internet media.

The judges made little pretense of conducting the trial fairly. Continue reading

Sound and fury after Suu Kyi verdict

ASSK verdict

The verdict handed down against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her co-accused in Burma this week surprised no one. The trial was throughout political, not legal in character. The only real question has been what, if anything, anyone else will do about it.

A chorus of angry statements from across the world quickly followed the end of the trial. Most of these were probably prepared weeks before, given that the final date for the judgment was delayed several times. In those weeks of angry statements smouldering on desks, waiting for the final details to be inserted, nobody did anything. Now that the trial is over, there is little evidence that they will either. The matter is being put to the UN Security Council, and it will most likely end there. A few countries may tinker with ineffectual trade embargoes and leave it at that. The sound and fury will go on for a while and then fade away, like it did following the protests of 2007 and the cyclone of the year after. Detailed reports of groups like the Asian Legal Resource Centre on the farcical cases against detained demonstrators, much like that launched against Suu Kyi, have not made news. Agencies involved in the cyclone recovery effort are having trouble to raise even a quarter of the money that they have sought to continue their work in the next two or three years, although the amount is miniscule in comparison to what was given for the Indian Ocean tsunami recovery effort over three years before.

Some commentators have pointed to noises coming from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as a cause for hope, but that body consists of people who are experts at discharging smokescreens to confuse and demoralize others. Continue reading

Sons of sorrow

sons of sorrow

Accompanying all the latest to-do over whether or not Burma’s regime is trying to obtain nuclear weapons has been the usual background noise about the menace of its conventional armed forces. Foreign pages’ editors excitedly describe the army as having half a million troops, as if they are all poised on the border to spill over into neighboring territories at a moment’s notice.

Nobody knows the real size or capability of the army in Burma, although that doesn’t stop analysts the world over from sifting through secondhand sources for something with which to make a claim about this or that. Not even the army itself is likely to know precisely how many personnel it actually has, given that unit commanders play with numbers to satisfy the requirements of their superiors.

But one thing we do know is that not all of these soldiers are adults. Last week a Thailand-based group released a new report on the recruitment of children to the Burma army. The report, entitled “Child soldiers, Burma’s sons of sorrow,” explores government claims to be addressing the problem of child soldiers, and presents evidence to the contrary. Continue reading

Ban’s visit a watershed moment

ban-than

Political analysts and international journalists have criticized the visit of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Burma last week. Various observers have described it as ill-advised and fruitless. Some have remarked that Ban risked his reputation to achieve nothing.

What was striking about his visit was the level of negativity that accompanied it from the moment it was announced, not only among overseas pundits but also among people in Burma and political opponents of the military regime abroad.

Most speakers on Burmese radio programs and writers of commentary on news websites and blogs predicted that the generals would thumb their noses at the U.N. secretary-general irrespective of whether he was sitting in New York or in front of them. As expected, he made no discernible progress on any substantive issues and was unable to meet Aung San Suu Kyi.

Perhaps at no other time in the last two decades have people been so pessimistic about the role of the United Nations in pressing for political change in Burma. This is in stark contrast to a few years ago, when exiles and many in the country nursed ridiculously high hopes that the international community could somehow sweep in and clear things up if only enough important people would take an interest.

For this reason, Ban’s trip is a watershed moment. Thanks to him, most folks now understand that the United Nations isn’t going to appear magically and hold the regime to account for its multifarious wrongs.

But this needn’t give rise to the high level of cynicism about the U.N. failure to promote change in Burma. The current stasis is as much a result of domestic as it is international affairs, and everyone shares some responsibility for it, even if many people would prefer to just blame Ban and the body that he represents. Continue reading