Tag Archives: Aung San Suu Kyi

Ban’s visit a watershed moment

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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

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Politics, not law, will determine Suu Kyi’s fate

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At a meeting of lawyers in Hong Kong this April, Aitzaz Ahsan described how as counsel for the Chief Justice of Pakistan in the petition against his unconstitutional removal from office during 2007, neither the president nor any other senior official had even read the charges brought against the judge, which they had signed. Had they done so, they would have noticed that the charge sheet was full of blank paragraphs with the word “deleted” alongside. And anybody looking more closely should also have found that the petitioner had not even presided over an appeal in which he was accused of having struck a deal with one of the parties; yet a number of the judges trying him had.

Although the charges against the Chief Justice of Pakistan were framed in legal terms, neither their factual accuracy nor formal correctness was supposed to have mattered. Politics and military power, not laws and civilian authority, were meant to have determined the judge’s fate. Yet to his credit, as well as to that of his advocate, the Supreme Court bench and the legal community of Pakistan, the court reinstated the judge despite the wishes of a dictator.

The case now running against Burma’s democracy icon, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is of the same type. 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

The anatomy of thuggery

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When a group of Buddhist monks in Pakokku, upper Burma, a fortnight ago joined public protests against drastic increases in nationwide fuel prices, they were met with shocking violence. At least three suffered injuries; one is rumored to have died.

Afterwards, some decided to go after the ringleaders of the gang responsible for the assault. They knew exactly which shops and houses to visit. There was no secret about who was involved. Like everywhere else in the country, the gang leaders are locally known and established.

Want to get a gang together on short notice in downtown Rangoon? Just call up the nearest township leader. Where? Let’s say Bahan. There it’s U Min Htun, a 45-year-old trader residing in 38th Street. Or try his deputy, U Naing Tint Khaing, who can be reached at his office. How about Mayangone? Ironically, the person in charge there, U Soe Aung, is a law student. Need someone in Hlaing? Kyauktada? Sanchaung? No problem: names, phone numbers and other details are all available on lists that have been compiled and kept by township councils, with orders and training from above.

But while the identities of the people managing and deploying the thugs that have for the last month been photographed and videotaped beating people to the ground before dragging them to waiting Dyna light trucks are not a mystery to anyone in Burma, among foreign correspondents and others abroad there remains some misunderstanding.

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If you can’t beat them, beat them up

U Than LwinOn June 15 a man in upper Burma emerged from a crowd to smash another in the face with knuckledusters. Then he ran off and hid in the office of an organization under the patronage of the country’s senior army commander.

The identity of the assailant remains unknown. Police officers called to the scene were denied entry to the office, even though they have the right to search any premises in pursuit of an alleged criminal.

The victim was 70-year-old U Than Lwin (above right), a parliamentarian from the 1990 annulled general election. He had just led a small group of local residents in prayer, as part of a peaceable nationwide campaign for the release of political prisoners.

Than Lwin and his colleagues had informed the trustees of pagodas in Mettaya that they would come that morning, and they had not been refused access. So they were apparently taken by surprise at the crowds of thugs hanging around the entrances to each compound. Hoping to avoid a disturbance, they instead went to a nearby monastery. Only after praying did they see that the gangs had come to wait there too, where Than Lwin had his nose and cheek busted.

The assault on Than Lwin speaks to how the military government is itself systematically undermining the law and order that it claims ad nauseam to uphold, and upon which it has based its mandate since assuming power almost two decades ago.

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Two constitutions, no solutions

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Burma’s military government will reopen its constitutional convention for the fifth and final time as announced last week, whereby a new charter will be finalized and go to a referendum; thereafter the country will supposedly return to some kind of civilian administration.

Whether or not any of this actually happens remains to be seen. The country has been without a constitution since 1988 and the current draft has been on the drawing board since around 1992. Media reports indicate that matters still up for final review include the holding of elections, political party affairs, states of emergency, measures to further amend the constitution, the national flag and seal, the transitional period and “miscellaneous” provisions — which seems rather a lot for one session.

Still, the hint of new surface movement has created a little ripple abroad too. United Nations representatives, U.S. and Chinese officials, assorted experts and others have been trying to reopen dialogue with the regime. While high-level discussions are underway and ideas are being put on tables, key actors are interfacing. So is there anything new in this, or is it just more of the same?

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Pointless predictions about a haphazard state

The latest one-year extension to the house arrest of Burma’s democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has brought with it the usual speculation about the country’s future and the thinking of its military rulers. What will be their next steps? Are they going to abandon any pretence at reform? Will there be a renewed clampdown on opponents? What’s happening to the constitution drafting convention?

Conjecture on these and other questions, such as those about Burma’s strategic position and its presumed nuclear aspirations, serves little purpose because no one actually has any answers. For years, presumed experts, diplomats and exiled political leaders have excelled at making wrong forecasts about Burma.

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