Tag Archives: Basil Fernando

Pinning hope on a hopeless constitution

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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

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Tall tales at the Human Rights Council

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Tourist brochures portray Burma as a mystical land full of unseen wonders and tall tales about amazing imaginary creatures, from giant serpents to magical birds. But it was a different sort of fantasy that the government spun stories about in Geneva this week: a far more modern, albeit no less implausible entity.

In response to the U.N. Human Rights Council‘s scrutiny of its violent crackdown on protests during August and September, the Burmese government suddenly claimed to have already set up an investigating body into alleged killings, abductions and disappearances at the time.

The body, under the home affairs minister, had begun its work at the end of October, the country’s ambassador said, and so there would be no need for any international inquiry of the sort proposed by the special human rights expert on the country.

This was news to informed observers. No such body has ever been reported in the state media, or heard about in other quarters. Nor does it seem that anyone representing it has met with persons from outside the regime.

It seems reasonable to ask if the inquiry body really exists at all. Yet, this question did not once come up in the Human Rights Council. Although the ambassador described nothing of what the body has done or will do, nor anything of its powers, many delegates seemed to take it seriously. How come?

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Teaching grandma how to peel onions

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The lead article in last Sunday’s South China Morning Post breathlessly reported that some of those involved in recent protests throughout Burma had received training from the National Endowment for Democracy, a group funded by the United States government. Its editorial tut-tutted that Americans are yet again meddling where they shouldn’t be.

In a letter to the editor, Basil Fernando, director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, observed that hundreds of groups from around the world have been working openly along the Thai-Burma border for some two decades now, many engaged in this sort of training, which he likened to teaching grandma how to peel onions.

Anyone presuming to instruct people from Burma on how to defy military dictatorship, or planning to write about others doing so, should first take the time to learn a little history. Resistance to coercive rulers there goes back a long way.

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