By Benedict Rogers
Last week, people in Myanmar/Burma marked 100 days since the military coup with yet more protests. For over three months since General Min Aung Hlaing seized power on 1 February, overthrowing the democratically-elected civilian government, people have courageously taken to the streets throughout the country. Almost 5,000 have been arrested, just under 4,000 are currently in jail, and almost 800 have been killed, yet still the demonstrations continue.
Myanmar now stands on the brink of a humanitarian disaster. The economy has collapsed, and a Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) by public sector workers has led to thousands losing their homes and salaries. Many are facing extreme poverty and starvation.
For those detained by the military, torture is “almost ‘automatic’” according to survivors and eyewitnesses in evidence documented by the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO). “Systematic torture practices are used by Burmese soldiers to extract information or forced confessions from people arrested for exercising their right to peaceful protest or other anti-junta activities,” CHRO report.
According to one former detainee, “Once inside the interrogation center, we are made to kneel down, hands tied behind our backs, blindfolded and forced to lie on our belly on the ground. That’s when the interrogation and beatings begin. Depending on how quickly the soldiers obtain the information they want, detainees are caned with up to 40 lashes, some detainees are made to dig holes in the ground to make them think that they are about to be killed and they are digging their own grave.”
Continue reading “Arrests, torture, violence and oppression, and yet there is still hope for Myanmar/Burma”
By Benedict Rogers
Images of tanks and soldiers on the streets of Burma’s cities, and the sound of gunfire against peaceful protesters take us back in time almost 14 years, and reverse a decade of fragile reform and democratization in the country. From the scenes of her release from house arrest in November 2010 via her talks with Burma’s then-President Thein Sein in August 2011, and through to her subsequent election to Parliament, victory in a nationwide election and the past five years as de facto head of government, Aung San Suu Kyi is now back where she started: in detention.
The generals have remained in power throughout, but now they have abandoned any pretense and seized direct control once more.
The coup on 1 February stunned the world. Although it had been rumoured, few expected the military to really do it. It is true that the army in Burma has a history of staging coups – in 1958, 1962 and 1988 – and it isn’t keen on losing elections, as it showed in 1990 when it refused to accept Suu Kyi’s first victory, consigning her to 15 years under house arrest, and her colleagues to prison or exile. In 2008 it drafted a new constitution designed to keep Suu Kyi out of power, rammed it through in a sham referendum and two years later heavily rigged the country’s first elections in two decades. Nevertheless, since then it had appeared that the military had come to some kind of accommodation with Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD).
Continue reading ““We are not safe anymore”: Burma’s coup shatters hopes for democracy, religious tolerance and human rights”
By Benedict Rogers
Five years ago, the overwhelming election victory of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) in Burma heralded the dawn of a new democratic era after over fifty years of brutal military dictatorship and civil war.
After a total of 15 years under house arrest and more than a quarter of a century of courageous struggle for democracy, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate known to everyone as “The Lady” was poised to head her country’s government. And although the military had deliberately drafted a constitution that excluded her from becoming President, her advisers ingeniously created a new role that circumvented that restriction – the position of State Counsellor, de facto prime minister. With the exception of the three key ministerial roles given to the military under the constitution – home affairs, defence and border affairs – she has absolute oversight of the civilian government.
Continue reading “Burma elections: This Sunday, the country needs a miracle”
Yet five years on, it’s a very different picture. Burma approached the crossroads of democratization, peace-building and national reconciliation – and went into reverse.
By Benedict Rogers
Burma’s Cardinal Bo has repeatedly called for peace for a long time. In a statement last month in support of Pope Francis’ plea for a global ceasefire, he warned that during the COVID-19 pandemic continued armed conflict in Burma (officially known as Myanmar) would have “catastrophic consequences for our nation.”
He urged the military – known as the Tatmadaw – and ethnic armed resistance groups to “lay down all weapons and acts of aggression. Be armed instead with sincerity and truth. Let us take the more difficult path of overcoming differences face to face with courage and intelligence. Don’t hide humanity behind guns. In the end that is sheer weakness.”
The Cardinal, who is also President of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, argued that: “Soldiers are unnecessarily endangered by exposure to the unseen viral assassin. Civilians are endangered, even by bombardments purportedly aimed at military targets. Peace negotiations are endangered by continued aggressive threats. An economy under severe strain is put at risk by military adventures. Any spike in contagion in IDP camps, among detained persons, or in crowded spaces, gravely threatens the surrounding populations as well.”
Continue reading “Burma’s much needed ceasefire presents a valuable opportunity, provided the military keeps its promises”
The forced closure last week of three temporary Muslim prayer sites in Yangon is just the latest in a litany of abuses inflicted on Burma’s religious minorities by ultra-nationalist Buddhists. Add this to the decades-long persecution by the Burma Army of non-Burman ethnic minorities, many of whom are also non-Buddhists, and you get a nationwide cocktail of religious intolerance and conflict.
Muslims, Christians, and indeed Buddhists, who oppose the extremists are increasingly living in fear, in a country where ethno-religious nationalism has led to hate speech, intolerance, discrimination, persecution, crimes against humanity and, in one particularly egregious case, genocide.
That is the picture presented by CSW’s new report, Burma’s Identity Crisis: How ethno-religious nationalism has led to religious intolerance, crimes against humanity and genocide, published today. The report is the result of over three years’ work, involving first-hand front-line research, supplemented by information provided by CSW’s contacts in Burma and by other organisations working on these issues. It tells the human stories, it analyses the legislative framework, it assesses the international community’s response and it provides a call for action.
Continue reading “Burma’s identity crisis”