Six months after the coup, what are we going to do about Myanmar’s new nightmare?

By Benedict Rogers

Exactly six months ago yesterday, Myanmar, otherwise known as Burma, was plunged into yet another dark chapter in its history – perhaps one of the darkest yet.

On 1 February the army’s Commander-in-Chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, seized power in a bloody coup that overthrew the democratically elected civilian government, led to the arrest of most pro-democracy leaders, and ushered in a new era of brutal repression which many of us hoped had been consigned to Myanmar’s history.

Relentless repression

In the past six months, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the junta has killed 940 civilians, arrested 6,994 and currently holds 5,444 political prisoners in jail. Among them are many of my friends – including the incredible Thin Thin Aung, Myawaddy Sayadaw and others.

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The Syrian Uprising: A decade on

On 18 March 2011, Syrians across the country drew inspiration from the Arab spring and took to the streets demanding peace, human rights and democratic reform. Not only did these calls go unheeded; the government, which had ruled through terror since 1970, also responded with extreme force. Today, a little over ten years since the uprising began, Syria remains one of the most precarious states in the world, and in urgent need of further international action.

No mercy

President Bashar al-Assad and his ruling regime showed no mercy in the response to the demonstrations, using enforced disappearance, torture, extrajudicial execution, and extreme military force, including aerial bombardment, heavy artillery and chemical weapons. The government was quick to portray the uprising as a fundamentalist Sunni movement that threatened minorities, and what began as a peaceful uprising swiftly degenerated into a full-blown military conflict with a prominent sectarian aspect.

President Assad had long presented himself as a secular leader who protected minorities and promoted modernity and inclusion, casting any opposition as backward and sectarian, but it is worth noting that the Assad regime regularly fostered and used extremist groups to destabilise neighbouring countries such as Iraq and Lebanon.  The regime also released hundreds of extremist prisoners at the beginning of the uprising in order to undermine it, many of whom joined Al Qaeda, Islamic State (IS) and other extremist militia.

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Even COVID-19 couldn’t halt Cuba’s severe violations of freedom of religion or belief

In most countries around the world, 2020 saw the suspension of at least some communal religious activities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cuba was no exception. For several months, religious groups were unable to gather in public spaces and house churches, and the Ladies in White protest movement suspended their weekly marches after Sunday Mass.

Restrictions on aspects of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) such as these are permitted under Article 18 of the ICCPR, provided they are “prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.” However, what is particularly concerning in Cuba’s case is that, even with the permitted activities of religious groups severely curtailed, the authorities continued to target such groups with routine and systematic violations of FoRB.

Business as usual amid unprecedented circumstances

CSW’s latest report on the situation of FoRB on the island finds that “despite social unrest and economic crisis during an unprecedented global pandemic, the government continues to target members of the religious sector and abuse human rights.”

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For Sri Lankan Muslims, the coronavirus isn’t the only thing they’re hoping to see the back of in 2021

As the world enters a new year, and one in which many will be hoping to see the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka’s Muslim community will surely be hoping that promising vaccines are also enough to bring an end to a policy which has violated a core tenet of their Islamic faith.

Since 31 March 2020, Sri Lankan government guidance has required all victims of COVID-19 to be cremated. This practice goes against the tradition of the Muslim community and infringes on their right to manifest their religion or belief, as protected under Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Under Islamic law, a deceased Muslim should be buried in an individual grave, and the dignity of the dead must be preserved at all times. Cremation is prohibited ‘because it is considered a violation of the dignity of the human body.’ In addition, as the burying of the dead is considered a collective obligation, known as Fard Kifaya, the entire Muslim community is guilty if they fail this communal duty.

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Burma elections: This Sunday, the country needs a miracle

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.

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.

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