Wednesday, April 04, 2012

US Campaign for Burma election wrap

Burma News Wrap-Up

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Aung San Suu Kyi Wins a Seat in Parliament

The streets of Rangoon were alive Sunday night April 1st as people celebrated the NLD's victory in Burma's by-election. Official results are in and the National League for Democracy won 43 of the 45 seats available (6.4% of the Union Parliament), with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi winning her seat. The other two seats were won by the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party and the regime's Union Solidarity and Development Party. The success of the NLD is inspiring - despite the vast array of election irregularities, which had led Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to declare on March 30 that the elections would not be "free or fair."

International observers were allowed in; however, the two observers the US made it clear that they were not there to do official election monitoring and could only witness as there were too many restrictions. Before the election, Australia's observers were denied visas, and the Southeast Asian election civil society group ANFREL was kicked out of the country. On election day, there were many accounts of election fraud, especially with incorrect voter lists, tampered ballots, voter intimidation and more. Local civil society groups in Burma organized citizen election monitoring programs. Former political prisoners and leading activists 88 Generation Students activists joined with Generation Wave and New Burma Network to observe the elections as best as they could and will release a report on their observations soon. Elections were cancelled in Kachin state, despite the candidates declaring that it was secure and that the voting areas were not affected by the conflict.

Secretary Clinton said on Sunday it was "heartening" to see the election results in Burma, but also that “It is too early to know what the progress of recent months means and whether it will be sustained." When Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was asked Friday where she thought democracy in Burma was at on a scale of 1-10, she said "On the way to 1." We are thrilled for this small victory for the people of Burma, but also recognize there is still a long way to go. Now, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD must contend with the undemocratic military-drafted constitution that guarantees military domination over the government, and their stranglehold in the Parliament with more than 75% of the seats occupied by the military and the regime's Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Read More:

- "By-Elections or Sell Elections" (Burma News International) >>

- "Burma: By-Elections a Step, but Not Real Reform" (Human Rights Watch) >>

- See our full by-election coverage >>

- Read our press release about the elections >>

Constant Conflict and Unstable Peace

In recent months preliminary peace agreements have been negotiated and signed between civilian government officials and ethnic minority armed groups, including the Karen National Union (KNU), the Chin National Front (CNF), and the Shan State Army-South (SSA-South). However, despite the signing of preliminary ceasefire agreements, the Burmese Army continues to carry out human rights abuses against ethnic minority civilians. A key sign the Burmese Army is exerting its autonomy over its own affairs and does not support a negotiated peace process.

According to the Karen National Union (KNU), since signing a preliminary ceasefire agreement, the Burmese army has reinforced its presence in the state by sending in additional troops and supplies to the area. There have been ongoing skirmishes, and abuses have still been committed against civilians. There will be another round of talks between the regime’s delegation and the KNU later this week in Rangoon. It is premature to believe this negotiation will secure sustainable peace for the Karen, but continual dialogue should be fostered. Karen leaders will also meet with Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time.

The fragility of these preliminary agreements is further outlined in the clashes that have occurred between Burmese soldiers and the SSA-South. It has been reported that there have been at least 14 firefights since the preliminary agreement was signed in December, largely attributed to the Burmese army’s aggression. The rise in military activity in Shan State has lead to many problems for civilians. For example, on March 13 a junior battalion commander killed two innocent civilians in northern Shan State.

Negotiations between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burmese government have come to a standstill, and despite President Thein Sein twice requesting government troops to stop all attacks on ethnic armies, the fighting in Kachin state has only increased. Ten months of fighting has resulted in the displacement of over 75,000 people, widespread human rights abuses, and an increasingly severe humanitarian crisis. The UN was able to bring in a second load of humanitarian supplies, but it was only enough for 2,200 people. It is uncertain when they will be allowed to deliver aid again. We are concerned because there are now signs of chronic malnutrition showing up in the camps. The Burmese military is consciously blocking humanitarian aid to Kachin refugees and displaced people in KIA controlled areas.

We are continually worried about the military's autonomy and control over civilian affairs. According to the Chin Human Rights Organization, on March 10th, Burmese soldiers barged in on a Christian conference and threatened the village head at gunpoint (Chin State is predominantly Christian). When approached by a Chin Member of Parliament also attending the conference, an army captain responded, “I don’t give a [expletive] about you being a Member of Parliament. We are not under the control of the Chin State authorities. We take orders from the North Western Regional Command.” This example strongly shows the power challenges in Burma

Read More:

- "Untold Miseries: Wartime Abuses and Forced Displacement in Burma's Kachin State" (Human Rights Watch) >>

- "A Compilation of Burma Army activities since 12 January 2012, as of 23 March" (Free Burma Rangers) >>

- "Where Myanmar Keeps Trampling Rights (New York Times) >>

- "Kachin plight reveals Burma's patchy progress" (BBC) >>

- Investors’ haste to build big dams is undermining fragile peace process in Karen State >>

- Follow our updates on human rights and conflict in Burma >>

Community Resistance in Burma

Communities in Burma have been standing up and working together to protect their lands and their rights. Here are some recent cases:

- Over the past few months, about one hundred people from Tang Hpre village (near the Myitsone Dam site), returned home in clear defiance of official government policy forbidding them from doing so. On March 17, five truckloads of Burma army soldiers arrived at the village to enforce an eviction order. >>

- As many as 3,000 villagers signed a complaint letter addressed to President Thein Sein about the ongoing Anyarphya Hydropower Project in Tavoy, Tenasserim Division on March 12, 2012, expressing their concerns over the local impact of the project and the losses that villagers will have to bear. >>

- Villagers in Naypyidaw’s Lewe township who protested a relocation order have been sentenced to hard labour. Municipal authorities promised the community land and 200,000 Kyat to assist in relocation. However, only 50 residents were provided with compensation, which resulted in the community rejecting the order. After being threatened with a lawsuit, a majority of the residents vacated the land, while about 20 households stood their ground. >>

- Citing serious environmental concerns, a group of more than 500 people held a protest on March 14 to condemn a large scale zinc and graphite mine currently being built in northern Shan State's Muse township. >>

Other Important Stories:

- UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana warned of backtracking in Burma and that new forms of abuses could arise >>

- Burma Environmental Working Group issued benchmarks for investment in energy, extractive and land sectors in Burma >>

- Burma remains among the world’s worst countries for Internet freedom says Reporters Without Borders in its new report >>

- US Special Representative and Policy Coordinator on Burma Derek Mitchell said the situation in Kachin State is inconsistent with the trend towards national reconciliation and that the US will provide US$1.5 million in additional funding to UNHCR to assist internally displaced persons >>

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