Myanmar - ReliefWeb News
Fresh Arrests, Sentencing, and Trials of Students Mar Releases
(New York, January 23, 2016) – Yesterday’s limited release of political prisoners in Burma leaves many others in prison and is undermined by the ongoing arrests and imprisonment of activists, with hundreds still facing trial, Human Rights Watch said today. Burma’s international supporters should demand the release of all remaining political prisoners and an end to politically motivated arrests and trials.
On January 22, 2016, 52 political prisoners were released from five prisons nationwide. Those released include three convicted of religious defamation in late 2014 for allegedly insulting an image of a Buddha in a bar advertisement. New Zealand citizen Phil Blackwood and his Burmese business partners Ko Tun Thurein and Ko Htut Ko Ko Lwin were sentenced to two and half years hard labor. Other political prisoners released include land rights activists involved in protests at the Letpadaung copper mine and in Rangoon. Approximately 100 political prisoners remain in prison.
“Yesterday’s limited release of prisoners should be followed by freeing all remaining prisoners and a commitment to drop all ongoing politically motivated charges against peaceful activists and critics,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “President Thein Sein will leave office soon. He could leave a lasting legacy by fulfilling his stated commitment to release all political prisoners. Otherwise, he will be seen as little more than a transitional figure who was not committed to a real change in Burma’s political culture.”
Human Rights Watch expressed concern that social worker Patrick Khum Jaa Lee was found guilty of defamation under the Telecommunications Law yesterday and sentenced to six months in prison. He was arrested on October 14, 2015, for allegedly mocking Burma’s military leader in a Facebook post. His case follows that of Chaw Sandi Tun, who was sentenced to six months in prison on December 28, also for a Facebook post allegedly mocking the military leader. Another activist, poet Maung Saungkha, is facing trial for posting a poem on Facebook that mentioned he had tattooed a picture of the president on his penis.
In another worrying development, on January 19, 2016, the former Buddhist monk U Gambira, a leader of the 2007 anti-government protest movement, was arrested in Mandalay and charged with immigration offenses. He will face court on February 3 in what many believe is a politically motivated charge in retribution for Gambira’s past political activities. Gambira has previously spent more than four years in prison. He was arrested in late 2007, severely tortured in prison, and released in a general amnesty in January 2012.
Other activists who were expected to be freed in a long hoped for amnesty but remain in prison include nearly 50 students charged with unlawful procession, rioting, and assault on police officers in connection with an incident in March 2015 during a demonstration against the national education bill, which was violently broken up by a police baton charge.
“Amnesties that are followed by the arrest and sentencing of more government critics cannot be called progress – and instead smack of making room in jails for new political prisoners,” Adams said. “This revolving door of political prisoner releases and convictions needs to stop.”
Human Rights Watch called on the incoming National League for Democracy government, which won more than 77 percent of parliamentary seats in the November 8, 2015 elections, to make a public commitment to prioritize the immediate and unconditional release of remaining political prisoners, and to amend or repeal all laws that do not comply with international human rights standards and are used to target activists and government critics.
For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Burma, please visit: https://www.hrw.org/asia/burma
YANGON – A new resource centre in Sittwe promises to help the Government and development organizations to better understand the extent of food insecurity, both in Rakhine State and across the country.
The centre, built and equipped with the support of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), was established to help Government and development staff in the region learn how to collect and analyse data, as well as to inform efforts to fight hunger and poverty.
“Reliable, evidence-based data and information is critical in making decisions for fighting poverty and hunger, reducing food insecurity and fostering long-term development,” said Dom Scalpelli, WFP Myanmar Resident Representative and Country Director. “We are pleased to work closely with the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development, under the food security and poverty reduction framework, to enhance national capacity in improving national food security monitoring. Their leadership has been remarkable.”
The Sittwe centre is the latest of nine such facilities now established in Myanmar and networked to a central information hub in Nay Pyi Taw. Since 2013, the Government and WFP have established seven other centres in Chin, Kachin, Magway, Mandalay, Sagaing and Shan. Besides helping the Government to research and understand patterns of hunger and food insecurity, the centres host workshops and provide trainings in areas such as survey design, data collection and data analysis. WFP provided computers, analytical software, Global Positioning System (GPS) devices and other resources that help to process development data.
The centres were funded through the multi-donor Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund in support of the coordinated effort by WFP and the Ministry.
WFP and the Ministry is currently in a process of developing a first food security and poverty atlas for Myanmar. The atlas will support the Government in developing its poverty alleviation strategies and will also inform various actors on their programme design to assist the most vulnerable and food insecure people in Myanmar. Since the first centre was built, WFP has trained almost 300 people, including Government officials and Food Security Information Network partners at local level, in how to conduct food security surveys, mobile data collection and computerized data analysis.
In Myanmar, WFP provides food and cash assistance to the most food insecure and vulnerable people through relief, nutrition, community assets creation, school feeding and HIV/TB programmes. WFP currently requires US$51 million to meet overall food assistance needs in Myanmar until the end of 2016.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. Each year, WFP assists some 80 million people in around 80 countries.
WFP’s work in Myanmar is made possible thanks to contributions from Australia, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the EU, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Japan Association for WFP, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, UN CERF and the United States of America, as well as support from the Government of Myanmar and private sector donors.
For more information please contact:
Ayuka Ibe, Head of Unit
Partnerships, Communications and Reports Unit, WFP Myanmar
Tel. +95 01 2305971-6, Ext: 2403
May Myat Swe, Reports and Communications Officer (for queries in Myanmar)
Partnerships, Communications and Reports Unit, WFP Myanmar
Tel. +95 01 2305971-6, Ext: 2424
Post COP 21 Paris: Now What?
Southasiadisasters.net issue no. 140, December 2015:
Worth of Any Agreement is in its Implementation. And this issue exactly does so.
The negotiations at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris have yielded a historic agreement that promises to shape not only the global strategy for cutting emissions, but also the way we live on this planet.
In bringing together competing interests and disparate voices from the developing and developed nations of the world, the COP 21 agreement provides an unprecedented opportunity for pursuing the imperative of climate justice through united and meaningful action.
This issue's contents includes: (i) COP21 Paris: Now What?; (ii) Renewable Energy for Climate Justice; (iii) Flexibility and Foresight for Meaningful Action; (iv) Climate Finance for Effective Adaptation; (v) Historic, but Room for more Ambition; (vi) Sunita Narain Highlights the Hits and Misses of Paris Climate Deal; (vii) CDKN on Paris Agreement; (viii) A Climate Agreement for a Resilient World; (ix) Unicef Seeks Ambitious Action on Climate Change; (x) Let’s Lead in Zero Emission; (xi) Climate Compatible Development: Synergies with the SDGs; (xii) Pressing the Wrong Climate Button; (xiii) Integrating of Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation in Myanmar; (xiiii) Resilient Odisha: Addressing Changing Climate and Disaster Risks at the Local Level; (xiv) Synergized Standard Operating Procedures for Hazardous Weather Events; (xv) Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation; and (xvi) COP21: Resources for New Climate Agreement.
This issue’s covered COP 21 Paris Statement by H.E. Mr. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India; H.E. Mr. Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan; H.E. Mr. Maithripala Sirisena, President of Sri Lanka; and Mr. Prakash Javadekar, Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, India.
Some of the best thinkers, researchers, experts, and activists, including Mihir R. Bhatt with AIDMI Team; Sam Bickersteth, Chief Executive, CDKN, UK; Margareta Wahlström, UNISDR; Anthony Lake, Executive Director, Unicef; Sunita Narain, Down to Earth, India; and Ela R. Bhatt, SEWA, India; Christopher Webb, Deputy CEO, and, Helen Picot, CDKN; Sudhirendar Sharma, Director, The Ecological Foundation, New Delhi, India; Jana Junghardt, DRR Advisor, Caritas Switzerland; Seema Mohanty, State Project Officer, UNDP India; James Weyman, Former Project Manager, and Olavo Rasquinho, Former Typhoon Committee Secretary; and Rajashree Purohit, Program Officer, Catholic Relief Services, Bhubaneswar, India.
Theme: Climate Change, COP 21 Paris, Disaster Risk Reduction, Governance.
By MOE MYINT
RANGOON — The Arakan State government plans to relocate 32 households displaced by recent conflict in Mrauk-U Township, according to a state official.
Hla Thein, of the state government’s public relations department, said on Tuesday that the state will provide materials, labor and farmland, and that the resettlement project is expected to be complete before a new government is sworn in later this year.
The official said the location for the new homes has not yet been chosen, but that the process has been and will remain consultative with affected villagers.
“We asked them about their wishes, and they agreed to our suggestion,” Hla Thein said.
The displaced villagers are currently taking shelter in a monastery in Kyiyar Pyin village. They are among an estimated 200 civilians who fled their homes after conflict broke out between the Arakan Army and the Burma Army in late December.
An administrator from Kyiyar Pyin, Tin Aye Maung, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that Arakan State Chief Minister Mya Aung visited the village recently to meet with the refugees and assess their willingness to relocate.
“Some people accepted their offer, but others wanted to go back to their original homes,” Tin Aye Maung said.
Conflict appears to have abated in the restive area, though the commander of the Arakan Army said recently that tensions remain high and clashes could erupt “at any time.”
Fighting between the Arakan Army and government troops broke out on Dec. 27, lasting for about three weeks. The Burma Army has since said that intends to “annihilate” the ethnic “insurgents.”
The Arakan Army is not recognized by the government as a legitimate non-state armed group, and has been excluded from the ongoing peace process between the government and other ethnic armed organizations.
In 2011, President Thein Sein’s government persuaded 16 major nonstate armed groups to come together for peace negotiations, but only eight of those groups signed a cease-fire agreement last October. Fighting flared up again in numerous hot spots in late 2015.
Physically isolated from the rest of Myanmar, by inaccessible ranges of mountains and hills, is the state of Rakhine. A combination of geography, history and ethno-regional politics, has seen Rakhine’s social and economic development slow down. Sporadic tensions between Buddhist and Muslim communities have characterised much of Rakhine’s modern history, but erupted most recently and dramatically in 2012. For the past three years, much of the northern part of the Rakhine was affected by outbreaks of violence that saw approximately 145,000 people displaced into temporary camps.
Consequently, Rakhine’s education sector was significantly impaired. Today, an estimated 60,000 children aged 3-17 years, residing in internal displacement camps, are unable to access formal education. Additionally, existing education facilities in communities hosting displaced populations are under tremendous strain. To facilitate a joint education needs assessment for the Rakhine Education in Emergencies (EiE) Sector, REACH was mobilized to the region and collected primary data between September and October 2015. The assessment covered schools and communities in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung, Sittwe, Pauktaw, Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Minbya and Myebon townships, and was conducted in collaboration with EiE sector partners Plan International, Save the Children International, Lutheran World Federation and UNICEF.
Through the assessment, REACH was able to identify key barriers keeping children out of school. One of the most critical factors, found to determine access to education, was household poverty status. This inevitably interacted with factors such as a village’s geographical remoteness, the presence or absence of schools, the presence or absence of transport links, and the presence or absence of conflict dynamics restricting movement or access. These factors were also found to be entangled with the quality of education. For example, remote, inaccessible or areas affected by conflict were more likely to be under-resourced and understaffed. Finally, the economic and political marginalisation of Rakhine relative to the rest of the country was also found to be overarching barrier to access to education. Read the complete assessment report here.
Overall, REACH assessment provided evidence to key education responders on the current state of education quality, utilisation and access, thereby informing aid actors’ medium-term programming, planning and advocacy strategies.
Nigeria: An outbreak of Lassa viral haemorrhagic fever was announced in Nigeria on 8 January. At least 140 suspected cases and 30 confirmed cases, including 53 deaths, have been reported in 14 states. The indicated case fatality rate stands at 37.9%.
Gambia: Almost 182,000 people (9% of the population) are severely food insecure after erratic rains caused drought and crop failure. Most affected regions are Upper River, West Coast, and Northern Bank.
Syria: 200,000 civilians in besieged areas of Deir-ez-Zor city face severe and urgent humanitarian needs, with food, nutrition, and health supplies reported as priorities. Aid has not reached the areas since January 2015. Islamic State forces launched a new offensive in the city on 16 January, and is now in control of 60% of the city.
Go to www.geo.acaps.org for analysis of 38 humanitarian crises.
Updated: 19/01/2016 Next Update: 26/01/2016**
HART published a report in March, ‘Large-Scale Developments in Burma: Uncovering Trends in Human Rights Abuse‘ focusing on the detrimental effects large-scale developments are having on locals in the border areas of Burma. This publication offers updates on issues dealt with in the March report, as well as exploring other matters of concern.
Commerce can be a tool for obtaining improvement if conducted in a proper manner. However, law and policy tools are also suggested where suitable. This publication adds value by providing strategic and nuanced suggestions for how governments, commercial actors and the new Burmese government ought to act in order to promote the increased well-being and rights protection of the locals.
Indications of lessening freedom and increasing discrimination, outlined in this publication should be taken into account by both private actors and foreign governments when considering economic involvement in, and trade policy regarding, Burma. Depending on its manner of execution, investment or non-imposition of sanctions can express acquiescence or even support of abuse and discrimination suffered at the hands of the Burmese army and government. Indeed, some foreign countries appear to approach Burma with more caution. In April the EU extended its arms embargo against Burma until April 2016. A month later the US extended sanctions on Burma, referring to ongoing conflict and human rights abuses. The western commercial sphere also seems to be approaching Burma with caution. Companies like Holloman Corp have pulled out of the country, concerned with local safety standards and risks to the company’s reputation. Poor health and safety standards, working conditions, child labour, land grabs and human trafficking “present a host of additional risks and indirect costs to business – including brand damage, investor alienation, and potential lawsuits”.
This report aims to provide a comprehensive overview and increase understanding of:
- How the human rights situation in Burma has developed since March 2015.
- How the commercial sphere has responded to criticisms raised in relation to investment in Burma.
- How the attitudes of foreign governments have been affected by the uncovering of human rights issues.
The report will also recommend suitable courses of action for the future Burmese government, and for foreign governments and companies considering investments in Burma.
Opportunities for peace in 2016
Cyprus: The resumption of peace negotiations in 2015 and the confluence of factors linked to them (the commitment of local leaders, international support and the mobilisation of non-governmental actors from both communities of the island in favour of dialogue, as well as tangible results including but not limited to significant confidence-building measures) provide a historic window of opportunity to achieve a definitive agreement despite obstacles related to the circumstances and the background of the dispute.
Burkina Faso: The country has put an end to the transition begun after the fall of the regime of Blaise Compaoré by holding the presidential and legislative elections that had been postponed following the failed coup d’état in September 2015. The elections returned control of the country’s political institutions to the Burkinabe people after an 18-month interim government, ushering in a new period of democracy for Burkinabe society.
Myanmar: The results of the general elections, which gave an overwhelming majority to Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party (NLD) and will lead to the formation of a new government without military guardianship, together with the ceasefire agreement signed with eight insurgent organisations, portends progress on the path to democracy and peace in the country during 2016.
Thailand: Exploratory talks were resumed in 2015 between the military junta and Mara Patani, an organisation uniting the main armed groups operating in the southern part of the country. The unification of the insurgent movement’s demands and the state’s recognition that dialogue is necessary to resolve the armed conflict are two mandatory conditions for building trust between the parties.
Peace processes: Recent research shows that peace processes that are inclusive and incorporate a gender and civil society perspective are more sustainable and more likely to result in the signing of a peace agreement than those that do not. Moreover, the participation of women could also help to draft agreements that address equality-related issues.
Risk scenarios in 2016
Burundi: There has been a significant deterioration of governance in the country in recent years. Growing authoritarianism and the controversial candidacy of President Pierre Nkurunziza, along with the atmosphere of political violence and human rights violations, are different aspects that reveal the seriousness of the situation and have pushed the country to the brink of armed conflict in recent months.
Mali: In June 2015, a peace agreement was achieved between the government and the Arab and Tuareg rebel movements operating in the northern region after three and a half years of armed conflict. However, the exclusion of the jihadist movements from the negotiations and the ineffectiveness of securitization measures to contain their presence pose serious obstacles to ending to the violence and may even jeopardise implementation of the peace agreements.
DRC: The upcoming cycle of new elections is causing an escalation of political violence and general instability as a consequence of the attempts of President Kabila to postpone the presidential election and thereby prolong his rule, as well as the failures of the military operation against the FDLR and the amnesty for and return of the armed group M23, which could lead to a resumption of the conflict.
South Sudan: After the signing of a peace agreement following 20 months of bloody civil war, the warring parties’ lack of ownership of it, the government’s unilateral decisions in matters that should be the jurisdiction of the new transitional government that has yet to be created, the repeated ceasefire violations and the emergence of new armed actors are putting the prospects for peace in the country at serious risk.
Venezuela: The opposition’s resounding victory in the parliamentary elections has led to a new political scenario in the country marked by a polarisation of forces between the executive and legislative branches of government. This new political situation, which substantially modifies the power of Chavism after 15 years, may give rise to new tensions and disputes between the government and opposition forces that could further convulse national politics, expand social fragmentation and lead to outbreaks of violence.
Afghanistan: The negotiating process between the Taliban and the Afghan government hit a roadblock due to an internal crisis within the Taliban movement. The division within its leadership threatens the future of the negotiations. Despite the rising violence, Ashraf Ghani’s commitment to the dialogue and to reaching out a hand to Pakistan, which is still providing sanctuary to Taliban leaders, is weakening the already brittle Afghan government. In addition, although Pakistan should participate in the agreement, its desire to control the process is pitting the parties against each other even more.
Philippines: The problems and delays experienced by Congress to approve the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a kind of statute of autonomy governing the new autonomous entity of Bangsamoro and specifying the contents of the historic peace agreement signed by the government and the MILF in 2014, caused deadlock in the peace process and raised fears of an internal split within the MILF and a resumption of violence in Mindanao.
Turkey: The conflict between Turkey and the PKK seriously worsened in 2015 due to factors such as the increasingly urban nature of the war, the “Syrianisation” of the Kurdish issue and the irruption of ISIS onto Turkish soil, the deterioration of the social atmosphere, the regression of democracy and questions about sustainable dialogue options. These dynamics could worsen in 2016 if measures to build trust and de-escalate the violence are not urgently implemented.
Yemen: Violence in the country escalated significantly in March 2015, when an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia decided to intervene to halt the advance of the Houthi militias that had ousted the government at the beginning of the year. Looking ahead to 2016, the situation threatens to worsen due to the growing complexity of the armed conflict, the severe impact of the violence on the civilian population and the obstacles to a political solution to the conflict.
Jihadist threat: ISIS has established itself as a new model for international jihadism and a competitor with alQaeda, demonstrating a greater ability to act around the world. Many factors may favour the increase of jihadist violence in the future, including an intensification in the struggle between ISIS and al-Qaeda, a greater incidence of armed actions by returning militiamen or “lone wolf” attacks and the possible adverse effects of the international response to ISIS.
RANGOON — A five-day Union Peace Conference concluded in Naypyidaw on Saturday, as participants representing ethnic armed groups, the government and the Burma Army agreed to a set time-frame for political dialogue.
A proposal put forth by the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) included four points, all approved, stipulating that the political dialogue conclude within three to five years, that a second Union Peace Conference convene “as soon as possible,” that the process enable 30 percent women’s participation and that those who ascended to an Oct. 15 ceasefire agreement and attended the conference be “put on record” and honored.
Vice Presdent Sai Mauk Kham said on Saturday at the closing remarks that documentation of all discussions throughout the conference will be handed over to the new government when it assumes power.
The National League for Democracy (NLD), chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi, will soon have a majority in the national Parliament and will appoint the new administration to be sworn into office in early April.
“We won’t make any decisions based on what we’ve discussed here, we will take [these discussions] from representatives of different groups and refer them to the next conference,” Sai Mauk Kham said. “We will refer them along with the peace process to the incoming government when we transfer duties to them.”
The vice president expressed hope that the current round of dialogue will allow for “better agreements” during talks with the new administration.
The Union Peace Conference kicked off in Naypyidaw on Tuesday, marking the beginning of a long-sought political dialogue between the Burmese government and several of the country’s non-state armed groups.
The majority of the country’s rebel armies abstained from the preceding ceasefire agreement, however, and while they were invited to attend this week’s talks as observers, all of the non-signatories declined.
In an interview with Radio Free Asia aired last Wednesday, Suu Kyi downplayed the conference as an effort to legitimize the ceasefire agreement reached in October, which the government refers to as “nationwide” despite its exclusion of a number of major non-state armed groups.
The NLD chairwoman said her administration is committed to facilitating a “genuine” political dialogue.
By LAWI WENG
RANGOON — A teenage member of an anti-drugs group was shot and killed on Friday while clearing poppy fields in Kachin State’s Tanai Township, according to a spokesperson for the local organization.
“While we were destroying a poppy farm, he was shot and died on the trip,” said Naw Tawng of Christian anti-drugs organization Pat Ja San that organized the poppy eradication mission.
The 19-year-old ethnic Kachin man, Tu Seng, was helping to destroy a poppy plantation on Jan. 15 when he was shot dead by a gunman suspected to be the farm’s owner, according to Naw Tawng.
The victim was from Mogaung Township and took part in the mission alongside 600 other members of the organization, the spokesperson said.
Pat Ja San’s members use knives and sticks to destroy opium poppies in townships across Kachin State, with the group’s recent mission in Tanai Township beginning on Jan. 12.
According to the Myanmar Times, the group was established by the Kachin Baptist Church in 2014 and claims a membership of some 100,000 people.
This was the group’s first deadly incident, according to Naw Tawng.
“We want to see our young people serve the country or be good civil servants. But we have found that many of our young Kachin become slaves to the drugs or… die at a young age,” he said.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the total area under opium cultivation in Burma in 2015 was estimated at 55,500 hectares, including 4,200 hectares in Kachin State.
While the figure represented a 4 percent decrease from 2014, Burma remains the second-largest opium producer in the world after Afghanistan.
Situation to Date
In June 2015, drought conditions monitored by satellite showed high water deficits in various parts of the country. Cambodia suffered from a 2015/16 El Niño-induced drought that could rival the devastating effects of the 1997-98 episode.
Cambodia is considered by international institutions a moderate priority country23 among those most-affected by the 2015/16 El Niño. Areas of growing concern are located around the centre of the country and the North West.
Regional forecasts by the end of 2015 (October-December) indicate a moderately favourable improvement in rainfall patterns as compared to the seasonal averages. This could help alleviate the impact of the drier than average Monsoon months (July-September), usually providing about three-quarters of Cambodia’s annual rainfall. However, this relative improvement will be insufficient to compensate the existing deficit, which has already dried up many of the country’s water sources with limited capacity to fill them again until the next wet season (monthly average rainfall during the dry season show only few days of rain per month on the country. While climatic conditions are expected to improve, the situation remains preoccupying in terms of water availability by mid-2016.
Students, Land Rights Activists, and Journalists Face Bogus Charges
(Bangkok, January 18, 2016) – Burmese authorities should immediately drop all politically motivated charges against hundreds of detainees and unconditionally release them, Human Rights Watch said today. President Thein Sein should fulfill pledges he made over three years ago to free all of the country’s political prisoners.
“Burma’s growing number of political prisoners is the most glaring indictment of President Thein Sein’s human rights record,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “In the waning days of his administration, the president could leave a positive legacy by immediately and unconditionally freeing all of those unjustly held.”
Organizations of former political prisoners in Burma estimate that there are 128 people who have been convicted and are serving time for political offenses. Another 472 are currently facing apparently politically motivated charges, including 23 arrested since the November 8 election. Many are students, land rights activists, journalists, and an increasing number of people charged with criminal defamation for social media posts or allegedly “insulting religion.”
Many activists have been charged and convicted for violating section 18 of the seriously flawed Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, which requires prior police approval for public assemblies.
Several prominent cases of current political prisoners include:
- More than 50 Burmese students will again appear in court in Tharawaddy, Pegu Region on January 19, 2016, after being arrested in March 2015 following the police’s violent crackdown on their protest over the National Education Bill. They are charged under several provisions of the Penal Code for rioting and abuse of officials; no police officers have been charged for unnecessary or excessive use of force. Authorities have brought the students to court more than 30 times since their arrest. The group includes prominent student leaders Honey Oo and Phyo Phyo Aung, both of whom were imprisoned previously for peaceful political activities.
- Social worker Patrick Kum Jaa Lee who has been charged under section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law for defamation connected to a Facebook post in October that allegedly mocked the military. He remains jailed without bail despite his declining health. Youth activist Chaw Hsandi Tun was sentenced in December to six months in prison for a Facebook post from October comparing the color of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s skirt with the uniform of the military commander in chief.
- Interfaith activists Zaw Zaw Latt and Ma Pwint Phyu Latt from the Mandalay Interfaith Social Volunteer Youth Group were arrested in July 2015 and charged with offenses under article 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act as well as immigration offenses for visits they made to the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army in 2013. Both face a prolonged trial, and many local activists believe the authorities are prosecuting them because of their efforts to promote religious tolerance among all religions in Mandalay.
- Writer and former National League for Democracy (NLD) information officer Htin Lin Oo was sentencedto two years hard labor in June 2015 for allegedly insulting religion in a speech at a literary event in which he called for religion not to be tainted by politics. The ultra-nationalist Buddhist movement, the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, or Ma Ba Tha, allegedly urged local officials to file charges against Htin Lin Oo. Three others were sentenced to two years hard labor in late 2014 on the same charges of insulting religion after posting an image of Buddha wearing headphones to a Facebook event page, which was deemed to demean the image of the Buddha.
- Several journalists including the chief executive officer of the now defunct _Unity_ news journal, Tint San, and four of his reporters, Yarzar Oo, Paing Thet Kyaw, Lu Maw Naing, and Sithu Soe, were sentenced in 2014 to 10 years for disclosing state secrets and trespassing as a result of a story _Unity_ ran alleging the Burmese military was manufacturing chemical weapons. Their sentence has since been reduced to seven years.
“The rising number of activists wrongfully detained shows the urgent need to revoke the numerous rights-abusing laws used to target them,” Robertson said. “That such a wide cross-section of Burmese civil society voices have been locked up for exercising the freedoms the government touts as progress demonstrates the continued intensity of intimidation and repression in Burma.”
Prior to United States President Barack Obama’s visit to Burma in November 2012, President Thein Sein had pledged to free the remaining political prisoners throughout Burma. Soon thereafter, he formed a Remaining Political Prisoner Scrutiny Committee, which included government officials, parliamentarians, and former political prisoner advocates. The committee made considerable progress, and by early 2014 there were only approximately 25 political prisoners remaining behind bars. But that number soon grew again as the government arrested and jailed people protesting on land rights, education, and other government policies and actions. In early 2015, the government formed a new political prisoner review committee and appointed as its leader a hardline deputy minister for home affairs, an army general. The committee excluded former political prisoners working as rights activists.
In January 2016, a senior official of the incoming NLD government, which won a landslide victory in the November 8 nationwide elections, pledged that their government would ensure there are no political prisoners during their term. The party also issued a definition of a political prisoner in order to guide decisions on releasing individuals from prison: a “political prisoner is anyone arrested, detained or imprisoned for their direct or indirect activities to promote freedom, equality, and human and civil rights, including ethnic minorities, as well as for involvement in anti-government protests.” The NLD has large numbers of former political prisoners among its members following decades of repression by the former military government.
The party will come under intense domestic pressure to release all remaining political prisoners and rein in local officials who still target activists, Human Rights Watch said.
“Thein Sein shouldn’t wait for the new government to take office in late March to free those who should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” Robertson said. “Their charges should be dropped and they should be released now.”
To read the Human Rights Watch press release “Burma: Activists Charged for Mocking Military Online,” please visit**:**
To read the Human Rights Watch press release “Burma: Police Baton-Charge Student Protestors,” please visit**:**
For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Burma, please visit:
Naypyidaw, Myanmar | AFP | Saturday 1/16/2016 - 15:21 GMT | 432 words
Rebel negotiators applauded talks with Myanmar authorities Saturday at the end of five days of discussions, but said the real business of crafting peace rests with Aung San Suu Kyi's government-in-waiting.
The delicate negotiations to end long-running wars between Myanmar's patchwork of ethnic minorities and the state have been steered by the current quasi-civilian government, which replaced a military junta in 2011.
But the difficult task of implementing the peace process will be handed over to the new government, led by Suu Kyi's National League of Democracy (NLD) party, which will take office later this year after sweeping historic elections last November.
"This peace talk was like a foundation for upcoming peace conferences," said Col. Khun Okkar, the of the head Pa-O National Liberation Organisation (PNLO), an ethnic rebel group in Myanmar's Shan State.
"The next government will lead the real peace talk," he said.
Representatives from armed ethnic factions, the government and army, agreed this week to conclude the peace process within the next five years, said Aung Min, a government minister who facilitated the meetings.
Ahead of November's elections, analysts predicted that Suu Kyi, 70, would struggle to win support among minority voters because of her ethnic Bamar heritage.
But her party scooped up a vast majority of elected seats across the country, even beating out some ethnic parties on their home turf in the frontier regions.
At the opening of the peace talks on Tuesday, Suu Kyi pledged to make peace a priority of her administration, citing "the mandate given to us by the people and ethnic minorities."
Speaking to AFP after the talks Saturday, Salai Lian Mone Ar Khaung, a representative from rebel ethnic group the Chin National Front, said he was hopeful that the NLD would understand his people's wishes for greater autonomy.
"The new government came from the hearts of people and it is believed that they love democracy," he said. "So I strongly hope they will hear the wishes of people who are thirsty for peace."
However, significant stumbling blocks still lie ahead, with several major ethnic armies boycotting the talks altogether and refusing to sign a ceasefire in October.
Another critical challenge will be Suu Kyi's strained relationship with the nation's still hugely powerful military, which holds the key to securing a lasting peace.
The Myanmar army's top representative vowed on Saturday to cooperate with the next administration as the negotiations continue.
"The Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) will help any government succeed in the peace process," Khin Zaw Oo, a former lieutenant general, told reporters. "The government will change soon but the peace process will not stop."
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Mae Hong Son, Thailand, 13 January 2016 -- In November 2015, Myanmar held its first national vote since a nominally civilization government was established in 2011, concluding nearly 50 years of military rule. Since the elections, there has been a wave of optimism for national reconciliation, which may allow for repatriation of Burmese refugees who fled to camps on the Thailand-Myanmar border decades ago.
After over four years of negotiations, only eight of 16 ethnic armed groups have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, and there are still security concerns in many parts of Myanmar. Furthermore, addressing displacement has not yet been prioritised in the peace process. For example, decisions regarding restoration of citizenship status and providing identification documents have not yet been clarified. Many refugees feel that to return right now to Myanmar would be premature.
Security. Although life in the camps is not a durable solution, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) believes repatriation should be considered on a case to case basis, with the safety of the refugees taking priority. Paths back to Myanmar should not only be demilitarised and undisputed, but clear from landmines as well.
"In the future, I would like to be a teacher and improve the education of our Karenni children, but only if the situation back home is safe," said Maung Saw Tin*, a refugee student.
Dignity. JRS works under the principles of non-discrimination and works on both sides of the Thailand-Myanmar border providing education – particularly for youth – and offering trust-building programmes for refugees and returnees.
However, many refugees fear the lack of services in the communities to which they are returning. Many of the communities in Myanmar to which refugees are returning do not provide the practical support, such as food, shelter, heath care and education as is provided in the camps, as humanitarian agencies are not yet present there.
"Most camp refugees came from remote areas in Myanmar where there's no access to social services. There are schools but no teachers, clinics but no medicine," said U Aye Ko*, a refugee leader.
Voluntary return. Thus, JRS believes repatriation must be a voluntary decision, with refugees involved and consulted throughout the entire process. Returnees have the right to be well-informed and made aware of the current situation in their specific location of return, before making any decisions. JRS is working to improve communication to give refugees the information they need to help them make an informed decision regarding their decision to return to Myanmar.
"We love our country but our villages were burnt. We do not want to go back to that situation," said Mee Meh*, a refugee in Mae Hong Son camp.
Last month, the Karenni Refugee Committee, the UN refugee agency, Thailand's Ministry of Interior and World Education attended a four-day workshop on voluntary repatriation hosted by JRS in Mae Hong Son, Thailand. The framework of the workshop took into consideration the hopes as well as the fears of refugees around repatriation.
*Names have been changed
--Adapted from an article written by Jesuit Refugee Service Asia Pacific
Oxfam's Vulnerability and Risk Assessment (VRA) tool develops a holistic, landscape-wide understanding of vulnerability and links up actors across various levels of governance to jointly identify and analyse root causes of vulnerabilities for distinct social groups and later design programmes and risk reduction initiatives accordingly, ensuring that they are equitable, gender-sensitive and effective.
Attention to historical and evolving power dynamics is fully embedded into the design of the VRA, primarily through the convening of a Knowledge Group to inspire and drive the analysis.
The VRA methodology has been implemented by Oxfam and its partners in twelve countries and by other aid and research organizations, such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the University of Cape Town and the University of Botswana.