BurmaNet News, August 9, 2007
editor at burmanet.org
Thu Aug 9 11:24:51 EDT 2007
August 9, 2007 Issue # 3264
The Nation: Burma bans comedian show in Mandalay
ON THE BORDER
Irrawaddy: One death in Mae La cholera outbreak
IMNA: Floods, landslide wreak severe damage in Mon and Karen refugee camp
BUSINESS / TRADE
Xinhua: Myanmar striving to offer internet services at high speed rate (2)
Mizzima News: No need for ASEAN to wait for struggling members
Bangkok Post: Minister hails new strategy for dealing with Burma
Irrawaddy: UN's new approach to Burma issue gains support in Asean
Pretoria News (South Africa): UCT to honour Myanmar's Suu Kyi
Mizzima News: US remembers 8-8-88, reaffirms support
OPINION / OTHER
UPI: A duck, six prisoners and human rights in Burma - Awzar Thi
The Hindu: Myanmar: Rhetoric and reality of Indian democracy - Mukul Sharma
AHRC: An open letter to the International Labour Organisation
August 9, The Nation
Burma bans comedian show in Mandalay
Celebrations marking the completion of renovations of a monastery in a
Mandalay neighbourhood did not go as planned recently, because the
authorities stepped in to stop more than a dozen leading comedians from
The comedy acts had been organised by one of Burma's most famous
comedians, the blacklisted Par Par Lay, whose familybased Moustache
Brothers Troupe lives next to the monastery in Block 520 of Kone Win Ward
in Maha Aung Myay township.
The monastery's organising committee had earlier been given permission by
the authorities to stage musical and comedy acts on July 29, to mark the
completion of the renovations. Fourteen leading Mandalay comedians had
volunteered to perform and posters advertising the show had been put up
around the city.
"The comedians wanted to perform in Par Par Lay's neighbourhood, because
he himself is not permitted to do so," said one unnamed observer.
Although Par Par Lay and the Moustache Brothers were not performing, the
authorities told the organising committee the night before the show that
permission for the comedy acts had been withdrawn. However, they said, the
musicians could still perform.
"Thousands of people turned up only to discover that the comedy acts were
off the bill," the observer said. "The ban was clearly because of Par Par
Lay's involvement, and people were very angry. Why do the authorities fear
Par Par Lay so much?"
Par Par Lay and fellow Moustache Brother, Lu Zaw, were given a sevenyear
jail sentence in 1996 after telling jokes about Burma's military regime at
a function held in the compound of National League for Democracy leader
Aung San Suu Kyi's home in Rangoon.
Par Par Lay and Lu Zaw were released in 2001, but the troupe has been
banned from performing in public places and supports itself with nightly
shows for tourists at their home in Mandalay.
ON THE BORDER
August 9, Irrawaddy
One death in Mae La cholera outbreak - Shah Paung
An outbreak of cholera in Mae La refugee camp near the Thailand-Burma
border has killed one woman, while nearly 40 others have tested positive
for the disease, according to camp medical officials.
A medical staffer with the non-governmental organization Aide Médicale
Internationale, which administers health services in Mae La, told The
Irrawaddy on Thursday that more than 30 cases of cholera have been
diagnosed since July. The patients are now being treated in the camp
A Thai health team is also conducting tests for cholera in Mae La among
residents suffering from chronic diarrhea, according to another health
worker in the camp. The team has identified nine additional cases in the
last two days and has referred them to the camp hospital.
Health officials are distributing medicine to curb the outbreak from the
Thai Ministry of Interior office in Mae La camp, where authorities have
recently banned the selling of beef, chicken, pork, duck and various
Since late June, more than 60 camp residents have been admitted to the
hospital, but not all have been confirmed as cholera patients.
Two additional cholera patients were identified at Dr Cynthia Maungs Mae
Tao Clinic in Mae Sot. one was transferred to Mae Sot General Hospital, a
medic from Mae Taos In-patient Department told The Irrawaddy.
The medic added that several others admitted to the hospital in Mae Sot
were suspected of suffering from cholera, as well as several more
residents in Phop Phra district in Thailand, though Mae Sot General
Hospital has refused to comment.
Public health officials in Thailands Tak Province announced in late July
that more than 300 cases of cholera have been identified in border
districts of the province in the last two months.
August 9, Independent Mon News Agency
Floods, landslide wreak severe damage in Mon and Karen refugee camp
Heavy downpour since last night caused floods and landslide in Mon and
Karen refugee camps in Three Pagoda Pass border area, destroying seven
houses. Over 20 houses were submerged.
The flood this morning destroyed a house in Chaung-zone village beside
Zami River , about 10 miles west of Three Pagoda Pass town.
Major Kyaw Soe Naing and ceasefire group's officers promised to come to
their rescue and provide relief to the flood affected people. The officers
have reached the flooded areas and are helping the people.
"The water continues to increase and some more houses have been inundated.
The flood water destroyed all properties in the homes," a NMSP officer
"The water level is about 20 foot," the officer added.
Mon Relief and Development Committee and New Mon State Party medical
workers in Mon refugee camp Bleah Doon Phike moved patients to higher
areas after the water reached the camp hospital.
The camp bridge built on Zami River originates in the area. The bridge was
destroyed this morning. More than a thousand of rubber plants have been
uprooted by landslides in Blaeh Doon Phike, Mon refugee camp on the
"All bridges in the camp have been destroyed by the floods and a banyan
tree was uprooted. It fell on two refugee houses destroying them. No one
was hurt. We cannot go anywhere because we are surrounded by water. We are
scared," said a refugee in Ban Don Yang camp.
The flooding started at about 10 p.m. and is continuing with the water
BUSINESS / TRADE
August 9, Xinhua General News Service
Myanmar striving to offer internet services at high speed rate (2)
Being a signatory to the e-ASEAN Framework Agreement initiated at 2000
Singapore summit, Myanmar has formed the e-National Task Force to support
the IT development.
Besides, the country has also signed a series of memorandums of
understanding since 2003 with such companies as from Malaysia, Thailand,
China and South Korea on ICT development.
According to the telecommunications authorities, the number of internet
users in Myanmar has reached nearly 300,000, up from merely 12 four years
Meanwhile, the authorities have projected to introduce 400 public internet
service centers in 324 townships in the country within three years to
facilitate communication links.
August 9, Mizzima News
No need for ASEAN to wait for struggling members
In a speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of the founding of ASEAN on
the 8th of August 1967, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said
"ASEAN integration should not be set by its slowest members."
The Prime Minister, speaking in Singapore, noted that the varying degrees
of development within the bloc make a single approach toward economic
Lee specifically referred to domestic issues and the fear of increased
pressure from external markets as inhibiting factors of some of the less
developed ASEAN countries to effectively compete in the global economy.
"The more developed ASEAN members can and should take the lead in setting
the pace of integration for the rest to follow," stated Lee, referring to
the possibility of a single country or a smaller group to engage
bilaterally with other states and regional blocs.
In 2006, the gross domestic product per capita in Singapore was $31,400,
compared to a minuscule $1,800 in Burma.
Lee's speech also identified the four areas of focus for ASEAN under
Singapore's chairmanship, which runs from this month through July of next
Neither Burma nor human rights is explicitly mentioned, with Singapore
instead looking to focus on strengthening both external and internal
relations, the latter specifically through the adoption of an effective
Additionally, the regional consortium under Singaporean leadership will
strive for a sense of community building while tackling common national
issues such as energy and the environment.
The ASEAN Lecture is an annual event held each August in commemoration of
the organization's birth.
August 9, Bangkok Post
Minister hails new strategy for dealing with Burma- Achara Ashayagachat
Thailand yesterday welcomed the United Nations' new approach to dealing
with Burma, which now includes issues other than politics in an attempt to
restore democracy there. Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram said the
attempts to broaden engagement with Burma would be more effective.
''It is a refreshed and significant mandate assigned by the
secretary-general [of the UN], who comes from Asia, to broaden engagement
with Burma on issues other than political issues. It's a good starting
point with no finger-pointing at anyone, which is not working,'' Mr Nitya
said after talks with UN under secretary-general Ibrahim Gambari.
Mr Gambari is a special adviser on Burma for UN chief Ban Ki-moon. He is
on a four-nation trip to Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia in an
effort to bring about national reconciliation, the restoration of
democracy and human rights in Burma.
When he worked for Mr Ban's predecessor Kofi Annan, Mr Gambari visited
Burma twice, in May and November 2006, and met top leaders of the military
regime and the opposition leaders of the National League for Democracy,
including its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Ms Suu Kyi has been detained under house arrest since May 2003.
''[Mr] Gambari is the only one I know who has access to all and sundry in
Burma. So we want to be supportive to his renewed mandate,'' Mr Nitya
The Nigerian UN diplomat told reporters that he discussed a wide range of
issues with the foreign minister, from human rights to democracy, the
national reconciliation process and ways of engaging the Burmese
government in a comprehensive way by addressing many other issues.
They include humanitarian aid, drugs, children affected by conflicts,
Millennium Development Goals, education, forced labour, and health and
He hoped Burma would respond positively to the new strategy and was
optimistic that the internationally-criticised National Convention process
in Burma would hopefully lead to more political progress, including the
release of Ms Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.
Mr Nitya said the Thai approach was in line with the UN strategy.
''We want to be helpful and to eventually see that [people in Burma] can
find their way towards what they can create for themselves, and to see
that there will be no continuing conflicts that affect everybody,'' he
August 9, Irrawaddy
UN's new approach to Burma issue gains support in Asean - Htet Aung
The United Nations special adviser on Burma has a new mandate and a new
approach to tackle Burmese issues which appears to be gaining support
within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The new approach allows greater engagement with Myanmar [Burma], Ibrahim
Gambari, the UN special adviser on Burma, told Thai Foreign Minister Nitya
Pibulsonggram on Wednesday during a courtesy, according to a ministry news
Nitya said he welcomed a reframing of UN policy toward military-ruled
The broadened mandate now includes not only political issues, but
humanitarian issues, such as the plight of women and children, and public
health and disease-prevention issues, said the ministry.
Gambari's first stop on his current Southeast Asian consultation tour was
Singapore, which also supported the UNs new efforts.
Singapore is supportive of the UNs constructive efforts on Myanmar,
said a statement issued on Wednesday after Gambari's meeting with Foreign
Minister George Yeo.
Grambri also won Chinese and Russian support, according to news reports.
The two powerful nations vetoed a United States-led draft resolution on
Burma in the United Nations Security Council earlier this year.
Grambri's next stops are Malaysia and Indonesia, to be followed by a
meeting with the Burmese junta. No date for the meeting has been
August 9, Pretoria News (South Africa)
UCT to honour Myanmar's Suu Kyi
The University of Cape Town is to confer an honorary doctorate of law on
human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi,
held under house arrest by the Myanmar military junta.
The leader of the main opposition National League of Democracy party, Suu
Kyi has been in several spells of detention, and her movements restricted.
In the past 18 years she has been held for a total of 11. She has no
telephone and is allowed only two visitors, her maid and doctor.
Vice-chancellor Njabulo Ndebele said UCT wanted to honour Suu Kyi for the
personal sacrifices she had made for the freedom of her country's people.
"We acknowledge Suu Kyi as an extraordinary example of sheer strength, her
wealth of knowledge, her perseverance and as a symbol of determination of
women all over the world.
"Through Suu Kyi's example, there is hope for millions of the down-trodden
around the world."
Because the junta has banned Suu Kyi from leaving her native Myanmar,
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu will receive the degree on her behalf at
UCT's December graduation ceremony.
A fellow Nobel peace laureate, Tutu is a long-time and outspoken
campaigner for her release and the liberation of her people.
Celebrated for her non-violent struggle against oppression, the devout
Buddhist was awarded the Rafto Prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of
Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In national elections
in 1990 her party won 82% of the seats in parliament, but the victory was
rejected by the ruling military junta.
If the results had been accepted, she would have become the country's
August 9, Mizzima News
US remembers 8-8-88, reaffirms support
The United States State Department on Wednesday, the 19th anniversary of
the 8-8-88 uprising in Burma, reiterated their uncompromising support for
those continuing in the fight for political freedom, democracy and human
rights against a brutal military regime.
In a press statement, spokesperson Sean McCormack referred to United
States efforts and initiatives toward assisting the Burmese in their
struggle "to achieve democracy and human rights" as "steadfast and
According to the statement, the United States position will remain
unchanged unless there is considerable improvement made by the ruling
junta with respect to an authentic democratic government and respect for
human rights, singling out the continued detention of opposition leader
Aung San Suu Kyi as one prominent roadblock.
"We call on the regime to engage in a genuine dialogue with leaders of the
democracy movement and ethnic minority groups, to cease violence and human
rights abuses against civilians, and to lift restrictions on humanitarian
organizations in Burma," reads the statement.
This reaffirmation of United States support comes only days after
President Bush renewed a ban on imports from the Southeast Asian country.
The import ban is but one component of the 2003 Burma Freedom and
Democracy Act, with other sanctions directed at exports, finances, arms
OPINION / OTHER
August 9, United Press International
A duck, six prisoners and human rights in Burma - Awzar Thi
Six men in Burma have been jailed on account of a duck. Anyone wanting to
appreciate the real nature of human rights abuse there, and also why years
of international efforts have so far failed to effect any significant
change, should take interest in how and why.
This April, a crowd suddenly attacked four persons traveling through a
village in the delta on motorcycles, injuring two, one seriously. The
latter, Ko Myint Naing, made a complaint to the local court that village
council members, police and quasi-government officials had coordinated the
assault. The reason? He and his friends had been talking about human
It is important to realize that even under Burma's authoritarian regime it
is not illegal to promote human rights. On the contrary, officials have in
the past themselves been schooled on them by Australians. They sometimes
even get a mention in official propaganda. The country also has been a
party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the beginning and
in recent years has joined two important agreements on women and children.
Myint Naing and the others were merely distributing copies of these and
related domestic laws and informing villagers of their contents.
The assault attracted some passing concern. A spokesperson for a big human
rights group said that the government "should order its thugs to stop
harassing people for promoting human rights." Two United Nations experts
called for the authorities "to take all the necessary steps to protect
human rights defenders" and "conduct an independent and thorough
investigation into this event."
Unsurprisingly, none of these things happened. Instead, gang attacks
continued and Myint Naing and five local farmers with whom he had
cooperated were themselves accused of upsetting public tranquility, thanks
in part to the duck, which in January a teenager and his friends were
accused of stealing from the local council chairman. When they failed to
pay the full recompense demanded, council members allegedly assaulted him
and took him to the police. Myint Naing, who knew the boy, tried to help
him out. Another time, he came to assist someone accused of causing a
bicycle accident with a schoolteacher.
While a stolen duck and bicycle collision are unlikely to threaten the
state -- even one as paranoid and introverted as that in Burma -- they
were sufficient cause for Myint Naing to be rebuked in the press and
jailed for eight years under a regulation once written by the British to
suppress anti-colonial dissent; the farmers received four years each.
Their families are struggling to survive without them.
Again the sentence attracted fleeting media interest and ritual censure
from abroad. But the six are still in jail and no one has gone beyond
shallow reporting and criticism to glean the full facts and what they
signify about human rights abuse in Burma.
This is one reason that outside approaches to human rights problems there
have been wanting. Take the U.N. experts' response to this case. On the
one hand, it elevated the attack victims to a category worthy of comment,
as human rights defenders. Had they been assailed over a personal dispute,
they would not have obtained outside interest. Had they been one of any
number of persons whom police and local officials in Burma routinely
assault and kill for trivial reasons they also would not have received so
much notice. The young man who was beaten up because of the duck -- and
against whom charges are pending -- remains of no particular interest.
On the other hand, having accorded the victims a special status, the
United Nations did nothing useful for them. The two experts called for the
relevant authorities to conduct an independent and thorough investigation
into the attack. Which relevant authorities? If pressed, would the experts
be able to identify any? And if not, what is the point of demanding action
by imaginary persons and agencies? What benefit is there in pretending
that something exists where there is in fact nothing?
Thus, not only do concerned outside groups and individuals fail to
intervene effectively on behalf of individual victims, they also fail to
enrich the impoverished dialogue on human rights in Burma through some
thoughtful analysis or new insight, or even by telling the truth: that
there is no one in Burma who can make an independent inquiry about
Here is the challenge for work on human rights not only in Burma but also
throughout Asia. Well-meaning international monitors approach and critique
specific incidents in terms of global norms -- as they must -- but fail to
bridge the gap between those norms and local realities through detailed
studies of how and why something has actually occurred. The gap is easily
identified, but little attempt is made to understand what it really means
and what can be done about it. What follows instead is the pretence that
there exist relevant authorities who must somehow bridge it themselves,
when neither they, nor the will, exist to make it so.
Both the abuse and defense of human rights can be understood only through
frank and detailed assessments of what is actually going on, rather than
what is supposed to be so. To comprehend violence against human rights
defenders in Burma today, it is necessary to start with the blows upon a
teenager accused of stealing a village chairman's duck, rather than
abstract notions of relevant authorities found only in the offices of
The rights of the six jailed men are only as good as his, and their fates
are inextricably tied. If the boy can't be helped, then what hope have
they? If his problems can't be gauged and addressed, then how can theirs?
(Awzar Thi is the pen name of a member of the Asian Human Rights
Commission with over 15 years of experience as an advocate of human rights
and the rule of law in Thailand and Burma. His Rule of Lords blog can be
read at: http://ratchasima.net)
August 9, The Hindu
Myanmar: Rhetoric and reality of Indian democracy - Mukul Sharma
When did you last hear the Indian government making a strong case against
Myanmars military rulers?
Union of Myanmar (Burma). Head of State: General Than Shwe. Head of
Government: General Soe Win. More than three decades of brutal military
rule. You see them at Rajghat in Delhi on October 25, 2004, when Than
Shwe paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi; at the National Defence Academy in
Khadakvasla; at the Tata Motors Plant in Pune; and many other places. You
find Ministers, like Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Secretaries, and Army
Chiefs visiting them, with full kitties.
Recognising and legitimising a brutal military rule is becoming a natural,
practical, economical act in India today, either in the name of an
official look east policy and to flush out armed groups in the Northeast
or to tap natural gas reserves and develop bilateral trade relations.
These myriad social practices of acknowledgement to the Myanmar military
rule are leading to a new formation, or rather malformation, of the Indian
state and its diplomacy. A global India, with high growth and
regional-international ambitions, has to move away from Daw Aung San Suu
Kyi, the leader of Myanmars political opposition, who has been under
arrest for more than 15 years intermittently since1989.
It has to forget about U Win Tin, a journalist who is serving a 20-year
sentence for writing and publishing magazines, news bulletins and papers
that were all against the government. It has to leave in the lurch San
San New, who is serving a 10-year prison term on the basis that she
allegedly gave information to foreign journalists and diplomats against
or critical of the government.
Convenience over conviction
Truth has not changed with time and calendar. In fact, across the
political spectrum, civil society, and media, there is support for the
democratic movement in Myanmar. People sympathise with Ms. Suu Kyi, who
lived and studied in New Delhi when her mother was the first Burmese
Ambassador in the 1960s.
However, our government today prefers convenience to conviction, and
values privileges over principles. Everyday our new country emerges on the
pages of newspapers and in the statements of our political, economic, and
military leaders, with its changing appearance and appeasement, with its
new opportunism driving various deals, of course without its people.
It was reported on November 22, 2006, that Air Chief Marshal S. P. Tyagi
made a three-day visit to Myanmar to discuss several arms offers made
almost two years ago by his predecessor, Air Chief Marshal S.
These included a comprehensive fighter aircraft upgrade programme and the
sale of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) built advanced light
helicopters, Bharat Electronics (BEL) radars, and airborne radio equipment
and surveillance electronics.
On October 11, 2006, Jane s Defence Weekly reported that negotiations for
the proposed arms for military co-operation swap were conducted during a
September 21, 2006, visit to Myanmar by Indias Defence Secretary Shekhar
During his two-day trip, he held discussions with the Vice Senior General
Maung Aye, and other senior Myanmar military officers, focussing on New
Delhi providing Yangon T-55 main battle tanks, which the Indian Army was
retiring, armoured personal carriers, 105 mm light artillery guns, mortars
and the locally designed advanced light helicopter at a special price.
Himal South Asian wrote in February 2007 that since 1998, India has
extended more than $100 million in credit to the Burmese regime, including
for upgrading the Rangoon-Mandalay railway line. In addition, it has
contributed $27 million to the building of the 160-kilometre Tamu-Kalewa
highway in Sagaing Division.
India has also emerged as Myanmars second largest market after Thailand,
absorbing 25 per cent of the countrys total exports, and it hopes to
double bilateral trade to $1 billion per annum in the next few years.
India is also providing training to Myanmars armed forces and helping it
build border infrastructure. As a part of its energy strategy, it also
plans to buy natural gas from Myanmar. This would benefit the military
regime millions of dollars annually.
On July 16, 2007, Amnesty International and Saferworld released its report
titled Indian helicopters for Myanmar: making a mockery of the EU arms
embargo?, saying that the Government of India may transfer military
helicopters, including the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), to the
government of Myanmar as part of the two countries increasing military
cooperation. Such transfers risk undermining existing EU and U.S.
sanctions and arms embargoes on Myanmar.
These umpteen examples of the recent past exemplify how the same thing is
being repeated over and over again, creating a neat cushioned regime.
However, our government continues to practice the virtues of denial, and
keeps reiterating lies in these years. When did you last hear the Indian
government making a strong case against Myanmars military rulers? Have
you heard of the cancelling of any trip by Indian dignitaries to Myanmar,
for example, against the arrest of U Aung Thein, a 77-year-old very
respectable member of the National League for Democracys central
He was arrested with three others in April 2006, and all four were
sentenced in July to 20 years imprisonment? U Aung Thein was said to have
confessed to possessing a satellite telephone used to speak to NLD
leaders outside the country. When were our leaders in SAARC (South Asian
Association for Regional Cooperation) or ASEAN (Association of South East
Asian Nations) seen trying to push for some democratic agenda on Myanmar?
If you live in Myanmar, you can be forced into unpaid labour. Many people
are subjected to it, mainly by the army, to build roads, military camps,
and infrastructure projects. You can be forced to leave your home.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been compelled to leave their
villages, as part of a strategy to cut off support to armed opposition
Whole villages have been razed, obliterating peoples homes and
possessions. You can be denied citizenship, even if your family has lived
there for generations. You can be locked up for years for writing a poem
or acting on behalf of political prisoners.
Thousands of government critics have been imprisoned for peaceful
activities, like writing histories or poems, or taking other steps to
defend human rights. You can be locked up for years without knowing why,
with no right to go to court. You can be tortured, even to death, by the
police and the army.
And, you cannot complain. If you do, you may be further tortured and
imprisoned. Myanmar authorities consistently reject reports of human
rights violations, whether from Myanmar citizens or by international
officials like the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, as politically
The Indian authorities speak in a similar, twisted tongue about the
defence deals as completely baseless; asking not to attach much
credence to reports; stating that India does give defence support but
the equipment is not offensive; or that the matter is delicate
. We have
to keep Myanmar in good humour. However, the facts cannot be muted, as
lines between rhetoric and reality are clearly visible. Standing neither
here nor there, sometimes in the middle of the road is dangerous.
You can be knocked down by traffic from both sides. The Indian government
has to state on whose side it is, and take clear-cut positions. Truth
shall prevail, says our motto. The important question is, how? The
coalition Indian government, bound by a common minimum programme, must
stop its vacillation and join the campaign to end repression and
dictatorship in Myanmar.
(The writer is Director, Amnesty International India.)
August 9, Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
An open letter to the International Labour Organisation
Liaison Officer (Myanmar)
International Labour Organisation
4, route des Morillons
CH-1211 Geneva 22
Fax: +41 22 798 8685
Dear Mr Marshall
Burma/Myanmar: Trial of six workers' rights advocates an important
challenge for ILO
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to you with regards to
the recent arrest and charging of six workers' rights advocates in
Myanmar, with which you are already familiar. The six were among 33
persons arrested on 1 May 2007 after organising a discussion at the
American Center in Yangon.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) should be commended for its
stern persistence in addressing the problem of forced labour in Myanmar,
both through its work internationally and within the country, under
extremely difficult conditions. The AHRC acknowledges the organisation's
good efforts and also expects that you fully appreciate the extent of
problems in all areas of criminal justice and administration in that
country and how despite the fact that your mandate is restricted to
addressing a particular feature of these problems, ultimately the larger
systemic issues must also be addressed to ensure any lasting change.
This particular case speaks to those problems, which relate both to the
wider features of criminal investigation and judicial process in Myanmar,
as well as basic notions of fundamental human rights and labour rights.
To begin with, the persons arrested were not doing anything illegal: on
the contrary, they were simply holding discussions on the domestic and
international standards which the government of Myanmar itself has
undertaken to uphold.
In this respect, the case bears a resemblance to that of seven men in Pyi
and Hinthada townships that were recently imprisoned ostensibly on grounds
of upsetting public tranquillity and giving illegal tutorials
respectively, but were in fact jailed because of their similar efforts to
promote human rights instruments to which the government supposedly
However, after the persons arrested on May 1 passed through an
interrogation centre (rather than ordinary police station) and were
finally brought before a court in July, they were charged with much more
serious offences than those in the abovementioned cases, including
sedition and crimes relating to illegal associations.
These are, as you know, very grave charges for which they may be sentenced
to life imprisonment. Indeed, this is highly plausible: last October nine
men were sentenced from 85 to 106 years in prison on similar charges,
without proper application of law or evidence. In that case, as in this,
there was no basis for the charge of sedition: i.e. that the accused
attempted "to bring into hatred or contempt, or excite or attempt to
excite disaffection" towards the government or union. In that case, as in
this, the trial was carried out within the central prison, in violation of
the principle of open court that is acknowledged by the government of
Myanmar by way of the Judiciary Law of 2000 (section 2). In that case,
lawyers were denied access to the accused; in the present case they were
given access but after being subjected to constant harassment have
withdraw from the case in protest. In that case too the court overlooked
numerous breaches of criminal procedure in convicting the accused.
Thus the case is an extremely difficult one, yet it also is an important
challenge for the ILO, as it is so thoroughly antagonistic to everything
that your organisation represents. It likewise stands at the nexus between
the relatively narrow mandate of the ILO in Myanmar and the wider failings
of criminal law and justice in the country, which one way or another your
organisation must somehow confront if it is to make significant headway in
addressing the persistence of forced labour, the denial of rights to
complain and the concomitant persistent abuses of virtually all workers'
While cognisant that you will already be troubled by this case and taking
steps to intervene where and however possible, the Asian Human Rights
Commission wishes to reiterate our special concern for the fate of the
detained persons, in particular in view of the ongoing work of the ILO in
Myanmar, and offer whatever support is necessary to see not only that they
are freed from the spurious allegations against them, but also that in so
doing there may be greater informed discussion about the bigger
institutional obstacles to proper criminal investigations, prosecutions,
trials and sentencing there.
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong
CC: Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights
Asian Human Rights Commission
19/F, Go-Up Commercial Building,
998 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hongkong S.A.R.
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