Human Rights in Burma: No Excuse for Delay
Tuesday, November 29, 2011


When US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Burma tomorrow, she should step off the plane ready to deliver a clear and firm message to President Thein Sein: The domestic opposition and the regional and international communities have given your new government the acknowledgment and legitimacy that you demanded for taking some initial steps towards reform, now there is no longer any excuse for human rights abuses and armed hostilities to continue in Burma for one day longer.

Thein Sein and his cadre of more reform-minded officials have argued that the process of democratic change is slow in a country such as Burma and therefore everyone must show patience. This is true with respect to certain institutional reforms that must take place for the country to be free and democratic and provide opportunity for all of its citizens, but it is not true with respect to human rights abuses such as rape, forced labor and the imprisonment of political activists.

For example, it will take time for the necessary constitutional reforms to be negotiated, drafted and approved. What will be required is for the Parliament to engage in the equivalent of a national constitutional convention that debates and agrees on what a truly democratic Burma should look like in the future. This will require much discussion and compromise on everyone’s behalf and will not happen overnight.

National economic reform will also take time. To change the banking and monetary system, institute land reform, complete the process of privatization and tackle corruption and cronyism in a country where it is so endemic will be a gargantuan task that must be done incrementally so Burma’s economic system—such that it is—does not collapse entirely.

Even a comprehensive political solution to Burma’s ethnic issues will take time. For any country to grant significant autonomy to several diverse regions is a difficult task with a large number of national and local issues to be assessed and balanced. Burma’s ethnic minorities deserve equal rights, the ability to preserve their identity and culture, the chance to reap economic benefits from their local natural resources and significant control over their own regions. But the final solution will not be easy.

All this being said, even though the process of agreeing on and implementing these major reforms will take time to be done properly, important initial steps can be taken now, and certainly as soon as the by-elections are held and the new Parliament is in session.

Separately, there are certain government actions with respect to ending armed conflicts and human rights abuses that are long overdue and should not be lumped into the basket of “reforms that take time.”

All military hostilities in the ethnic regions should end immediately. Although not a long-lasting solution, at least until the run-up to the 2010 election there were ceasefire agreements and an imperfect stability in most ethnic regions. It is no accident that the current armed conflicts flared and the ceasefires were broken after the government tried to bully the ethnic armed groups into joining its border guard force and infringed on some of their territories to protect investment projects that would benefit only the Chinese and Burmese government cronies. There is no reason why Thein Sein’s government could not immediately and unilaterally revert to the previous ceasefire terms and territories and stop the fighting.

In addition, all human rights abuses by the Burmese government and military in all of the ethnic regions must halt now and forever. To stop abuses such as rape and forced labor does not take time, it only takes political will and courage by the nation’s leaders. If Thein Sein and the commander-in-chief of Burma’s armed forces, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, issued a joint statement today saying that such abuses would no longer be tolerated and anyone engaged in or overseeing them would be publicly prosecuted, and then acted immediately to back up their statement with actions, they could put an end to the vast majority of the abuses in short order.

Holding human beings hostage as political prisoners is also a human rights abuse that must end now.

Nay Zin Latt, a top advisor to Thein Sein, recently said, “Releasing prisoners who have a political background is in the mind of the president, but through stability. This is a transition period, we should not forget. The government does not want any failures and mistakes.”

Using stability as an excuse for not releasing all of the political prisoners sounds simply lame and places no value on the lives of those behind bars. It is inclusivity and respect for the value of human life and freedom that will bring stability to Burma, not the isolation and suppression of those with different political opinions.

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kerry Wrote:
All human rights abuses must cease.

KML Wrote:
Dear President U Thein Sein,

You are being quoted as a sincere and reform minded military general by your friends and foes. It is a good opportunity for meaningful reform in Burma. However, sincerity alone has the limitation if it is not combined with concerted effort in a reasonable timeframe. The reform should be proactive rather than reactive. There are many issues, legacies of former regimes, can be reversed without going through the parliament. Examples are releasing political prisoners, repatriation of refugees & IDPs, stop blaming others ( BBC, Irrawady, DVB, VOA ,Western countries etc..) for own management failure and lack of vision, logical & meaningful public relation campaign about practical changes, stopping inhumane treatment on ethnic nationalities and unwritten oppressive policies. Reaching out ethnic & religious nationalities is more important than reaching out Secretary Clinton or ASEAN. I guess she will be happier to see changes than to meet you.

More Articles in This Section

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bullet Burma’s Trust Deficit

bullet Burma’s Much-Awaited News Finally Arrives

bullet A Cruel Clemency

bullet Time for Thein Sein to Prove the Skeptics Wrong

bullet Making it Legal

bullet Burma's Forgotten Farmers

bullet One Year Later: Bogus Election Offers Some Hope

bullet Asean Should Bide Its Time on Burma Getting Key Role

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