<![CDATA[Oxford Burma Alliance - Blog]]>Tue, 08 Jan 2019 22:25:39 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Who will go to the polls in 2015? Out-of-country voting and the global Burma diaspora]]>Wed, 21 May 2014 12:37:30 GMThttp://www.oxfordburmaalliance.org/blog/who-will-go-to-the-polls-in-2015-out-of-country-voting-and-the-global-burma-diasporaWritten by: Karen Hargrave, OBA Vice President and MSc student at the Oxford Refugee Studies Centre

In February of this year Libyans went to the polls to elect a constitutional drafting committee.  They went to the polls in Tripoli. They went to the polls in Benghazi. And, in the case of over 7,000 Libyans, they went to the polls in Germany, Canada, the UK, Jordan; the list goes on.

These elections were just the latest in a growing trend of out-of-country voting processes (OCV) in transitional settings. In a list of countries that includes Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan and now Libya, OCV has provided an opportunity for individuals who have fled conflict and persecution to have a say in the future of a home state to which they might one day return. Of course, sustainable and democratic peace has not yet been achieved in many of these contexts. But simply put, at its heart OCV represents political inclusion across borders.

OCV comes with enormous mechanical difficulties, not least the question of how to register and administer a spatially disconnected electorate. But its promise is enormous. Which raises the question: when Burma goes to the polls in the much-hyped 2015 election, will the global Burma diaspora go too?

From informal conversations I’ve had with people involved in Burma’s on-going peace process, the answer seems to be, “it’s unclear”.  It’s unclear precisely because this isn’t a question on anyone’s lips. Which needs immediate remedy. It’s symptomatic of a broader trend we’re seeing at the moment in how Burma’s refugee “issue” is being treated as something to be dealt with if and when the country’s myriad internal political issues are resolved. Of course there’s benefits to this stance: it supports the very valid point that pressure should not be put on refugees to return to their country of origin, if at all, until the political problems they fled in the first place have been addressed in full. But the downside is that we risk ignoring the very real fact that Burma’s refugee issue is part of the political issue. Does it not seem pertinent, then, that Burma’s refugees should have a say in shaping at least this part of the political solution?

If the case for considering OCV isn’t clear yet, bear in mind that, should real political transition crystallise in Burma, many of the 100,000 refugees living in the Thai-Burma border camps will likely have little option but to return to their former homes. Funding on the border has been drying up for years. While it states that conditions are not yet ripe for return, UNHCR’s 2013 framework for ‘Supporting Durable Solutions in South-East Myanmar’ makes abundantly clear that repatriation is envisioned as the primary solution in this case. If refugees are to be encouraged to return in the future, then it seems only fair that they should be given the opportunity now to have a say in the political landscape that they will face. Not to mention that a mere glance at Burma’s diasporic documentation, news and advocacy projects reveal this population in exile as deeply intelligent individuals holding well-crafted political opinions.

Burma’s national elections are a year away, and OCV may yet prove an imperfect solution. But now is time to start asking the question: who will go to the polls in 2015? And, perhaps more importantly, who will be excluded from Burma’s nascent political community?
<![CDATA[The Rohingya Revisited]]>Fri, 27 Dec 2013 06:58:53 GMThttp://www.oxfordburmaalliance.org/blog/the-rohingya-revisitedWritten by: Regina Paulose, J.D., LLM, International Crime and Justice and author at acontrarioicl.com

Nearly a year ago, I wrote an article outlining reasons why the ICC should take action in Myanmar (also known as Burma) in order to stop continued religious and ethnic violence towards the Rohingya. During 2013, not surprisingly, the anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar has continued.[1] In fact, violence has spread beyond targeting the Rohingya and against the larger Muslim population.[2] Although, the majority displaced from the violence are still the Rohingya.

The human rights abuses against the Rohingya in Myanmar have continued, which includes but is not limited to extrajudicial killings, random imprisonment,[3] recruitment of child soldiers, violence against women, and policies which endorse statelessness[4] of the minority group. The government has not taken any significant actions to prevent anti-Muslim groups, such as the 969 Buddhists from continuing on their killing spree.[5]

What do the great nations have to say about such behavior? They have rewarded Myanmar’s “democratic reforms” with trade, despite pleas from the human rights community that such measures will continue anti-Muslim abuses.[6]Unfortunately, the ability of Western countries to sweep this violence under the carpet is par for the course.

Anti-Muslim violence and bigotry is on the rise around the world. In the European Union, violence and bigotry towards Muslims continues.[7] Restrictions on practicing Islam (such as wearing the head scarf) continue to be justified throughout Europe. In the EU, some say that the resurgence of the “far right” and their inflammatory rhetoric in mainstream political culture have incited anti-Muslim sentiment and have continued anti-Semitic rhetoric as well.[8]Some link hate speech directly to hate crimes.[9]  In Russia, nationalists have taken to the streets to demonstrate their anger towards Muslim migration, the sentiment shared with other Neo Nazi groups throughout Europe.[10] In the United States, during 2012, Muslim hate crimes saw an increase compared to recent years and the number may be larger because many of the crimes go unreported.[11] In China, persecution of the Uighur Muslims continues because of potential “terrorist” or “separatist” activity.[12]

In Myanmar, we have had a humanitarian issue on our hands. Now, it is beginning to spiral into other problems. Thai officials are now being accused of trafficking the Rohingya.[13] Interestingly, the idea that the Rohingya may be victims of human trafficking (instead of ethnic persecution) has gotten the attention of the United States and the United Nations. Since Myanmar does not afford the Rohingya citizenship, the persecution of the Rohingya leaves little options in where they can seek refuge. Bangladesh does not seem to have the ability to continue to provide safety to the Rohingya, because of internal security concerns, such as terrorists hiding within Rohingya refugee camps.[14]  India also has been met with a large influx of Rohingya, due to brutal persecution in Myanmar.[15]

Democracy has not saved the Rohingya, but will it ever?

Practical steps need to be taken in order to stop this calamity. The international community should begin with asking Myanmar to become a party to the Refugee Convention of 1951 and its accompanying Protocol of 1967.[16] This should also include requesting Myanmar to make a “pledge” to prevent statelessness.[17] Beyond acceding to these international treaties and conventions, the criminal acts that are being committed need to be addressed. In November 2013, the US Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., projected images of the Rohingya to raise awareness regarding the “unfolding tragedy.”[18] It is clear that crimes against humanity are occurring and despite “democratic reforms” the government is endorsing and/or participating in this violence.[19]

If the ICC is looking to make its mark in Asia, start in Myanmar.

                                                                                                                                  Click 'Read More' to view Footnotes:
[1] International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, “The Crisis in Burma” accessed December 26, 2013, available at:  http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/index.php/crises/crisis-in-burma#Today

[2] Thomas Fuller, “In Myanmar, Revival of Attacks on Muslims” New York Times, October 2, 2013, available at:http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/world/asia/myanmar-violence-buddhists-muslims.html?_r=1&

[3] FIDH, “Burma: It is time to free all human rights defenders and stop ongoing arbitrary arrests and imprisonment” December 17, 2013, available at: http://www.fidh.org/en/asia/burma/14406-burma-it-is-time-to-free-all-human-rights-defenders-and-stop-ongoing

[4] UNHCR, “Statelessness” available at: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c158.html. See also UNHCR, “Expert Meeting: The Concept of Stateless Persons under International Law Summar Conclusions” May 27-28, 2010, available at:http://www.unhcr.org/4cb2fe326.html

[5] I.S. Thandwe, “The Silence of the Muezzin” The Economist, October 29, 2013, available at:http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2013/10/sectarian-violence-myanmar

[6] Bloomberg News, “U.S. moved to Boost Myanmar Trade Ties After EU Lifts Sanctions” April 24, 2013, available at:http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-24/u-s-moves-to-boost-myanmar-trade-ties-after-eu-lifts-sanctions.html

[7] Al Arabiya News, “US denounces “rise” in anti-sentiment in Europe, Asia” May 20, 2013, available at:http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2013/05/20/U-S-denounces-rise-in-anti-Muslim-sentiment-in-Europe-Asia-.html

[8] Matthew Schofield, “Far-right Hate Crimes creep back into German society” The Miami Herald, December 24, 2013, available at: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/12/24/3834799/far-right-hate-crimes-creep-back.html

[9] Hansdeep Singh, Simran Jeet Singh, “The Rise of Hate Crimes can be Tied Directly to Hateful Speech” The Daily Beast, September 6,  2012, available at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/09/06/the-rise-of-hate-crimes-can-be-tied-directly-to-hateful-speech.html

[10] Agence France Presse, “Russian Nationalists stage Anti-Muslim march in Moscow” November 4, 2013, available at:http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/11/04/russian-nationalists-stage-anti-muslim-march-in-moscow/

[11] Mary Potok, “FBI: Anti-Muslim Hate Crime Remain Relatively High” Southern Poverty Law Center, December 10, 2012, available at: http://www.splcenter.org/blog/2012/12/10/fbi-anti-muslim-hate-crimes-remain-relatively-high/

[12] Human Rights Watch, “China: Religious Repression of Uighur Muslims” April 13, 2005, available at:http://www.hrw.org/news/2005/04/10/china-religious-repression-uighur-muslims

[13] Marshall, Szep, and Mohammed, “UN, US call for investigations into Thai Trafficking of Rohingya” Reuters, December 6, 2013, available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/06/us-thailand-rohingya-reaction-idUSBRE9B50F820131206

[14] Utpala Rahman, “The Rohingya Refugee: A Security Dilemma for Bangladesh” Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies, 8:233-239 (2010), available at: http://www.creatingaroadhome.com/new/wp-content/uploads/the_rohingya_refugee_a_security_dilemma_for_bangladesh.pdf

[15] Palash Ghosh, “Rohingya Muslim Migrants Caught in Limbo Between India and Bangladesh” International Business Times, September 6, 2013, available at: http://www.ibtimes.com/rohingya-muslim-migrants-caught-limbo-between-india-bangladesh-1403237

[16] Saw Greh Moo, “Burma needs a practical long term policy for the Rohingya issue”  December 25, 2013, available at:http://www.dvb.no/analysis/burma-needs-a-practical-long-term-policy-for-the-rohingya-issue-burma-myanmar/35510

[17] UNHCR, “State Action on Statelessness” available at: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/4ff2bdff6.html#Maps

[18] Matthew Pennington, “Holocaust Museum highlights Myanmar’s Rohingya” Associated Press/ WTOP 103.5 FM, November 6, 2013, available at: http://www.wtop.com/41/3498762/Holocaust-museum-highlights-Myanmars-Rohingya

[19] Human Rights Watch, “Burma: End ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ of Rohingya Muslims” April 22, 2013, available at:http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/04/22/burma-end-ethnic-cleansing-rohingya-muslims. See also Dr. Habib Siddiqui, “International Rohingya Conference in the USA calls for Stopping Genocide in Myanmar” December 24, 2013, available at: http://www.salem-news.com/articles/december242013/brafa-meeting-usa.php

<![CDATA[Burma or Myanmar: Does A Name Matter?]]>Wed, 02 Oct 2013 17:11:43 GMThttp://www.oxfordburmaalliance.org/blog/burma-or-myanmar-does-a-name-matterContributed by Myo Han based in Australia with a keen interest in Myanmar literature and translation

Was Juliet, Shakespeare’s ill-fated character, right when declaring, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"? She probably was. However, in the case of one South East Asian country   that has been renamed Myanmar by its rogue regime that grabbed power in 1988 after a brutal crackdown, the name change is still making a commotion both inside and outside the country.

In 1989, the government led by their xenophobic general rechristened the poverty-stricken country Myanmar in their desperate attempt to win the hearts of 135 ethnic groups that make up the country. In a similar fashion, some places got renamed too.  The name of the former capital city Rangoon became Yangon. Up against the wall, the beleaguered generals   played the patriotism card as a desperate measure, possibly hoping for it to strike the chord of the pre-colonial era, but to no avail. New names have not caught on well even after more than 24 years. There are reasons.

One argument for the name change when used in English  is   that the name Burma used by the colonial rulers should be replaced with a name indigenous and symbolic of freedom from the legacy of the colonial past. The other argument is that since British colonial administration, there has been deep mistrust toward the majority Burman group by other ethnic nationalities, and thus using Burma does not represent all ethnic people living in the country.  The UN and some other countries support the change, and so do some European and ASEAN countries. The EU uses Burma and Myanmar interchangeably.

Rather confusing is that the Burmese edition of the Guardian monthly even stated back in 1971 that ‘Myanma’ (the spoken name of the country) signifies only the Myanmars whereas ‘Bama’ embraces all indigenous nationalities. But the last government decreed in 1989 that the opposite was true. They publicised the name change and their reason in their mouthpiece,  the ‘Working People’s Daily’ newspaper  in 1989.  

The opponents argue that such a name change by the very much unpopular junta without seeking a public approval is unacceptable.  The British-conceived name, Burma, had been used by the country’s dictatorial government, for years after its independence in 1947 until 1989.  Why the fuss now? They prefer to use the name at least until they have a democratically elected government. Governments that support this stance still call the country Burma. The US and the UK officially stick with the old name.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy icon, often drew ire from the current government for her use of Burma. She ever said she will always use Burma in reference to the country until the Burmese people decide what they want it to be called. Both names are used in the country with Burma being more popular and Myanmar more literary, possibly due to the fact that people are too used to the old name and want to express their disapproval for the noxious regime.  She once jokingly said foreigners should continue to use Burma because Myanmar was difficult for them to pronounce it correctly.  

When Hillary Clinton visited Burma in 2011, she used “this country”,   seemingly to avoid controversy. The American President Obama played it safe when referring to the country in his speech during his brief visit there by using both names.

The general impression is that the use of ‘Burma’ can indicate non-recognition for the military junta, use of ‘Myanmar’ can indicate distaste for the colonial past, and interchangeable use of both can indicate no particular preference. Most international media organizations continue to use Burma because their readers or viewers better recognize that and cities such as Rangoon.

Using ‘Myanmar’ in English could be quite odd when the adjective form of the word is needed. Some English language newspapers and journals use funny-sounding words like “Myanmarese” and “Myanmese” quite weird to a local’s ears.  The word is used both as a noun and an adjective in English by local writers.  ‘Myanmar’ does not come easy from the tongue that has used ‘Burma’ for a long time.  Foreigners mispronounce it.  It can take  a bit of explaining to help a foreigner, especially a geographically-challenged one, understand.

Daw Aung San  Suu Kyi’s objections are not as strong as before. She is often heard using “my country”, “this country of ours” or “our country”, which leads some of her critics to believe she is singing a different tune now. The U.S. government has begun to allow limited use of the name Myanmar as its democratic reforms are well underway as a diplomatic courtesy. ABC, CNN, The New York Times and The Australian have recently adopted Myanmar

Like it or not, the new name will stick if the current sweeping democratic reforms take root and the next government wins the mandate of the people after the 2015 election.

<![CDATA[Billion dollar mine and the missing faces...]]>Sun, 24 Mar 2013 09:37:59 GMThttp://www.oxfordburmaalliance.org/blog/billion-dollar-mine-and-the-missing-facesWritten by: Aileen Phyu, OBA member.

If anything, Latpadaung copper mine issue embodies the very essence of messy Myanmar politics and a plethora of the country’s struggles that are waiting to be slowly and wearily untangled. Recent decision of the commission’s report to continue mining operations in Monywa only proves that even a democracy superwoman who sacrificed 15 years of her life under house arrest cannot stay insulated from condemnation. Since its release, the report has created a clear split between groups, summoning critics who demand a complete abortion of the project on the one hand, and supporters who sympathize with Daw Su and approve the commission’s decision. 

The copper mine operation has been a controversial issue since its birth. Last November,  local demonstrations against the project came under the spotlight as the police used tear bombs containing phosphorus against the protestors, setting alight the latter’s camps. As images of protestors suffering burns floated on the internet, it’s inevitable that angry commentators started to question the government’s boastful commitment to reforms. Whoever is in charge of the Latpadaung inquiry commission is doomed to find him/herself in a quandary. While there have been unlawful confiscations, community displacement, and environmental problems associated with the project, shutting it down completely would also mean turning away from foreign investments that Myanmar desperately needs for its economic growth. So I empathize with Daw Suu, the chair of the commission, who has been juggling politics with morals quite unsuccessfully herself.

If you are expecting me to pick a side, dear readers, then read no further. Given the already abundant debates on the issue, I see it futile to argue at this point whether the mining operation should proceed or be stopped. Daw Suu is right in reminding us that every political decision is bound to be contentious. From building a well in a village to undertaking a billion dollar mining operation, there will always be people who agree or disagree, people who benefit more than others, and some even not at all. But it is not the point of my article to singly pick what Daw Suu said and argue whether or not I agree with her.

I think the real issue is that what seems to be missing in all the conversations in regards to the copper mine controversy is the most crucial ingredient: the people. For now, the overall impression is that Latpadaung residents are included as part of the plan only insofar as passive citizens who are no more than chess pieces to be moved around by politicians, corporate investors and development elites. My point may seem absurd given that the locals have proven to be active participants by orchestrating protests and the like. Yet this may exactly prove my point. Despite all the obvious clues, the officials have failed to see these people as citizens who have a voice and know how they want to lead their own lives (let’s not get into metaphysics here!). Instead, in a 19-minute video clip of Daw Suu’s visit to the village, we see her lecturing the local residents on how to be a good citizen.

A particular part of the video stuck with me. When the democracy heroine asked the villagers whether they’ve read the commission report that was included in the newspapers, the answer was a no. But her question soon backfired as the people responded by saying newspapers never even get delivered in their village. These few seconds of the video clip show us, first, lack of public engagement in the commission’s decision to push ahead with the mine operations. The panel’s report may have exposed that land in the area is worth 1.5 million kyat ($1730) per acre, much more than the ridiculous 5 to 80 kyat per acre that had previously been offered to residents under an outdated law. But findings such as these mean close to nothing if those whose lives would be most affected were not even part of the decision making process. Second, that the residents have not even read the commission report does not represent their ignorance but that of those in charge. It exposes a system that is only legible on paper but broken in practice. 

Some observers are too quick to say that these villagers blindly oppose the mine project without even reading the report.  These criticisms blithely assume that public tools and resources are widely available and accessible by everyone in all parts of the country. But who are we kidding? In a country frozen in time, where most people are deprived of basic necessities, we’d only be making a fool of ourselves if we actually believed it.   

I find the locals’ continued protests over the project encouraging. Unsuccessful and overlooked they may be, but emerging from their dissents are dialogues and social platforms for new ways of political engagement. Needless to say, they cannot just carry on without having any productive results. A country still needs to keep its economy going. 

The task of participation is almost impractical for a country that had been fine tuned to the Orwellian rhythm for the past five decades. But unless we remind ourselves that people make country and not otherwise, even a billion-dollar copper mine may not be pampering enough. How to reconcile such an ideal with the practical needs of the economy remains the ultimate challenge for Myanmar’s leaders.
<![CDATA[Cannot escape from this point for a while yet - Poem by Pandora]]>Thu, 10 Jan 2013 11:46:55 GMThttp://www.oxfordburmaalliance.org/blog/cannot-escape-from-this-point-for-a-while-yet-poem-by-pandora__ Cannot escape from this point for a while yet
We enjoy traffic jams
Our daily life is our school lesson
Have a bathe and wash your clothes while it rains
Blow out and save your candles while the moon shines
Do business while waiting for the green light
We have all sorts of news in our arms 
Eleven, Voice, Modern, Myanmar Times
What happened in Letpadaung Hill
What will happen to the mobile internet rate
Murder cases during the month­­­
Hooligans wreaking havoc in downtown
The more horrible the news is, the more sensational it is, isn’ it
Or to hang in your new big car
Here's  sabe, zun, ngwe, shwe flowers
Still fresh though dipped in the water since last night
By the way thazin  track is also damn fresh
Part 1, 2 and 3 are on hand if you'd like
What! thazin  track is no flower
Let it be if you have no idea
Then what's your line, politics or economics
Then here's the draft Telecommunications Law
Or the Constitution is also available  
Still on sale though printed long ago
Yet I don’t know whether it is still in good shape
The Foreign Investment Law is just released
Obtainable in Burmese and in English
We've got Burma maps and Yangon maps too
You can get lost even in your own regions and streets
And a roadmap will still be handy
Until it is replaced with a new one
Will you buy at least something, brother
You cannot escape from this traffic point for a while yet
At least, a Daw Suu Calendar
Or a fighting peacock flag
Just a souvenir

By Pandora
10 Dec 2012  

(Translated from the Burmese by the author, edited by Mg Tha Noe)

*Pandora was born in 1974 in Burma delta. As an English major at R*angoon University, she wrote poems and short stories for the campus magazines under several pen names, all of which she has now forgotten. She took a hiatus from writing when she came to Singapore to study in 2001 but bounced back on the scene in early 2007 as literary blogger Pandora. Since then her poems, essays and short stories have been seen in online Burmese journals and books and in printed media inside Burma. Recently she has returned to Rangoon for a change after a ten-year spell in Singapore.]]>
<![CDATA[The ICC: Protection for the Rohingya?]]>Wed, 09 Jan 2013 18:18:54 GMThttp://www.oxfordburmaalliance.org/blog/the-icc-protection-for-therohingyaWritten by: Regina Paulose, J.D., LLM, International Crime and Justice and author at acontrarioicl.com

In November 2012, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the ICC released its Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2012, which examines situations in various countries for acts which could potentially amount to crimes against humanity and/or war crimes. Some of the countries mentioned in this report are North Korea, Columbia, and Afghanistan.[1]

While one could question some of the cases the OTP is currently investigating,[2] this author takes the position that there are other atrocious human rights situations which need the immediate attention of the ICC.  In particular, the OTP should begin to make efforts to investigate and address the continued persecution and abuse of the Rohingya population in Burma.[3]

The Status Quo Conflict and Response

According to some scholars, the Rohingya’s origins are not entirely clear.[4] Setting aside this debate, the Rohingya mainly reside in Burma on the western side. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in Burma where the majority of the population is Buddhist. It is estimated that there are currently 800,000 to 1 million Rohingya living in Burma. Since the 1970’s the regime in Burma has been trying to drive out or restrict the Rohingya.[5] This sentiment was put into law in 1982 when it created a Citizenship Law, which mandates that a person must prove their Burmese ancestry dating back to 1823 in order to have freedom of movement and access to other basic rights such as education in the country.[6] (Recall: Armenian Genocide and Nazi Germany). This law is one of the prime reasons why the Rohingya have become “stateless.”

The Rohingya have been the target of violence and recent clashes, which has left “dozens dead and tens of thousands internally displaced.”[7] One does not have to look further than the last 8 months to truly see how the regime continues to treat the Rohingya. In June 2012, an outbreak in communal violence between the Buddhist and Muslim Rakhine and the Rohingya lead to massive sweeps resulting in detention of Rohingya men and boys. (Recall the massacre at Srebrenica). Reports indicated that these groups were subject to ill treatment and were held “incommunicado.”[8] In October 2012, satellite images showed that homes of the Rohingya were being destroyed by security forces. The security forces then overwhelmed and cornered the Rohingya to drive them out of the area. This destruction is on top of the gruesome reports of beheading and killing of women and children.[9] (Recall: Rwanda).

Faced with no other alternatives and with no access to justice in their country, the Rohingya have begun to flee only to be met with rejection from other countries. On the first day of 2013, some members of the Rohingya group were intercepted by Thai authorities and were deported back to Burma.[10] The Thai Navy is under orders to send them away from Thailand. Bangladesh has also expressed that it is not willing to accept Rohingya into their country.

Some countries however are reaching out to the Rohingya. Malaysia does accept the Rohingya as refugees. Iran recently sent humanitarian aid in order to help and has called upon the UN to take action.[11] Regionally, ASEAN offered to conduct “talks” but that was “rejected.” The regime explained that it sees the escalating violence as an “internal problem.”[12]

After a close examination of these events, the U.S. Presidential visit in November 2012, made the waters murky. President Obama felt that Burma was “moving in a better direction” and that there were “flickers of progress.” During the visit the President met with an advocate of the Rohingya population. While President Obama stated that his visit was not an endorsement of the current government, simple questions arise as to what the U.S. would be willing to do (or not do) to prevent this sectarian violence from escalating.[13] Not surprisingly, after the visit, Thein Sein made 2013 human rights news, when his regime admitted to using air raids against the Kachin rebels who are battling the government for control over certain territories.[14]

The ICC and its potential involvement

There are two interesting points of discussion that this scenario creates. The first is how the OTP would be able to meet jurisdictional requirements if it were to seriously consider prosecution. The controversial propio motu powers of the Prosecutor would allow her to investigate this situation. Articles 13, 15, and 53 of the Rome Statute require temporal jurisdiction, territorial or personal jurisdiction, and material jurisdiction. In addition, there are requirements in the Statute concerning admissibility. Burma is not a state party to the Rome Statute. The real challenge with this case would be with meeting the territorial or personal jurisdiction elements. Of course the easiest way to meet this requirement would be if the UN Security Council (UNSC) would be willing to refer the case as it did with Bashir of North Sudan.[15] As stated above, the U.S. Presidential visit does not make clear at this time what the U.S. position would be, especially considering the U.S. also eased sanctions on the regime in November.   

Another interesting point of discussion also concerns the potential charges. This author believes that this is a strong case for various charges under crimes against humanity. Charges under war crimes would prove to be interesting, depending on how the situation is viewed.  As previously noted, the regime has continuously called the situation with the Rohingya an “internal problem.”  The situation with the Rohingya can be distinguished from the conflict with the Kachin rebel/soldiers who are fighting for territory and independence.

Some other kind of action is now necessary besides dialogue and commentary from high level UN officials. Our cries of “never again” have become hollow.  The purpose of the ICC should be to facilitate deterrence in addition to punish perpetrators of grave crimes. The international community waits for these situations to become so grave that every action becomes too late. We cannot say we are students of history, when we continually are faced with the same situations over again and repeat the same mistakes. Our ability to ignore tragedy has come at the expense of hundreds of thousands of lives.

                                                                                                                     Click 'Read More' to view Footnotes:
[1] A copy of this report can be found at ICC Coalition website which keeps an excellent record of documents pertaining to the ICC and the OTP: http://www.iccnow.org/?mod=browserdoc&&year=2012 

[2] This author questions some of the potential charging decisions being made by the ICC – for instance – the case involving North Korea and South Korea, is a clear act of aggression, but is under examination as a war crime. The death toll in this case is 22 people. The OTP is spending resources in Colombia, to assess whether the government is prosecuting the FARC properly. The author concurs that these cases are worthy of ICC attention, but questions why the ICC wont deal with situations that are ongoing which need immediate intervention. (Besides financial reasons). 

[3] The great name debate: the U.S. recognizes the official name of the country as Burma.  Myanmar is the name was introduced by the former military regime, 23 years ago, and is preferred by the current regime. President Obama reportedly did refer to the country as Myanmar out of diplomatic courtesy when meeting with Thein Sein, President  in November 2012. See http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/19/politics/obama-asia-trip/index.html

[4] For a comprehensive report on the Rohingya situation, see Human Rights Watch, “The Government Could Have Stopped This” a report released July 31, 2012 and available at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2012/07/31/government-could-have-stopped . Khaled Ahmed, “Who are the Rohingya?” The Express Tribune, July 31, 2012, available at: http://tribune.com.pk/story/415447/who-are-the-rohingya/

[5] Gianluca Mezzofiore, “Myanmar Rohingya Muslims: The Hidden Genocide” August 22, 2012, available at: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/376189/20120822/burma-myanmar-rohingya-muslims-ethnic-cleansing.htm

[6] UNHCR, Rohingya, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,USCIS,,MMR,,3ae6a6a41c,0.html

[7] UN News Centre, “Independent UN expert calls on Myanmar to carry out latest human rights pledges.” November 20, 2012, available at: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43550 

[8] Amnesty International, “Myanmar: Abuses against Rohingya erode human rights progress.” July 19, 2012, available at: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/myanmar-rohingya-abuses-show-human-rights-progress-backtracking-2012-07-19

[9] Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Satellite Images Show Widespread Attacks on Rohingya” November 17, 2012 available at: http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/11/17/burma-satellite-images-show-widespread-attacks-rohingya

[10] Human Rights Watch, “Thailand: Don’t Deport Rohingya ‘Boat People’” January 2, 2013, available at: http://www.hrw.org/node/112247

[11] Ahlul Bayt News Agency, “Iran to Send 30 tons of Humanitarian Aid to Myanmar’s Rohingyas” January 5, 2013, available at: http://abna.ir/data.asp?lang=3&Id=378800 

[12] ALJAZEERA, “Myanmar rejects talks on ethnic violence” October 31, 2012, available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2012/10/2012103161130375846.html

[13] Although I thoroughly question the impact of sanctions and their utility, some sanctions were eased on Burma in the days leading up to the Presidential visit. 

[14] See Thomas Fuller, “Myanmar Military Admits to Airstrikes on Kachin Rebels” New York Times, January 2, 2013, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/03/world/asia/myanmar-military-admits-air-raids-on-kachin-rebels.html?smid=tw-nytimesworld&seid=auto&_r=1&See also Associated Press, “Myanmar’s Kachin rebels accuse government of artillery attack on headquarter city” January 6, 2013, available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/apnewsbreak-myanmars-kachin-rebels-accuse-government-of-artillery-attack-on-headquarter-city/2013/01/06/dc668006-57fa-11e2-b8b2-0d18a64c8dfa_story.htm 

[15] For more information regarding this see Ammar Mohammed’s post for this month analyzing and commenting on the UNSC referral of the Sudan case.

<![CDATA[‘Htwet Yat Poute’ [Great Escape] - Poem by Khin Aung Aye]]>Thu, 03 Jan 2013 16:38:46 GMThttp://www.oxfordburmaalliance.org/blog/htwet-yat-poute-great-escape-poem-by-khin-aung-aye___Htwet Yat Poute* [Great Escape]by Khin Aung Aye

(Translated by Aileen Ei Pwint Phyu, OBA member)

We say we have our victory
And we dance.

Whether once in a decade
Or a score of years,
We gather, and dance.

Whilst in secret
Our subconscious admits defeat,
And with it everyday
We wipe our eyes in discreet.

17th December 2012
Chilton Grove, London 19:04

* The translation ‘Great Escape’ does not do justice to the poem’s title. Htwat Yat Poute refers to a term used in ancient rituals when people believed their souls have transcended the human body to acquire a better life. The term was also used metaphorically by Ba Maw and General Aung San in founding Bama Htwet Yat Gaing (Freedom Bloc), a political organization established in 1939 against colonial forces, in support of Burmese independence and democracy. 

<![CDATA[Inside a Refugee Camp]]>Wed, 07 Nov 2012 14:48:56 GMThttp://www.oxfordburmaalliance.org/blog/inside-a-refugee-campName and location withheld.

With a picturesque backdrop of the mountains and jungle, you could – in places –almost be forgiven for forgetting that this is one of the nine refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border. 

Having been established two decades ago, along with its population, the camp’s economy and size has also expanded significantly. Inside, you can find shops, tea shops, restaurants, hair dressers, a hospital and a large market. If you have money, you can buy almost everything you need, from clothes and shoes to books, paper, mobile phones, kitchen utensils and DVDs. There’s an internet café and there are even motorbikes, bicycles and one or two cars, as well as a motorbike ice-cream seller.

Yet if you don’t have money, you’re left to live on the meagre rations of white rice, yellow beans, oil, charcoal and, approximately once every three months, some soap. And I can’t even begin to describe how bad the ration rice tastes. I didn’t realise rice could taste quite so bad; this was like eating white gravel.

Although for much of the year water is readily available and is piped through the camp, it’s not drinking water; it can only be used to shower with and to wash clothes and dishes. I was lucky enough to be living where donors have provided a UV water filter, but even so, I arrived at the end of the rainy season, so we didn’t had any fresh water to put through the filter. That wasn’t a problem for me – it was easy enough to buy bottled drinking water and I had the money to do so – but my students told me that they don’t really drink anything when it hasn’t rained.

One day, one of my students took me to visit her dormitory. It was a 55 minute walk/hike away, sometimes along busy, wide, flat mud roads with shops and houses on each side, and sometimes climbing on narrow, slippery paths through jungle. It was a typical dormitory, housing around 40 students. The buildings were typical bamboo buildings, but they were nicely built and fairly sturdy. I was cooked a nice lunch and then I asked where the toilets are. Initially, I couldn’t understand why that question had caused such a fuss – there are toilets built by the French NGO Solidarités throughout the camp. But then the students showed me their toilets. The building had been dismantled and the squat toilets were covered with planks of wood. They are full, I was told, and they had been for a couple of weeks or so, but they were going to start making new ones on the following Saturday. 

<![CDATA[Internal Displacement: the Elephant in the Room of the Burmese Reform]]>Mon, 25 Jun 2012 14:47:07 GMThttp://www.oxfordburmaalliance.org/blog/internal-displacement-the-elephant-in-the-room-of-the-burmese-reformBy Daniel Di Francesco and Agnieszka Fal, OBA Members
St Hugh's College and Wadham College
Originally published 6 June 2012 by The Oxford Student (reprinted with permission)

In recent months the attention of the international community has turned towards Burma, and many column inches have been spent in discussing the democratic reforms, which started at the end of last year, and the enthusiasm with which international leaders have received them. Yet an issue that is notoriously overlooked is the ongoing armed conflict within the country, and especially the fate of those who have been forced to leave their homes as a result. These people become known as internally displaced persons (IDPs), and even though there is estimated to be over 650,000 of them in Burma, living in relocation sites, in ceasefire areas or in hiding, they receive little or no media attention. Displacement can occur for a variety of reasons –  the most obvious being as a direct result of armed conflict between insurgents, but also for other reasons, including the plethora of abuses which follow: land confiscation by the armed groups (often for the extraction of natural resources), predatory taxation and forced labour. Due to the sheer magnitude and severity of these abuses, it is often argued that they constitute crimes against humanity.

Yet the government seems to be moving in the right direction. In his enthusiastically received address to the Parliament on 1 March 2012, President Thein Sein expressed his commitment to ending ethnic conflict, emphasising that he is determined to “end the misunderstanding and mistrust between ethnic groups and the government”. To this effect, he set out a three-step process, which aims to deliver sustainable peace and an opportunity for recovery. The first step would be signing ceasefires in all war-torn areas, followed by negotiations between local authorities and the national government, dealing with cultural, political and socio-economic issues. Finally, changes would be made to the Burmese constitution, to ensure equal rights and respect for all ethnic groups.
Thein Sein’s address, delivered using progressive language and touching upon burning issues which have long been ignored by the government, has raised many hopes. However, we should be cautious not to applaud the government too early: the three-step plan could potentially make the solution of ethnic conflicts easier, but peace is still nowhere to be seen for the Internally Displaced Persons. The ceasefires may be the necessary place to start, but, especially in the light of the Burmese government’s long and shameful tradition of violating truces with ethnic groups, they can only result in sustainable solutions if they involve genuine and inclusive political dialogue. Such talks have been initiated in Karen state, where Thein Sein has met with the leader of the currently banned Karen National Union party – an unprecedented and symbolically very important event, but whose real impact is yet to be seen. Despite the ceasefires and apparent move towards sustainable peaceful solutions, the situation in many states, including Karen and Kachin state, has been highly unstable, as they have been under attack by the Burmese army, regardless of Thein Sein’s declarations and orders.

Without tangible political change, the forced relocation will continue, depriving thousands of Burmese citizens of their basic rights. The ceasefires and peace talks in some of the regions may be a sign of the government’s willingness to end the ethnic conflict. While this should be recognised, the international community needs to put pressure on the Burmese authorities to ensure that Thein Sein’s declarations become reality. With hundreds of thousands of people still living in forced relocation camps, the international enthusiasm for the reforms in Burma appears to be premature. The country might be on the right track to a real change, but it still has a long way to go.

The Oxford Burma Alliance has launched a Displaced But Not Forgotten 365 campaign to raise awareness about the issue. Click here for more information about the campaign and how to get involved.
<![CDATA[Long road ahead for Burma?]]>Sun, 29 Apr 2012 19:19:50 GMThttp://www.oxfordburmaalliance.org/blog/long-road-ahead-for-burmaBy Janeen Sawatzky, OBA Member
Worcester College, Oxford
Originally published 27 April 2012 by The Oxford Student (reprinted with permission)

It is easy to believe that Burma’s battle for democracy may soon be over. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s historic trip in late 2011 and David Cameron’s call for the suspension of economic sanctions this week while visiting Burma are clear indications that the international community is taking notice of the incredible progress unfolding in the Southeast Asian nation.

That this once pariah state, condemned for its egregious human rights abuses and violent suppression of pro-democracy activists, may finally see over 50 years of western isolation come to an end is nothing short of astonishing. What is more astonishing, however, is the rapid pace at which the nominally civilian government is enacting political reforms.

Ruled by a brutal and repressive military regime for over 40 years, the opening of political space in Burma was unthinkable only a few short years ago. Inklings of change began in 2010 when the first elections in 20 years were held, ushering in a new era of civilian government. Although widely condemned by the international community as fraudulent, the newly ‘elected’ government soon began sweeping reforms.

Most encouraging was the release of Aung San Suu Kyi – the country’s most revered and respected pro-democracy leader – from house arrest shortly after the election. Suu Kyi, commonly known as The Lady, had spent the majority of the previous 20 years under detention following the refusal of the military government to cede power after her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won a landslide victory in the 1990 elections. Further signs of change, like the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the release of hundreds of political prisoners, soon followed Suu Kyi’s 2010 release. However, it should be noted that the NHRC is composed of people who have made a career out of defending the regime’s human rights record, which might make the commission lack credibility. Furthermore, according to some sources up to 1,000 political prisoners are still behind bars.

Another important test for the government’s commitment to reforms occurred early this April. Suu Kyi and the previously outlawed NLD were permitted to run in parliamentary by-elections, capturing 43 out of the 45 contested seats, about 6.4% of Parliament. For the first time Burmese officials allowed international observers to monitor voting in certain areas, and despite reported electoral irregularities, the election was deemed relatively free and fair. It should be noted, however, that the military-backed government was well aware that Suu Kyi’s election was a crucial step towards getting sanctions lifted.

Yet despite the unprecedented political developments, there is much speculation regarding the government’s motives. Undoubtedly, much of the power still resides with the notoriously secretive military, which, by right of the constitution, retains 25% of the seats in Parliament. Furthermore, most civilian members of parliament are ex-military officers. Therefore, some argue that Suu Kyi’s electoral victory is cosmetic, a small but necessary concession to allow members of the former regime to stay in power.

There are still major roadblocks ahead for Burma. It is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, with two-thirds of the population living in poverty. The government bureaucracy is rife with corruption, and human rights abuses still occur on a tragic scale. Notably, while enacting political and economic reform, the government has done little to ease the suffering of the ethnic minorities situated in Burma’s border regions. The Burmese military has been engaged in violent conflict with the numerous groups in the highlands for over 50 years, earning the conflict the title of world’s longest ongoing civil war. President Thein Sein’s recent order to stop the fighting in Kachin State has not been adhered to by the army, leaving the question of whether he really is in charge.

While the progress in Burma has been encouraging, there is still a long way to go. Optimism with a healthy dose of caution is the most prudent approach.