By 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.

_By Hkanhpa Sadan
Joint General Secretary of the Kachin National Organisation (KNO) & friend of the OBA
Originally published 26 April 2012 by The Oxford Student (reprinted with permission)

On Friday 13th April, David Cameron became the first British Prime Minister to visit Burma since independence in 1948.  He said the UK would argue in favour of suspending – not lifting – all EU sanctions on Burma, except the arms embargo. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also backed this position. Since the UK has been the only EU member arguing to keep sanctions in place, sanctions are likely to be suspended, probably after the meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council on 23rd April 2012.

The day before the PM prepared for his historic visit to Burma, he praised President Thein Sein for his “courage” in introducing political reforms.  He stated: “If Burma moves towards democracy then we should respond in kind, and we should not be slow in doing that. But, first I want to go and see for myself on the ground how things are going.” I am sure that David Cameron saw signs of progress, especially “on the ground” in Yangon and central Burma, which is the main majority Burman populated area of the country. I am from Kachin State, in the north of the country, but for me, my relatives and my friends, change “on the ground” has not yet come. In fact, in recent months the situation has deteriorated dramatically.

_By Josh Powell
Queen's College, Oxford
December 2011

Ethnic minorities make up roughly 40% of the Burmese population, yet many of these minorities have been sorely oppressed for decades. Despite ‘full autonomy in internal administration for the frontier areas’ promised in the Panglong Agreement of 1947, this has never materialised, and many groups, among them the Karen, Shan and Kachin, have been attacked ruthlessly as part of the government policy of ‘Burmisation’: an attempt to maintain the geographical and cultural integrity of Burma, preventing minorities from establishing autonomy; a policy which has also led to widespread religious persecution such as that of the Muslim Rohingya people. Burma’s ethnic national tribal groups have suffered countless human rights abuses: millions have been displaced, both internally and into neighbouring countries; many, including children have been enslaved as forced labourers or soldiers; rape has been consistently used as weapon of war; civilians have been deliberately targeted by the army; and many villages have simply ceased to exist.


Oxford Burma Alliance