Monday, June 19, 2006

Happy Birthday, Aung San Suu Kyi!!!

Today is the 61st birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's most prominent and outspoken democracy activist. Myanmar, the forgotten and 0ft-overlooked dictatorial regime, is still keeping Suu Kyi under house arrest, which has now stretched on for more than 3 years. Myanman, once known as Burma, has been under the thumb of military rule since 1988. More recently, a pro-democracy party, the National League for Democracy headed by Suu Kyi, won a national election in 1990, only to have the military junta refuse to step down.

Unfortunately, Myanmar has long enjoyed the support of Russia and China in the UN, who will reliably veto any international pressure being placed on the regime by the Security Council. The regime is among the worst human rights violators in the world, and is currently embarked on a ethnic cleansing campaign against the Karen ethnic minority. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 10,000 Karen have been chased out of their homes since November 2005, homes have been burned, and Karens forcibly conscripted or killed. All in all, more than 650,000 people have been displaced. According to Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch Asia director:

sources inside and outside of Burma continue to provide extensive reports of government-organized forced labor. These are primarily portering for military operations, construction of military bases, income generation projects for the military, infrastructure projects, and forced conscription into the military. There appears to be a direct correlation between forced labor and military activities in ethnic areas.

There are political prisoners all over the country. Freedom of expression ends the moment someone speaks critically of the government. In addition to individuals arrested for political reasons, the government continues to arbitrarily arrest and detain people for crimes such as failure to pay army taxes or to sell the required crop quota.

The SPDC does not allow domestic human rights organizations to function independently and is hostile to outside scrutiny. It refuses requests from UN Special Envoy Razali Ismail and UN Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro to visit. In short, the better question would be to ask the SPDC: What human rights do you respect?

Things are certainly not improving. They aren't slaughtering students in the streets now, but that is only because students are too scared to risk that kind of public opposition. Civil and political rights are at a low ebb starting from a very low, almost nonexistent, base. Mismanagement and corruption keep the economy in a constant state of crisis and the number of extremely poor people high. A couple of years ago, enthusiasts for the regime said things were improving. It's hard to find people saying that now.
So happy birthday, Aung San Suu Kyi. Keep up the good fight, and let's hope that the international community, which saw fit to award you a Nobel Peace Prize, has the guts to aid you in your struggle to free your country.

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