Sunday, December 13, 2009

Authentic Reconciliation Demanded Before 2010 Burma Polls

On International Human Rights Day this week, a number of civil society and advocacy groups from Burma and other parts of the world came together with consensus in demanding a genuine political reconciliation before the proposed general election the Southeast Asian country and to release all political prisoners including the pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
In a combined statement, over one hundred organizations based in different parts of the globe urged an inclusive dialogue with key pro-democracy stakeholders, ethnic nationalities and also a comprehensive review of the 2008 Constitution designed by the military rulers of Burma.
It also asked for immediate cessation of systematic human rights abuses and criminal hostilities against ethnic groups, political activists, journalists and civil society workers in the country. "We reaffirm the necessity for genuine political reconciliation before the 2010 elections and call on the international community to take immediate action to ensure viable democratic change occurs in Burma. The people of Burma are entitled to have a genuine choice and the international community has an obligation to ensure that the people get this choice," said the statement endorsed by influential organizations like Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma), Burma Partnership, Burma Campaign UK, Burma Centre Delhi, Burma Lawyers Council, Burmese American Democratic Alliance, Ethnic Nationalities Council, Shwe Gas Movement, Women League of Chin-land etc.
Even though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 21) said that the 'will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government', the military regime named State Peace Development Council continues to use coercive measures to hold onto power. "Activists, community leaders, journalists, and monks continue to be arrested and harassed for voicing independent thought.
Villages continue to be subjected to crimes against humanity under the regime's brutal policy of controlling ethnic communities. The regime continues to manipulate the political sphere in order to secure their victory in the 2010 elections - based on the 2008 Constitution that was crafted by the military regime in order to perpetuate impunity and prolong their hold on power," the statement added.
The groups were in apprehension that 'if the election is allowed to go ahead without these changes, it would only serve to institutionalize one-party rule, with military still holding the strings of power'. Even in the unlikely event that the elections are free and fair, they will not bring any real change to Burma because the fundamentally flawed Constitution that allocates vast powers to military, lacks any checks and balances, allows for the ongoing discrimination and persecution of ethnic nationalities, gender discrimination, and lacks protection of human rights, the statement asserted.
The statement, which was also supported by Actions Birmanie - Brussels, All Burma Democratic Lusei Women Organization, Arakan League for Democracy (Exile - India), Arakan Liberation Party, ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, Asian Center for the Progress of Peoples, Austrian Burma Center, Burma Aktion Germany, Burma Campaign Australia, Burmese Women's Union, Chin Students and Youth Federation, Chin Women Organization, Danish Burma Committee, Dictator Watch, All Burma Federation of Student Unions, Foundation for Media Alternatives (Philippines), International Federation for Human Rights, Karen Women's Organization, Kuki Women Human Rights Organization, Naga National League for Democracy, People's Forum on Burma (Japan), Student Federation of Thailand etc concluded urging 'the international community to be united in their support for the will of the people of Burma, and act with firm resolve not to allow this sham election to proceed until national reconciliation is realized'.
Meanwhile on the same day, ignoring the warning from the military junta, the National League for Democracy organized a meeting at their main Rangoon office to celebrate the International Human Rights Day on December 10, stated in a release from the office of Burma Partnership Secretariat. Similarly, in Rangoon, the All Burma Monks' Alliance, 88 Generation Students, and All Burma Federation of Student Union released a statement urging the international community not to recognize the 2010 elections unless there has been sustainable political dialogue with democratic opposition and ethnic nationalities, and national reconciliation beforehand.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rats cause hunger in Myanmar

Myanmar (MNN/GFA) ― A booming bamboo crop is causing dire problems for people in an area of Myanmar. 50 families in a village in Myanmar's Chin state are facing a severe famine due to the rats eating their food. They are also being afflicted with unknown illnesses, and their children have been unable to attend school.

GFA12-11-09.jpgIn Myanmar's Chin state as well as some surrounding areas, a heavy infiltration of rats is devastating crops. This man is trying to protect his field by beating the rats with a stick.
Myanmar (MNN/GFA) ― A booming bamboo crop is causing dire problems for people in an area of Myanmar. 50 families in a village in Myanmar's Chin state are facing a severe famine due to the rats eating their food. They are also being afflicted with unknown illnesses, and their children have been unable to attend school.
Gospel for Asia supported national missionary Zaw Dara is ministering to these families in every way that he can. He is also there to offer comfort, a listening ear and words of hope from the Scriptures to these people who are suffering so much.
The heart-wrenching crisis the people of this village and many others throughout Chin state are going through today has a name -- mautam. "Mau" is the Burmese word for bamboo and "tam" means famine. The rat infiltration was triggered by the blooming of a certain species of bamboo plant -- a phenomenon that takes place just once about every 50 years. The most recent blooming began in 2006.
Rats are drawn to the nutritious fruit created by the blooms, which increases their fertility and greatly multiplies their birthrate. They strip the bamboo plants of their fruit and seeds and plow their way through other crops as well, devouring grain, corn and rice. They even dig up and eat the seeds farmers planted in the ground.
The plague of rats has ravaged Myanmar's already impoverished Chin state for two years now, wiping out 75 to 80 percent of its crops, according to some estimates. Families are being forced to scavenge for food such as edible leaves, shoots, roots and tree bark, as their rice harvest and other staples are being devoured by rats.
According to a report published by the Chin Human Rights Organization, more than 54 people have reportedly died from health problems related to the food crisis.
"I have never seen such a huge number of rats," a Burmese farmer told Asia Times Online. "I had thought we could easily drive out the rats and protect our crops. But just before the rice was ready to be harvested, the rats came and ate all the rice in the fields in just one night. We lost all our rice."
Making matters worse, Myanmar's repressive military junta is denying access to international aid organizations who may want to bring in assistance, even in the face of such widespread suffering. But GFA supported national missionaries, who were already in the country before the rat plague hit, are committed to reaching out in whatever ways they can, offering hope and comfort to these people who are hurting so much.
GFA leaders request prayer for the Lord's intervention and protection upon the people in Chin, Myanmar, and that many will find lasting hope in the midst of their suffering.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Close the gap for Burmese refugees

 Full_Report (pdf* format - 112.7 Kbytes)

Like Burma's other neighbors, India hosts a large and growing refugee population, the majority of whom are Chin ethnic minorities. India generally tolerates the presence of Burmese refugees, but does not afford them any legal protection, leaving them vulnerable to harassment, discrimination, and deportation. While India's lack of a legal regime for refugees is a major impediment to addressing the needs of Burmese refugees, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and international donors need to explore creative ways to work within the existing framework to provide assistance and increase protection for this population.
Policy Recommendations
The US government and other international leaders should support the Government of India's efforts to develop and approve domestic refugee law to confer legal status and protection to Burmese refugees, among others. The Government of India should also allow UNHCR to access Burmese refugee populations throughout the country.
UNHCR should work to refine its assistance programs in India with the active cooperation of Chin community-based organizations. International donors including the U.S., UK, EU, and Australia should provide additional assistance to UNHCR for these programs.
International donors should explore providing resources to Chin community-based organizations and Indian civil society groups to increase assistance to refugees in Delhi and the Northeast. This funding should include resources to support capacity building for Chin community based organizations.

 Full_Report (pdf* format - 112.7 Kbytes)

Chin: New Evidence of Humanitarian Crisis

Active ImageFresh evidence of the need for humanitarian assistance and international action was presented during a recent fact-finding visit by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) to Chin and Kachin states in Burma.
Below is an article published by Inspire Magazine:

In some areas international funds for emergency food relief channelled through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are allegedly being provided as loans, instead of aid, to malnourished villagers, repayable at 200% interest.

Over the past two years Chin State has been devastated by a chronic food shortage caused by the flowering of bamboo, a natural phenomenon which occurs every 50 years. The bamboo flowering attracts plagues of rats, which then destroy rice fields, rice supplies and almost all means of survival for the local population. The Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO) estimates that at least 100,000 people in over 200 villages are severely affected.

The delegation led by Baroness Cox, Chief Executive of HART was told by representatives of the Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee that in at least 17 villages in Paletwa Township, the worst affected part of Chin State, the local UNDP have distributed international funds in the form of loans, instead of providing food aid. Villagers claim they have been told they must repay twice the amount they are given, either in cash or in rice bags. CSW and HART have written to UNDP to request an urgent investigation.

The delegation, which also met with Kachin refugees, received evidence from Kachin and Chin states of religious persecution, forced labour and attempted ‘cultural genocide’

Benedict Rogers, CSW’s East Asia Team Leader, said: “The plight of the Chin people of Burma is desperate. They are facing severe poverty, drastically compounded by a chronic food shortage and lack of health care, as well as cultural genocide, religious persecution, rape and forced labour. It is time for the international community, including India, to act decisively to provide political and humanitarian support to the people of Burma, including the Chin.

“India, the world’s largest democracy, must stop siding with one of the world’s most oppressive regimes. The international community must intensify efforts to secure a transition to genuine federal democracy, in which equal rights for Burma’s ethnic nationalities are fully guaranteed.

“We renew our call for a universal arms embargo, a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity, and international humanitarian assistance to the ethnic nationalities who so desperately and urgently need aid to prevent further loss of life and suffering.”

Baroness Cox said: “Burma’s military regime must be called to account for gross human rights violations, and required to immediately release democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all 2,000-plus political prisoners. The junta’s crimes include a campaign of cultural genocide against the Chin people. As part of that campaign, the junta is deliberately denying access to health care and education in many parts of Chin State.

“The humanitarian crisis facing the Chin people is dire and requires urgent action. Furthermore, it is vital that India be persuaded to stop uncritically supporting the regime in Burma and instead provide support to the people of Burma.”

Alcohol consumption drops in Thantlang Township

9 December 2009: In an interesting phenomenon consumption of alcohol in Thantlang Township, Chin state western Burma has come down making parents of youths happy.
It is learnt that  the main reason could be because the license for making local wine is being handled by a Christian church group.

“The church group had purchased the license for making local wine for Kyat 26 lakh for 2009. Although there are some local wine makers in the townships, it is not able to increase wine production and induce drinkers. This has brought peace of mind for parents, especially at night. They can go to church and attend other festivals at night without being afraid of drunks,” said a church leader in Thantlang town.
The church group purchased the license two years  ago and it was backed by the chairman of the Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) and a local youth group.

“We are religiously supporting this mission to eradicate social evils and drinkers who flout the law. The church group had purchased the license for Kyat 41 lakhs last year. The move was supported by both chairmen of town and block level peace and development councils. Our youth group instituted checks at entry gate in some areas,” said a leader of a youth group in Thantlang town.

Alcohol sellers bring the items from Hakha to Thantlang town. They pay Kyat 2000 for a bottle of RUM, Kyat 1000 for a bottle of OB and then they sell it for Kyat 6000 for RUM, Kyat 5000 for OB in Thantlang township. – Khonumthung News.

Teenager helps Burmese refugees find their way

Howard Community College student spoke at FIRN event

By Janene Holzberg

(Enlarge) Sui Ngun Hei, an 18-year-old freshman at Howard Community College, was recently recognized by FIRN for her efforts to assist fellow Burmese refugees. Here, Hei works with Bollman Bridge Elementary kindergartners, from left, Fili Na, Zing Hlei and Mercy Famduring a Dec. 1 session of Club Leap, an after-school tutoring program for non-native English speakers. (Staff photo by Nicole Martyn)
Nearly 400 Burmese refugees are carving out an existence in southern Howard County, thanks in part to an unlikely hero.

Though many of these immigrants arrived in Savage from their war-torn homeland in southeast Asia several years ago, the non-English speaking people among them still rely on quiet teenager Sui Ngun Hei.

Ngun Hei, who fled Burma in 2003, has taken it upon herself to act as a community liaison to those refugees who only speak the Chin dialect. She has accompanied them to doctor appointments, classes, trips to social services agencies and the like since she moved with her family to Savage two years ago.

“Sui is an incredible young person who is very humble about her role in these people’s lives,” said Catherine Hester of FIRN, a Columbia-based nonprofit organization that provides resources for the foreign born. 

Hester invited the 18-year-old to speak about the Chin community at FIRN’s International Gala last month because of the teen’s unselfish commitment to assisting them.

“Many of these refugees are still in survival mode, struggling to make ends meet,” Hester said, adding they have an ongoing need for such basic items as clothing and furniture.

Since 2006, 225 Burmese refugees have resettled in Howard County, according to data from the International Rescue Committee’s Baltimore office. During the current fiscal year, which will end Sept. 30, 2010, the U.S. government proposes to resettle 80,000 refugees from all nations in states across the country, according to IRC statistics.

Having taught herself to speak English, Ngun Hei said she chose to take on the jobs of interpreter, translator and navigator simply because she is “happy to help.”

“Sui has really blossomed in her role as a community liaison and she is so self-motivated,” said Hester, who became a naturalized American citizen after her parents emigrated from Taiwan.

Not only does the teen assist the older generation, she works with 33 Chin children who belong to a FIRN reading group at Bollman Bridge Elementary School, in Jessup, called Club Leap. The club, which is run by Hester, works with 105 kids in 10 county schools.

Ngun Hei knows firsthand about the conditions in Burma, which is called Myanmar by the government and has been ruled by a military junta for many decades. She described how her father, a farmer, was taken to a non-government-run refugee camp in Malaysia in 1998 when she was only 7. Her mother was left to take care of their six children.

“Later, (the government) confiscated our land and we had no food for a year,” she recalled.

Fleeing a military coup in Burma, her family was reunited in Malaysia in 2003 and lived in the refugee camp for two years, sleeping in beds that often were wet as a result of leaks in their tiny apartment’s roof.

When they first arrived in America in 2005, Ngun Hei and her family lived in Baltimore County for two years. They then moved to Savage to join the other refugees already resettled there and to enroll in the county’s top-rated school system, she said.

“When we lived in the refugee camp, my five brothers and I had no formal schooling,” she lamented. But that, as it turned out, wasn’t an obstacle to her success.

Though she had only completed fifth grade in Burma, she was placed in ninth-grade classes in Baltimore County and excelled. After her family’s move to Howard County, Ngun Hei graduated with honors from Hammond High School in May and is currently a pre-med student at Howard Community College, in Columbia. She also works 20 hours a week at her two jobs.

“Sui is a model citizen, not just a model immigrant,” Hester said. “She has become a natural spokesperson and a strong leader.”

Thursday, December 3, 2009

11,000 Myanmars In Malaysia Given Refugee Status By UNHCR

BANGKOK, Dec 3 (Bernama) -- About 11,000 Myanmar refugees in Malaysia were recognised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2009, making them eligible for resettlement in third countries, according to The Irrawaddy online portal.

Of the total, the Chin ethnic group numbered about 5,000 people, Mon 1,800, followed by Kachin and Shan at about 1,000, and other ethnic groups, while the Arakan were not recognised this year.

Irrawaddy said it was the first time that the UNHCR had recognised such a large number of Myanmar refugees who had experienced difficulties earlier this year when Thailand launched a crackdown on illegal migrants from the country attempting to enter from the Malaysia-Thailand border.

Quoting the Alliance of Chin Refugees (ACR), it said there were about 50,000 Chin currently living in Malaysia, and an estimated 20,000 had been granted UNHCR refugee status in Malaysia since 2001.

Nai Roi Mon, an official with the Mon Refugee Office (MRO) in Malaysia, told The Irrawaddy that it processed about 3,000 Mon for UNHCR refugee status.

According to the MRO, no Mon was granted refugee status in 2007, and only 500 were recognised in 2008. It estimated that there are 20,000 Mon living in Malaysia, many illegally.

"They have given favourable recognition to children under age 18, especially from families with many children but no husband. They also favour older men, over 50, as well.

"If you have a UNHCR card, if you are arrested, the UNHCR can help you during detention. This is an advantage for people who work here," Nai Roi Mon said.

Refugees from Myanmar recognised by the UNHCR may wait up to one year or longer for resettlement to third countries.

The Kuala Lumpur-based Burma Workers' Rights Protection Committee told The Irrawaddy that there were about 500,000 Myanmar migrants working in Malaysia, legally and illegally.

The portal said that at the end of October 2009, about 67,800 refugees and asylum seekers were registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia, of whom 62,000 were Myanmars.

"Many pay 18,000 Thai baht (US$500) or more to enter the country (Malaysia) illegally," it said.