Archive for 'Burma'
Posted on September 29, 2012, by Hanna Ingber, under Burma, International, Politics.
One by one, the members of a large group of students approached a microphone to tell Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi that she had been an inspiration to them. “I’m very proud to say you have been our hope,” said a Pakistani student. “It is a great honor for me to hear my personal hero speak,” said another.
The forum at Harvard’s Kennedy School Thursday evening was little shy of a lovefest for the elegant and charismatic opposition leader from Myanmar (also known as Burma) who has charmed her way across the United States during a 17-day tour. Until someone mentioned the “R” word.
Thanking Suu Kyi for “being our inspiration,” a student from Thailand said: “You have been quite reluctant to speak up against the human rights violations in Rakhine State against the Rohingya … Can you explain why you have been so reluctant?”
The mood in the room suddenly shifted. Suu Kyi’s tone and expression changed. With an edge in her voice, she answered: “You must not forget that there have been human rights violations on both sides of the communal divide. It’s not a matter of condemning one community or the other. I condemn all human rights violations.”
The Rohingya are a group of about 800,000 Muslim ethnic Bengalis who live in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State, which borders Bangladesh. The government has denied them the most basic rights, including citizenship, for decades. They need permission to marry, travel and work. Last June, violence in Rakhine State left hundreds of Rohingyas dead, thousands of properties destroyed and about 100,000 people displaced, according to activists.
The United Nations calls the Rohingya one of the world’s most persecuted groups.
Given Suu Kyi’s reputation as an international symbol of courage, determination and respect for human rights, one would be forgiven for assuming that she would leap at the chance to defend a group of people so badly persecuted in her own homeland. But she didn’t.
Her stance on the Rohingyas oscillates between silence and a cautious, neutral statement that “both sides,” meaning both Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine, have faced persecution.
The plight of the Rohingyas has been so bad for so long that most political analysts and longtime Myanmar watchers assume that Suu Kyi, the champion of human rights, recognizes their struggle and just can’t be vocal about it. Now she’s a politician, the thinking goes, her hands are tied.
Myanmar will hold general elections in 2015, and Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party hope to win enough seats in parliament to amend the country’s constitution. The NLD will need the support of the Myanmar people, who largely hold great antipathy toward the dark-skinned, poor Rohingyas they often call terrorists and infiltrators.
“Politically Aung San Suu Kyi has absolutely nothing to gain from opening her mouth on [the Rohingyas],” Burmese commentator Maung Zarni told Daily Beast columnist Peter Popham. “She is no longer a political dissident. She’s a politician, and her eyes are fixed on the prize, which is the 2015 majority Buddhist vote.”
The executive director of Amnesty International USA, which has documented abuses against the Rohingya and also hosted Suu Kyi during her US visit, said there is an “expectation of leadership” from Suu Kyi on the issue but gave a slightly more forgiving response to the Nobel laureate’s current stance.
“I don’t know that she has landed on a fully considered, long-term approach to the issue,” Suzanne Nossel said in an interview. “I think her comments reflect a measure of tentativeness. A sense that she is analyzing and trying to be very careful.”
“Clearly the issue is hotly politicized in Burma, and she is newly launched on the political scene and is trying to navigate carefully,” Nossel said.
Becoming a larger voice in Myanmar’s parliament is a laudable goal, and changing the constitution, which was passed during the junta-era by a sham vote, is crucial if the country wants true, lasting reform.
But Suu Kyi’s stance on the Rohingyas raises many questions.
Is her reluctance — or perhaps more accurately, refusal — to come out in support of the ethnic group worth the goal of taking a majority in Parliament?
Or is her sacrifice of principles a slap in the face to those who worked for her release from house arrest and election?
Can Suu Kyi continue to stand as a symbol of courage and humanity’s highest ideals, on par with Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, if she remains silent on such an important issue?
And finally, what is the point of Suu Kyi being released from house arrest, elected to parliament, adorned with accolades and awards and viewed as a global inspiration, if not to stand up for those who need her most?
Back at the Kennedy School, the student who mentioned the “R” word quickly retreated from the microphone and the Lady moved on to the next question.
But something in the air was lost.
Posted on July 12, 2012, by Hanna Ingber, under Burma, International, Media.
YANGON, Myanmar — We are sitting on the floor, our legs crossed, talking intensely about the young Kachin woman’s work as a human rights activist. Ah Hkawn, 30, has hiked for days into the mountains to talk to villagers who faced physical or sexual abuse by the Myanmar army. She has visited relief camps to bring aid and supplies to those displaced by fighting.
I ask Ah Hkawn if I can take a photo of her to accompany my articles. She looks at me and with an expression of deep reflection says: “I don’t know.” She pauses and asks, “You think it’s OK?”
I traveled to Yangon in May and throughout my trip activists, aid workers and clinicians again and again told me they didn’t know if they could have their names or photographs used because they were no longer sure where the line was.
In the past, when a military dictatorship ran Myanmar (also called Burma) for close to five decades, the rules were clear. If someone said anything critical of the regime or any aspect of the country, he or she could face trouble with the authorities.
“If this was in the past regime,” says a health worker after an interview about the state of Myanmar’s health care system, “oh, my God, I couldn’t say anything!”
But now? Now that Myanmar is suddenly (and finally) in a time of transition and reform, the old rules no longer apply. And the new rules are still unclear.
After numerous interviews on everything from political reform to gender equality to HIV/AIDS treatment, sources paused and had an internal debate about whether they wanted their name and the name of their organization in my articles. When I was interviewing multiple people at once, they would turn towards each other and discuss it. When it was just the two of us, they would ask my opinion. None of us knew the answer.
Posted on June 25, 2012, by Hanna Ingber, under Burma, Health, International, women.
MAE SOT, Thailand — Maw Lwin Khine lives with her husband in a small wooden home with a thatch roof. They don’t have electricity, running water or a phone. The couple sells flowers, earning roughly 2,500 kyats (US$3) a day.
They were managing fine until Maw Lwin Khine, eight months pregnant, went into labor.
Maw Lwin Khine’s aunts packed up food, loaded her into a horse cart and took her to a hospital in eastern Myanmar’s Karen State. Her husband followed on a bicycle. At the hospital, the doctor determined that Maw Lwin Khin, 28, had high blood pressure and needed a Caesarian section. The doctor performed the operation, but the baby had already died.
The difficulties did not end there.
The government-run hospital charged 200,000 kyats for the operation and another 300,000 for medicine and supplies. The couple pulled together their life savings and borrowed the rest – about 455,000 kyats – from friends.
Two weeks later, Maw Lwin Khine became sick again. She had a high fever and her body swelled up. The couple couldn’t afford to return to the hospital. Instead, they decided to visit a clinic in neighboring Thailand that offers free health care and serves Burmese. They borrowed 26,000 kyats and traveled 11 hours to Mae Sot, a border town in Thailand.
Recent news coverage of Myanmar has focused on promising developments in this long-suffering nation: the nascent political reforms, the election of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament, and the West’s suspension of sanctions.
However, little attention has been paid to a more immediate need: affordable, decent health care.
Thanks to restrictive policies and a lack of investment, Myanmar’s current health care system is a disaster. Patients like Maw Lwin Khine are so desperate for affordable, quality medical attention that they travel long distances to cross an international border to get it.
Posted on June 22, 2012, by Hanna Ingber, under Burma, International, Politics.
YANGON, Myanmar — Last month, Myanmar soldiers entered a village in war-torn Kachin State and found a 48-year-old grandmother taking shelter in a church. Ten troops allegedly beat the woman with rifle butts. They stabbed her, stripped her naked and gang-raped her over three days, according to the rights group Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT).
In October, KWAT reported the kidnapping and subsequent sexual abuse of a 28-year-old Kachin woman named Sumlut Roi Ja in a nearby township. That same month, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), soldiers detained 20 Kachin civilians including two women in the state capital Myitkyina.
The captives were taken to a mountaintop where soldiers forced the women to go from tent to tent, sleeping with each officer. The soldiers said things like, “You Kachin women like Burman penises very much, don’t you. All the Kachin women like our penises.”
Rape and sexual abuse among Myanmar’s ethnic women is nothing new. Rights groups say it’s been going on for decades – the terrible tactic of a rogue regime.
But now that Myanmar has emerged from decades of diplomatic isolation, Western sanctions have been lifted and the country stands ready to host an ASEAN conference in 2014, the alleged abuse stands to undermine the country’s progress. In many ways, these ongoing rights violations can be seen as a test for Myanmar’s nascent reforms.
Posted on April 13, 2012, by Hanna Ingber, under Burma, International.
I got the visa! I am going back to Bur — I mean Myanmar — in May.
I lived in Yangon for a year in 2003-2004 and haven’t been back since. The last time I was there Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest. We couldn’t write, talk or think about her. Instead, we spoke…quietly… about The Lady. I remember going to a birthday party of a little girl and seeing a framed photo of The Lady on the wall. The presence of the photo impressed me, but it also made me nervous. A couple years later, the authorities arrested that little girl’s father and sent him to prison.
Two weeks ago, The Lady won a seat in parliament. Talking about her is no longer brave; it’s the norm.
But it’s not just Burma that has changed. I have too. In the eight years since I lived in Yangon, I have married, separated, divorced and gotten engaged again. I have gone to grad school. I have lived in Thailand, South Africa and India. I have become an aunt. I have joined Facebook and Twitter and (don’t judge) Pinterest. I have gone from being an aspiring writer with big ideas who hated being edited to being a professional journalist who knows she has much to learn. In many ways, I left Burma a kid and am returning an adult.
But at the heart of it, I’m still me and Burma is still Myanmar, and I can’t wait to go back. I’m excited to see old friends and meet their new babies and eat tealeaf salad and speak broken Burmese.
It will be hard to go back without my ex-husband, for whom Yangon is his home and yet hasn’t been able to return. Everything will remind me of him. Drinking beer at ABC Country Pub and listening to a live band sing Burmese lyrics to Eye of the Tiger. Riding in rundown old taxis that have broken windows and dirty seats. Hanging out with friends who were his friends first.
But that too is a big reason I must return. When we divorced, I felt I lost not just a husband and dear friend, but a country and culture I felt passionately about. In May, when I arrive in this land that is no longer “forgotten,” I will create new memories there. I will reclaim Bur — I mean Myanmar — as my own.
Posted on February 17, 2011, by Hanna Ingber, under Burma, International, Media.
MUMBAI, India — There was a time when Ross Dunkley, my former boss at the Myanmar Times, was a powerful man. Today, he sits in a prison cell.
I remember Ross storming into the newsroom in Rangoon after having stayed up all night drinking. Ross, a tall Australian with broad shoulders, wore a power suit. His head was bald and shiny.
“Come on, Hanna,” he commanded, waving his arm in the air. “We’re going to lunch.”
We arrived at Trader’s Hotel. “Sake, sake!” Ross shouted at a young Burmese woman standing near the entrance. She looked confused and walked off.
“Sake, sake!” Ross yelled. Another woman brought over a kettle, which Ross took out of her hands. He poured me a cup.
“No, thanks,” I said. “I have articles left to edit.”
Ross pushed the cup closer to my face. “When your boss tells you to drink, you drink!”
The Burmese junta detained Ross, the publisher and co-founder of the Myanmar Times, on Feb. 10, and today he is being held at the infamous Insein prison in Rangoon. Officially he’s been arrested for immigration violations, but there is speculation he will also be charged with possession of drugs and prostitution.
Ross, who founded the paper in 2000 with a once-powerful Burmese businessman, has a controversial reputation. But most Burma watchers assume his arrest has nothing to do with sudden allegations of age-old behavior.
Instead, it’s being seen as evidence of a government doing everything it can to cling to power. Ross’ arrest comes during a time of transition in Burma, and the government has responded to this period of possible instability by tightening control, said Toe Zaw Latt, the Thailand bureau chief of Democratic Voice of Burma, a leading news outlet on Burma run by exiles.
Continue reading at GlobalPost.
Posted on November 16, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Burma, International, Politics.
MUMBAI, India — I moved to Burma to work at the Myanmar Times newspaper for a year in 2003. I was 22 and new to Asia, let alone a military dictatorship. At that time, Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest, and I quickly learned to not mention her name in public. She was simply, “The Lady.”
I worked at a major newspaper in Burma, and yet we had to act like The Lady did not exist. (A friend still working there says the Myanmar Times covered Suu Kyi’s recent release, a major feat. Though it ran on page three.)
We sent every story we wrote to the military junta’s censors to be approved. The censors did not just block stories on the detained democracy leader — a subject they deemed too “sensitive.” They rejected anything that might make Burma look bad. They cut out the word “dirt” before “dirt road,” lest we imply that the nation was too poor to have paved roads.
I remember being furious with the censors after they rejected another one of my columns. I stormed into the office bathroom in rage. As I stood in front of the sink, cursing the regime and vowing to never write for the paper again, a young Burmese reporter wearing a graceful longyi and the traditional thanaka painted on her cheeks walked in.
The reporter, Wai Phyo Myint, told me the censors reject one story of hers a week. And yet, she keeps writing them.
“I don’t choose stories by what is ‘sensitive’ and what is not,” Wai Phyo said. “I write what I think is the story.”
Wai Phyo, now studying abroad, is one person who has worked tirelessly to make her country better despite set back after set back. There are thousands more like her.
Now, after years of struggle and hard work, Wai Phyo and the Burmese like her have a reason to celebrate.
Continue reading at GlobalPost.
Posted on November 5, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Burma, India, International, Politics.
MUMBAI, India — While human rights groups and much of the international community has criticized Burma (renamed Myanmar by its ruling junta) over its upcoming election, its neighbor to the west — the world’s largest democracy — has remained noticeably silent.
India will not comment publicly on what others call a sham election because it is in the process of courting the Burmese junta and trying to lure it away from China’s influence, according to foreign policy specialists. It may privately try to persuade the Burmese government to make political reforms like the release of its national democracy icon, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, from house arrest, but publicly India’s lips are sealed.
“One of the goals of India is to wean Burma away from China. You don’t wean a neighboring country from the influence of a potential enemy by keeping on criticizing the country for this reason or that reason,” said Delhi-based journalist and strategic analyst Rajeev Sharma.
India views China as a regional rival and considers its efforts to build closer ties with India’s neighbors such as Burma and Pakistan a threat to the democracy’s sovereignty and security.
Continue reading at GlobalPost.