Archive for 'International'

Aung San Suu Kyi Misses an Opportunity on Rohingyas

Posted on September 29, 2012, by Hanna Ingber, under Burma, International, Politics.

This piece ran in GlobalPost.

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.

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Interview with Pangea on GlobalPost’s New Twitter Series

Posted on August 29, 2012, by Hanna Ingber, under International, Media.

PANGEA, an online show that explores global issues and social media, interviewed me about GlobalPost’s new Twitter series, “A Friday In.”

In the interview, Hanna, who spent two years reporting from India before landing at GlobalPost, takes us behind the website’s social media curtain. Topics discussed include:  how @Sweden inspired GlobalPost’s approach, what it means to cover global breaking news, the importance of having a conversational tone on Twitter (even for a brand!), and more.

Here’s the interview (ignore the squealing kittens).

And here is more on the series. This week, we’ll be doing “A Friday On a Safari in Namibia” with Erin Conway-Smith.

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Give Oprah a Break on India

Posted on July 30, 2012, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International, Media.

Oprah Winfrey has been trashed for her recent television special on India, based on a trip she made to the country in January. She’s been accused of reinforcing stereotypes and oversimplifying a complex country.

Yes, maybe the two episodes, part of her primetime series “Oprah’s Next Chapter,” were cheesy. “There is nothing like this country,” she said in the preview. “I am forever changed by the experience.”

But it’s Oprah. Of course she’s cheesy.

Yes, maybe the show provided a slightly simplistic, superficial view of India. She visits the Taj Mahal and meets with Bollywood stars.

But it’s American TV for a mass audience. Of course it’s simplistic and superficial.

Furthermore, much of what Oprah presents is exactly what newcomers notice when they come to India. It would be a little strange for an American to visit Mumbai or Delhi and not notice the cows wandering the streets and hanging out at train stations. Sure, maybe mentioning the cows is a cliché and not the most creative storytelling. But does that make it rude and offensive? Hardly.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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Live Blog: Making Sense of the Damascus Bombing

Posted on July 18, 2012, by Hanna Ingber, under International.

An unprecedented bombing in Damascus targeting the core of the Syrian regime has killed the country’s defense minister, the president’s brother-in-law, and other elite officials. What will happen next? Here’s GlobalPost’s coverage from Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and elsewhere.

Read the Live Blog here.

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Reporting in Myanmar, a Test of New Limits

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.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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Myanmar’s Women Desperate for Health Care After Decades of Neglect

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.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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Myanmar Army Accused of Widespread Rape in Kachin State

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.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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I got the visa!

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.

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Journey Through Nepal

Posted on January 10, 2012, by Hanna Ingber, under Health, International, women.

I used Storify to put together my tweets, blog posts, photographs and articles from my trip to Nepal last August. Check it out and let me know what you think.

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India’s Bias for Boys

Posted on September 15, 2011, by Hanna Ingber, under Health, India, International, women.

Listen to my radio story, India’s Bias for Boys, on PRI’s The World. Click on the mp3 below or on the “play” button here.

090820118.mp3

Read the accompanying text on PRI’s The World site.

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