Archive for 'Politics'

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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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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GHI’s Missing Piece in Nepal: Abortion

Posted on September 6, 2011, by Hanna Ingber, under Health, International, Politics, women.

LAMAHI, Nepal – United States President Barack Obama set up the Global Health Initiative to take a more comprehensive approach to improving health care in developing nations. In particular, his administration has given great weight to saving the lives of women and to supporting countries’ priorities in health care.

But there’s one exception: abortion.

In Nepal, that exclusion is in plain view, and many say the lack of support disregards evidence that safe abortions can save women’s lives. Nearly all experts here — with the notable exception of those employed by the U.S. government — publicly state that the best way to improve maternal health is by offering a wide range of services that includes more awareness about and access to safe abortion.

In a long-standing U.S. law, stretching back nearly 40 years, Congress has prevented any foreign aid for abortions.

The politics in Washington around the issue of funding abortion have become so heated in recent months that many global health supporters on Capitol Hill won’t even talk about family planning services because so many conservatives falsely equate it with abortion.

Anti-abortion advocates have accused Obama and his administration of using the GHI as part of a larger strategy to link abortion rights to universal access to reproductive health. An article in the New American last year by senior editor William F. Jasper argues that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has used “‘reproductive health’ and other similar code words … in attempts to camouflage policies that promoted abortion.”

Clinton’s State Department has dismissed such claims and stressed that U.S.- funded programs through the GHI are simply trying to offer comprehensive reproductive health within the accepted health practices of the host countries, including saving a woman’s life if she suffered an unsafe abortion and working on family planning issues that adhere to the accepted health practices of the host country.

Some 7,000 miles from Washington and far from the charged debate around international aid and the question of abortion, there is a more pointed question in the villages of Nepal. That is, whether the unyielding U.S. policy against funding abortions is hurting its efforts to improve health care?

Continue reading and see the slideshow at GlobalPost.

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Political Instability Threatens Nepal’s Health Care Program

Posted on August 13, 2011, by Hanna Ingber, under Health, International, Politics.

My blog from GlobalPost’s Global Pulse:

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Healthcare providers, advocates and academics have told me during my travels in Nepal these past two weeks that one of the biggest challenges to improving the country’s healthcare system is the nation’s political instability.

Nepal is in the process of trying to draft a new constitution and create a new government in the aftermath of a 10-year armed conflict that pitted Maoist insurgents against the state. The conflict ended in 2006 when the Maoists agreed to give up their arms. Nepal’s unpopular monarchy was soon thereafter abolished.

It has been five years since the end of the civil war, but the country still has a barely functioning government. A deadline to draft a new constitution has been delayed twice since 2008, and it looks unlikely that the current deadline of August 31 will be met.

Some political analysts fear that if this deadline is again missed, there will be even more instability in the country.

“In a situation like this, people might even be happy if someone takes control, if a sort of benign dictator emerges,” Lokraj Baral, a political science professor who heads the Nepal Center for Contemporary Studies, told AFP.

The constitution is being held up due to a number of issues including a disagreement over the integration of former Maoist combatants into Nepal’s army.

Nepal’s prime minister has threatened to resign by Sunday if there is not more progress made on the peace process. Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal said he will step down if there is not agreement made on the new constitution and the integration of former Maoist combatants.

The political situation affects Nepal’s healthcare system in a number of ways. First, the frequent turn over of ministers creates a situation where little progress can be made because much time is devoted to convincing each new minister of a particular program or approach, Bidhan Acharya, an associate professor in the department of population studies at Tribhuvan University, told GlobalPost.

The political system also exerts great influence on the health sector as some politicians put people from their own party, whether the most qualified or not, to fill top positions.

There is a strong feeling of frustration with the government in Nepal, and critics argue that the politicians are so busy fighting among themselves they have little time to work on the nation’s development.

See the accompanying photo.

Follow Hanna’s trip to Nepal on Twitter: @Hanna_India

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With Release of Burmese Dissident, A Little Hope

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.

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Mumbai Proud to Host Obama

Posted on November 7, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International, Politics.

MUMBAI, India — A group of children sit on the hood of a police car, eagerly waiting for U.S. President Barack Obama’s motorcade to drive by.

“Ala, ala, ala,” (He’s coming, he’s coming, he’s coming) a little boy shouts in Marathi, the local language spoken in Mumbai.

At another barricade, hundreds push and shove and jump up and down, trying to catch a glimpse of the president as he leaves Mani Bhavan, the museum where Mahatma Gandhi stayed when he visited Mumbai during India’s independence movement. Old men lean over their balcony railing; boys climb into trees; girls sit on top of shoulders — all holding their mobile phones out, ready to snap a photograph of Obama. When the president steps outside, the crowd goes wild, chanting, cheering and hooting away.

Obama and his Democratic Party have taken a beating this week at home, facing big losses in the mid-term elections. But a long flight and nine and a half time zones later, the president has received a warm welcome in Mumbai, where he begins his three-day trip to India and four-country tour of Asia.

“It’s a great honor for our country that a president of the United States is coming,” said 12-year-old Minal Chudasama, as she waited among the crowd outside the Gandhi museum. The young girl, speaking fast and with assertion, said she wants to one day study in the United States and return to India to help her country grow. “I want to be a big person like him,” she said.

Continue reading and view slideshow by Kainaz Amaria at GlobalPost.

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India: Mum’s the Word on Burma

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.

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Obama in India: Counterterrorism Cooperation

Posted on November 3, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International, Politics.

MUMBAI, India — U.S. President Barack Obama will kick off his three-day trip to India with a speech in Mumbai, where Pakistani gunmen held the city under siege for 60 hours and killed 166 people in November 2008.

He will speak at the Taj Palace hotel, one of the main sites attacked two years ago, a move that highlights the “exponential growth” in counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries over the past year, as a senior U.S. government official put it at a recent press briefing in India.

And yet, despite the glowing rhetoric, the U.S. commitment to forging closer counterterrorism ties generates a sense of suspicion and even distrust in India. Security analysts point to the U.S. war strategy in Afghanistan and question how America can maintain close ties with Islamabad while developing stronger counterterrorism operations with Pakistan’s main rival, India.

“The United States policy toward India is held hostage by the U.S. policy toward Pakistan,” said Thomas Mathew, the former deputy director general of the Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

Follow Hanna on Twitter @Hanna_India.

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Fixer: Interview with Christian Parenti

Posted on August 22, 2009, by Hanna Ingber, under International, Media, Politics.

“Fixer: The Taking Of Ajmal Naqshbandi” is an incredibly powerful documentary that tells the story of the Afghan war through the relationship formed between an American journalist, Christian Parenti, and his Afghan fixer, Ajmal. Here is my Q&A with Christian. He talks about war reporting, Taliban “citizen journalism” propaganda, the Afghan election and why he thinks Obama’s Afghan policy is doomed to fail.

American journalist Christian Parenti and his Afghan interpreter travel to southern Afghanistan to conduct an important yet very dangerous interview with members of the Taliban. The moment comes when the men fear the interview may turn ugly, and they quickly grab their belongings, jump into their taxi and race off. In the car, Parenti asks his fixer, Ajmal Naqshbandi, if he will tell his fiance about the interview. Hell, no. The men laugh. Telling the fiance would be more dangerous than meeting with the Taliban.

In another scene, the documentary flashes forward six months, and the same fixer, Naqshbandi, stares into the camera but this time without the look of the jovial young man who was laughing in taxis and eating dinner with friends. Naqshbandi has been kidnapped, and his lighthearted expression has been replaced with one of fear. Sweat drips down his cheeks as he tries to reassure his family that everything will fine.

By juxtaposing scenes of laughter and friendship with video images of kidnappings and beheadings, HBO’s “Fixer: The Taking Of Ajmal Naqshbandi,” directed by Ian Olds, uses the relationship formed between an American journalist and his interpreter to tell the story of the war in Afghanistan.

The HuffPost sat down with Parenti to talk to him about the film, modern war reporting and why he thinks Obama’s current Afghan policy is bound to fail.

Continue reading here.

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Between Iraq And A Hard Place

Posted on May 21, 2009, by Hanna Ingber, under Immigration, International, Politics.

The ongoing violence in Iraq has forced 4 million people to flee their homes and communities in search of safety elsewhere. About 2 million remain displaced within Iraq, whereas the other 2 million or so have fled to neighboring nations. In countries like Syria and Jordan, these Iraqis, many of whom were professionals back home, now live a life of poverty and fear. They struggle to find jobs to feed their families and can get kicked out at any time.

For years the Bush administration refused to acknowledge the humanitarian crisis caused by the war. After significant political pressure, the administration began to allow a limited number of Iraqis to resettle in the United States. President Obama, who made it a campaign promise to help displaced Iraqis, has acknowledged that the United States has a moral responsibility and security incentive to help people displaced because of a war the United States started.

However, despite the apparent political will in the Obama administration to help those Iraqis still in danger, the United States now faces a massive financial crisis. The economic downtown threatens to derail Obama’s efforts to resettle more Iraqis and provide more aid to the countries that harbor most of the refugees. The crisis has also caused a financial nightmare for the Iraqis who have already resettled in the United States. Struggling to compete for a limited number of jobs with laid-off Americans who speak the language and have experience working in this country, these Iraqis face a dire situation. Many Iraqis, who came to America in search of safety and a better life, now live on the brink of homelessness.

Read my LA Weekly cover story about the Iraqi refugees who have resettled in El Cajon, California. Most are Chaldean Catholics who fled religious persecution in Iraq.

If you weren’t paying close attention, it would be easy to mistake Main Street, El Cajon, for any other Main Street across the USA that has been transformed by its immigrant population. Kebabs and falafel are on the menus of most of the restaurants, and the local supermarket sells green olives, hummus mix and a wide assortment of olive oils. The television in one café shows a woman in a head scarf delivering the news in Arabic. Outside another, 2-foot-high hookahs sit on a table, ready to be smoked. These are sights we’ve become accustomed to in many California neighborhoods. But there are other details that make this street a little different. The word Babylon, for instance, is all over the place. There’s Babylon Hair Style, Babylon Restaurant, Babylon Jewelry, Babylon Hookah Lounge. And inside a small deli, where a clerk’s computer screen saver shows a photograph of men in traditional turbans and robes gathered on the floor around a feast of Middle Eastern delicacies, Iraqi flags are for sale near the lamb shanks and the ground meat preferred for a certain type of kebab favored in Iraq.

Where most of Los Angeles’ Middle Eastern neighborhoods are dominated by Armenian and Lebanese shops and restaurants, El Cajon, just two hours south of L.A., is the epicenter of Iraqi relocation in the Western United States. With tens of thousands of Iraqis living in San Diego County, El Cajon is home to the second-largest community in the U.S., after Detroit. The neighborhood Catholic church, St. Peter Chaldean Cathedral, with its distinctive domed roof and large cross, boasts some 37,000 Chaldean Iraqi members. A sign outside the church lists the times for mass in English and Aramaic. And one of its walls is dominated by a stone replica of Iraq’s famous winged Khorsabad bull sculpture.

Continue reading here.

See a slideshow of Iraqi refugees living in Jordan by Jessica Malter with the IRC here. And one with Iraqi refugees in Syria by Erika Solomon here.

If you would like to find out how to help Iraqis displaced in Southern California, please contact Catholic Charities, Department of Refugee Services, 4575-A Mission Gorge Place, San Diego, CA 92120. You can call Lejla Voloder, their Resettlement Program Manager, at 619-287-9454.

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