Sunday, September 30, 2007

Burma or Myanmar: That's not the question

By Stanford Matthews
Blog @ MoreWhat.com


In late August of this year the Myanmar (Burma) military government released a list of names of activists they wanted to apprehend. About the same time the US and UN voiced objections to the treatment of detained activists and the Myanmar government's treatment of protesters in general. The UN had asked for the activists to be released based on reports of torture and a hunger strike. During the same week the government closed the gathering that was intended to produce the country's constitution to be voted on by the public. The 40 year rule by the military government appears to be flexing their muscle by quieting public dissent and abandoning any attempts at reforms even if they are only symbolic in nature. The country has toyed with the idea of a constitution for 14 years.

The US State Department expressed the requisite displeasure with Myanmar's constitutional efforts characterizing them as a sham. The same day a rights group was demanding aid for a jailed activist whose was described as suffering a broken leg during arrest. The following day President Bush criticized Myanmar for their treatment of 'peaceful' protesters calling it 'inexcusable.' At this point in this narrative you may have the impression the protesters or activists plight was serious and international efforts to resolve the problems were not. You would be correct. And it continues.

During the first week of September 2007 monks in Myanmar continued their protest. This was met with a continued crackdown by the Myanmar government which was naturally followed by more verbal protests from various sources around the globe. Near the end of the week the Myanmar government released a wounded protester, sentenced six others to prison terms up to 28 years while the protests continued. The impressive response from the international community was for the US and Indonesia to urge China and India to pressure Myanmar to straighten things out.

The following week, mid-September, the United Nations issues a declaration on Indigenous Rights while the UN Human Rights chief, imagine this, expresses concern over human rights violations in the Congo, Iran and Burma. This former UN war crimes prosecutor is characterized as 'expressing dismay' of the Myanmar reactions to protesters as well as problems in other countries. The 47 member panel is going to review records of violations. Do any practical, timely and effective solutions ever come out of the United Nations? On their own, UN member countries display a disturbing habit of inaction, including the US. Perhaps an obligation of membership in the UN should require all countries to act in concert to halt outrageous events like those in Myanmar. Even with understandable obstacles to such action, if all member countries acted as one, a single member country would likely concede to adequate international pressure and at least cease further escalation until satisfactory solutions could be arranged. It is certainly worth a try and would be an improvement over lame expressions of disappointment.

Of course after the lame expressions of disappointment were delivered by the UN in mid-September, the Myanmar government was reported to urge the protesters to cease their activities against the 'junta' while the protesters asked for international intervention for their plight. By this time six weeks had expired since the Myanmar government had released the names of activists they wanted to collect.

By the third week of September the monks in Myanmar had stepped up protests and encouraged the public to join them in opposing the military. One report indicated 10,000 monks were involved in the marches in Rangoon. The government warned of retaliation and initiated curfews as the US increased sanctions against Myanmar.

By now most people are aware of the violence that followed in Myanmar in the past week. The exiled citizens providing reports and assistance with the flow of information in and out of Myanmar may have been temporarily inconvenienced by the government shutdown of internet access. Wireless communications may have allowed information to continue unimpeded. The most dramatic tragedy of the week was the slain reporter which was caught on video and freely displayed. In light of the escalation of violence more needed attention is drawn to the conflict. Not necessarily by coincidence, a UN representative has traveled to Myanmar to speak with both sides. How encouraging.

Whether you acknowledge the name Burma or Myanmar, that's not the question. How the international community handles their mission though the United Nations is. The source for this post was numerous reports from Voice of America who toether with the BBC was criticized by the Burma/Myanmar 'junta' government as propagandists. Reason enough to use them as a source.

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