Some Truths About Burma

Ongoing Oppression in Burma: Situation Report

Original Report Date: 28/05/2015
Kachin State, Burma

Some Truths about Burma from Free Burma Rangers on Vimeo.

Recently the Podesta Group, a U.S. lobby group headed by John Podesta, has been engaged by the Government of Myanmar (Burma) to assist in enacting legislation to remove all remaining sanctions against both government institutions and certain citizens who have been blacklisted. Such legislation would be predicated on the assumption that real reform has occurred within Myanmar and the situation is different than when the original sanctions were enacted. In fact, some reform has happened in the last few years, which is to be applauded, and this, in turn, has opened the door for new investment in the country. However, the general consensus among most NGOs, country specialists and journalists operating in Myanmar is that these reforms have stalled and are, in the words of President Obama, “backsliding.”ii

Unfortunately, there has been no concurrent abatement of foreign investment, leading to the current situation in which a flood of new, foreign money is pouring into a country effectively controlled by a military which is accountable to no one and has a deplorable and long-standing record of human rights violations, including massacres of civilians, unjust and extra judicial execution and imprisonment, and a proven inability to govern effectively, as exemplified by the Rohingya crisis. The employment of the Podesta Group by the Myanmar government has created a generally negative reaction from stakeholders, with Aung San Suu Kyi asking: “To lobby for what? The responsibility of the government is to serve the interests of its citizens. If it can fulfill this duty, why bother to hire such a group?”iii

While the actions of the military belie the government’s claims of reform, so do the direct actions of the government. One example is the oppression of ethnic groups such as the Rohingya. The Rohinyga are a Muslim minority group with Bengali ethnic history; their hopeless situation has made international headlines as they are fleeing Burma by the thousands, in boats where many die as they have nowhere to go. As Mark Farmaner from Burma Campaign UK summed up: “The simple truth is that the government of Burma has a policy of trying to drive the Rohingya out of the country. Boatloads of trafficked Rohingya heading for other countries are exactly what they want to see. For President Thein Sein, this is a policy success.”iv

In addition, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma(AAPP-B) the number of political prisoners held in Burmese prisons as of May, 2015 has doubled in the last year, to 158, despite promises from Thein Sein that all political prisoners would be freed by the end of 2013.v This situation has been exacerbated by the crackdown on student protesters in March 2015 when Burmese police used violent tactics to break up demonstrations against the undemocratically adopted National Education Law (NEL), which threatens to undermine civil liberties. vi

We have provided this report with a desire that the Burma government be held accountable for their actions and to emphasize that real change must include the voice of the ethnic minority groups, who are currently bearing the brunt of the government’s abuse. As an organization that has actively worked for reform and peace throughout Burma since 1997, we at the Free Burma Rangers (FBR) have compiled a selection of events that have occurred in the last eighteen months that we have reported in the hope of providing you with a more comprehensive idea of the situation on the ground in Burma currently.