The situation regarding human rights in Burma remains an issue of great concern. After gaining independence from British rule in 1948, Aung San and his ‘Thirty Comrades’, found difficulty in establishing a stable democracy. Following a civil war, and several smaller insurgencies, Burma fell under a military dictatorship in 1958 led by Ne Win, and largely supported by the West. Since then, Burma continues to be plagued by corruption and a lack of political will to seek real reform.
Despite, minor positive changes by the government since 2010 towards reform including, an increased engagement with civil society and political parties in the reform process as well as greater openness in discussing human rights issues, not to mention attempts to building a Burmese society based on the rule of law. It can be argued that not enough is being done by the Burmese government, or the international community, to alleviate the gross situation of consistent human rights violations by the government and its military. These measures of reform can be seen to be nothing more than a poor attempt to sweep under the carpet Burma’s chronic history of abuse, violation and exploitation. The 2010 elections held in Burma were arguably a sham, part of the dictatorship’s “road-map to democracy”. The elections were essentially an attempt to entrench and legitimize military rule, rather than reform Burma’s corrupted political system. It has failed to deliver freedom to the people of Burma, and has instead increased the power of the military by including undemocratic measures, like giving the military the power to veto any decisions made by the new parliament. Yet, the EU council has lifted the EU’s economic sanctions against Burma earlier this year, in light of what it perceives to be a “remarkable” change of pace in the country’s decision to embark on a road of political reform. However, with systematic human rights violations continuing to occur in Burma, it seems that the international community is once more, more focused on business than on protecting the human right’s of its fellow human beings.
Between January-June 2013, ND-Burma reported over 147 human rights violations across the country, including forced labour, rape and the displacement of entire villages. According to Amnesty International, “torture has become an institution” in Burma. It has become a government policy so to implement their own political goals. More than 3,500 villages have been destroyed in Eastern Burma. Rape has become a weapon of war to humiliate the Burmese women to silence. Over 1 million people have been forcibly displaced; many whose lands have been burnt to the ground or taken away from them to be sold to foreign investors. This list of human rights violations is seemingly endless. Burma, despite being signatory to many of the most important international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture. Has failed to uphold fundamental human rights, such as freedom of expression, the press, freedom of association and assembly. Art exhibitions must be approved by military authorities; broadcast media is tightly monitored. Political gatherings are prohibited. Political parties, like the National League for Democracy (NLD), are not only kept on a short leash by the authorities, subject to harassment and detention; the victorious NLD candidates of the May 1990 elections (having won 80% of the seats) are political prisoners: along with 2,000 others.
Moreover, successive Burmese governments have followed a policy of ‘Burmanisation’; an attempt to repress the multicultural and multiethnic aspects of Burmese society. In 1947, the Panglong Agreement was passed which granted ethnic groups rights that they were previously denied. It also outlined specific rights to the Shan and Karenni peoples the right to secede after a decade of independence. These civil rights were never respected, and Burma has since engaged in a series of ethnic wars up to the present day. Though many ceasefires have been negotiated, fighting has not stopped. Since 2011, the government has attempted to re-engage and re-negotiate ceasefires with the 16 non-state armed groups in Burma.Yet, strifes remain between the military and two groups without ceasefires. The current constitution of Burma denies ethnic groups autonomy, and the protection of ethnic cultures.
Nothing will change in Burma unless the international community takes greater strides to adopt a harder stance on issue of human rights violations in the country. The UN resolutions on Burma have failed to deliver anything substantive or meaningful. The government and military officials who committed human rights violations remain free from persecution under the 2008 constitution. The Burmese justice system fails to be independent from government interference. And yet, the EU has lifted all economic sanctions due to the ‘remarkable’ strides the country has made towards reform. Following President Thein Sein’s visit to the UK, the British government has arguably adopted a soft policy on Burma. Whilst the president of Burma was rolled out a red carpet treatment, the Burmese government and military continues to engage in widespread human rights violations. The aim of the UK government, as well as the rest of the international community, should be to end impunity in Burma and not to aid trade. Unless, a harder stance is taken against Burma, nothing will change for the Burmese people. It is not a democracy without human rights: the only thing ‘remarkable’ about the situation in Burma is the lack of interest by the international community to do something about it.
BY: Wiktoria Schulz