Saturday, 3 April 2010

Burma: All about junta made crisis

Burma gained independence from the Britain on 4 January 1948. It shares the border with China, Laos, Thailand, Bangladesh, and India. The military has dominated government since General Ne Win led a coup in 1962 to 1988, first as military ruler, then as self-appointed president, and later as political kingpin. In 1988, student led the uprising and eventually managed to topple the one party rule led by General Ne Win. Another military came to power and gun down more than 3000 protesters. Due to the increase domestic and international pressure, junta promised to hold the election. In 1990, National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of the Burma’s independence architect Gen. Aung San - won a landslide victory. The ruling junta refused to hand over power and instead put NLD leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest.

The people of Burma have been suffering under one of the world's most brutal and repressive regime. The military regime uses murder, torture, rape, political imprisonment and forced labour as practices for ruling the citizens of Burma. Freedom of expression and freedom of association are non-existent and Burmese citizens are denied any state in the shaping of their future.

Burma's economic crisis continues to deepen under military rule. People earn on a wage of around $1 a day. Unemployment is rising dramatically every month while prices of consumer goods are escalating out of control. And the value of the local kyat on the informal market continues to stumble. Living standards of many Burmese are declining rapidly. One child in three under the age of five is already suffering from malnutrition, less than 50 per cent of children will complete five years of education according to UN reports.

In Burma, people face complete lack of access to basic social services such as health services, and water sanitation. Under the military generals, poverty has soared and corruption is growing. Burma spends less than $3 per person per year on health and education – well below the World Health Organization recommended level of $40 per person. The economic crisis and instability in Burma is driving waves of Burmese children into hard labour, begging and the sex trade. Burma is in the midst of a health and educational crisis.

The military maintains an extensive network of Military Intelligence (MI), informers, police, militias such as Swan-Arr-Shin and Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) members, ready to arrest anyone suspected of holding or expressing anti-government opinions in Burma. Laws have been established that criminalize freedom of thought, expression, association, assembly and movement, thus legitimizing these arbitrary arrests and continued to arbitrarily detain people across Burma for associating with opposition groups. These types of detentions occurred commonly and in most cases individuals alleged of such illegal association were detained, interrogated and many were tortured, without warrant, charge or trial.

The military maintained complete control over the legal system and remained unbound by any legislation or constitutional provision for a fair trial, due process of law or any other rights. Military government denies basic rights to due process of law, a fair and public trial in political cases. No trials of political prisoners were open to the public, and in many cases reported details of the case were not even available to the defendant's family; such as the reason for arrest, sentencing or location of the person detained.

Frequently the detainee is not informed under which section or article he or she is being detained. In addition, detainees rarely have access to legal counsel or the opportunity to obtain release on bail. The accused may be held for lengthy periods of time without any communication. Trials for political detainees are normally held in courtrooms on prison compounds, in a "special court", and defendants are given little chance to speak, are ignored when they do make statements and certainly are not permitted to properly defend themselves. Even after being charged, political prisoners are still denied the right to proper legal counsel.

Prisons in Burma are places where human rights violations and brutality are everyday realities. Abuses include prolonged shackling, torture, lack of proper medical care and insufficient food. Political prisoners face cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment in the prisons, or in detention centres. They also face torture after arrest and during interrogation so as to punish them and to force them to cooperate with interrogators. Political prisoners face both physical and emotional torture, often during long-lasting periods of detention after the initial arrest while they are isolated.

Children under the age of 18 are about 40% of Burma population. The military junta does not consider children’s development and welfare as a priority and used almost half of the state budget is spent to the arm, leaving very little for the vital education and health care systems. Decades of military mismanagement of the economy has resulted in an appalling economic situation and is forcing the vast majority of parents to rely on the contribution of their children working in order to feed their families.

The worst forms of child labour can be seen in Burma –in the army, the construction industry, domestic work, and the mines or in different places. Children are by no means exempt from the forced labour imposed on hundreds of thousands of the Burmese population by military. Moreover, the military continues to forcibly recruit children into the army, some as young as eleven years old. There are 70, 000 children in the army and largest child soldiers in the world. Military forced young girls to serve as porters and sometimes rape and used them as sexual slaves.

The Burmese government spends seven times less on education than on the armed forces. Since 1990, government expenditure on civilian education has dropped by 70 percent, and the most recent statistics indicate that spending on education is currently equivalent to less than 1% of the GDP. According to World Bank figures, Burma’s military government spends only $0.28 per year for every child in a public school.

Following a sharp increase of fuel prices on August 15, 2007, prodemocracy groups led by students began a series of peaceful marches and demonstrations to protest the failing economic situation in Burma. The regime immediately responded by arbitrarily detaining prodemocracy activists. As popular dissatisfaction spread, Buddhist monks began leading peaceful marches together with public and the regime violently crackdown by shooting, beating and arresting thousands of monks, prodemocracy activists, onlookers and killing dozens. Currently, there are more than 2000 political prisoners in Burma and regime continues to arrest democratic dissident, torture and sentence to prison.

In Burma, power is centred on the ruling junta--the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC--which maintains strict authoritarian rule over the people of Burma. Control is maintained through intimidation, the strict censuring of information, repression of individual rights, and suppression of ethnic minority groups. To avoid doing genuine dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the regime is using one of the delaying tactics- buying times. They are waiting for another crisis happen in another part of the world and if the crisis happens, the attention on Burma from international community will divert to that crisis and Burma will go back to status quo.

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