Rights Groups Pressure Myanmar to Investigate Killing of 40 Rohingya Muslims | 

The UN and Human Rights Watch want the government in Myanmar to investigate reported killings in the northern Rakhine State. It is alleged that more than 40 Rohingya Muslims were killed in the village of Du Chee Yar Tan, between January 9 and 13. Further information indicates that 10 Rohingya men were detained during the same period and are experiencing harsh treatment while held.

“By responding to these incidents quickly and decisively, the Government has an opportunity to show transparency and accountability, which will strengthen democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, yesterday. “I also encourage the Government to provide humanitarian actors with access to the village to provide any assistance needed to the local population.”

Rohingya IDP camp
Rohingya IDP camp

Violence against Rohingya Muslims has continued with little sign of stopping. As a result, some 140,000 people are current displaced within Rakhine State. Attempts to seek refuge in neighboring Bangladesh have largely failed due to a lack of willingness by the Bangladeshi government to accept people fleeing. It is further complicated by the fact that 800,000 people in the state do not have citizenship. Continue reading

Zin Mar Aung: After 11 years in Burma prison, now leading on reforms | 

Aung San Suu Kyi

Most people outside of Burma-Myanmar have heard of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Burmese activist who for 15 years (until 2010) lived under house arrest for her opposition to the military junta. Suu Kyi is now an elected official leading the opposition in the ongoing political reform of Burma (which is what Suu Kyi typically calls the country, due to her critique of the military rulers unilaterally re-naming the country Myanmar).

Zin Mar Aung expressing a gesture of support for another political prisoner in Burma.
Zin Mar Aung expressing a gesture of support for another political prisoner in Burma.
Women’s Leadership Challenge

But Zin Mar Aung may be the one to watch if you’re looking for the best barometer of progress for Bur-Myanmar-ma. Humanosphere caught up with her in Seattle this week.

Zin Mar wasn’t famous like Suu Kyi and wasn’t allowed to remain at home under house arrest. She was thrown in prison at age 22 in 1998 for her role as a student activist critical of the military regime. She spent 11 years in prison, nine of them in solitary confinement. Released in 2009, her spirit was hardly broken. Continue reading

Burma: Past, Present, and Future | 

Welcome to the Humanosphere podcast, our weekly look at the world of global health and development. Tom and I begin with a discussion on the headlines – everything from May Day in Seattle and Bangladesh to abortion access in El Salvador.

Then we turn to Burma, also known as Myanmar. We speak with Pwint Htun, who left Burma in ninth grade amidst a violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, and resettled here in Seattle.

Her mother, a doctor, treated wounded demonstrators, and her family was blacklisted and forced to flee. Htun was the first recipient of a Prospect Burma scholarship, established using the prize money Aung San Suu Kyi donated after winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. When Cyclone Nargis struck in 2008, she coordinated shipments of over 12 million water purification tablets into Burma.

These days, she’s making frequent trips back to Burma as a telecommunications consultant for The World Bank and others. The country has embarked on a process of reforms but where will it go from here? Htun gives us an inside-look at Burma past, present, and future, including its brief stint of democratic rule after colonialism. And she explains what useful, as opposed to harmful, interventions in Burma by Western businesses and NGOs should look like.

Listen below.

How (repressive) Burma-Myanmar promoted grassroots aid strategy | 

Google Maps

My initial goal: Describe a local organization, Partners Asia, led by some interesting Seattle folks who have long been working to assist vulnerable populations in Myanmar, aka Burma. 

Delayed by confusion: I’m not sure what to make of the celebrated political reforms. Nobel Laureate activist Aung San Suu Kyi is finally free and speaking out. US Sec. of State Hillary Clinton declares the country open for business. Still, nobody agrees on which name to use, UN staffers get thrown in jail and Buddhist monks are accused of inciting riots. Is this place really, fundamentally changing? I don’t think anyone really knows yet.  

But humanitarians working ‘off the pitch’ under the oppressive regime offer some valuable lessons.

NOTE: A series of Seattle lectures on Myanmar/Burma featuring Partners Asia starts Sept. 22


Flickr, jmhullot

Ancient Bagan in Burma-Myanmar

As the Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi starts her celebrated U.S. tour this week, the story line on the country variously known as Burma or Myanmar is that it is undergoing major democratic reforms.

Dissidents have been freed from prison, opposition politicians have been elected, some members of the previous military junta have been demoted and replaced by civilians, press censorship has been relaxed, labor unions are now allowed and, most recently, as Voice of America reported, Burma releases partial list of names trimmed from Blacklist.

So wait, is it Burma or Myanmar?

“We use both,”  said Paula Bock, a former Seattle Times journalist who now devotes her time to working with the poor and disenfranchised in Burma-Myanmar through the Seattle-based organization Partners Asia.

“To make a real difference here, you have to learn how to get along. We work with everybody, on both sides of the border, and we don’t want to exclude or antagonize anyone. Burma, Myanmar — I’m happy to use whatever name it takes to get things done. “

Yeah, well, it’s lot more complicated than that.

This is a story about Partners Asia, and why I think their approach should be of interest to everyone in the aid and development community, but first I need to talk about me.

Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett

Paula Bock and girl in Burma-Myanmar

I had approached Bock, who I’ve known since the days when we were both regular newspaper hacks and the mainstream media was financially healthy, to ask about Burma-Myanmar, and about what her organization does there. As I learned more, it seemed to me they had an important lesson for the entire aid and development community. I’ll get to that in a second.

But writing about aid in Burma-Myanmar turned out to be difficult for me, in part because I knew so little about the place, the news out of Burma-Myanmar kept shifting – and also because Paula and her colleagues operate, uh, unofficially there.

The people they often work with, many of them refugees or troubled ethnic communities along the borders, also have to keep their collaboration away from official eyes.

Paula and her colleagues have to be careful and didn’t want me to use words like “covert” or “secretly,” preferring I describe what they do as “discreet” or “out of the spotlight.”

Partners Asia, Prasit Phasomsap

Teaching migrant children on Thai-Burma border

Continue reading

Rohingya Refugee Postscript: Video | 

I discussed the issue of Bangladesh and the Rohingya refugees of Myanmar a bit yesterday. This short report from Al Jazeera provides further information about the ethnic conflict that has lead to the displacement of the Rohingya and how the refugees are living in tents and rely upon food aid.

Worth a watch.