The waiting continues...
August 25, 2009
It takes every new administration a few months to get moving in terms
of new policy. New appointments have to made, old policy must be
evaluated, and a consensus must be reached on a way forward. But it
should not take over 6 months to formulate new policy regarding one
When the Obama administration took over in January,
they stated that they were going to comprehensive policy review of
Burma. Over seven moths later, the "review" continues. In the meantime,
the Burmese junta has sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi to another 18 months
of house arrest. And when Hillary went to the ASEAN summit in July she
was left flatfooted on Burma without a stated policy to draw upon.
has already expressed its disapproval at the Burmese regime by
overwhlemingly renewing sanctions. In addtion, 55 House members wrote
to President Obama urging him to push for an indictment of the Burmese
regime at the International Criminal Court through the UN Security
However, the Obama administration still has not
declared when their policy review will be done. In the meantime, the
world is waiting for a new Obama policy. China, India, ASEAN will not
make any strong moves without the US review completed. Seven months is
enough time to complete the policy review.
Furthermore, I am worried about what the Obama administration will do
with a new policy. After Sen. Webb's unfortunate visit I fear that
Obama may cozy up to the regime to prove that he wants to "engage" with
the world. I approve of engagement with Iran, Cuba, Syria and other
places where the Bush administration foolishly took a hardline stance.
But Burma and North Korea are in their own categories. They are both
non-rational actors. And engaging the Burmese regime after locking up
Aung San Suu Kyi again would be naive on the part of the Obama
administration. Let's hope the Obama administration continues to stand
by the democracy movement in Burma and not abandon them.
Iran versus Burma
June 24, 2009
Watching the current events in Iran unfold, I keep thinking back to the fall of 2007 and the Saffron Revolution in Burma. On the surface the events seem very similar--large crowds, mass non-violent protests, and widespread international attention via the internet.
But beyond the obvious similarities, there are numerous differences. First of all, Iran's political system is infinitely more complex than Burma's. I would be getting ahead of myself if I pretended to understand the intricacies of Iran's power structure--I think very few foreigners truly do--but I know enough to understand that there is a lot of behind-the-scenes power brokering going on currently. With so many different political bodies--the Guardian Council, Parliament, etc--the situation is much more difficult to read for a political outsider.
Burma and the Saffron Revolution, on the other hand, was at its essence more simple: It was about throwing away the ruling junta in favor of the democratic voices in Burma, namely Aung San Suu Kyi. The monks in Burma--the only other group with the institutional capacity to rival the military--led the effort. The monks were joined by student leaders. But one reason why the protests in Burma and Iran were more powerful this time around was that students were not the leaders of the protests, they were joined by more powerful forces within each country.
If Burma's uprising was about doing away with the current government, Iran's uprising was about reforming the current leadership. The Iranian uprising received so much support within Iran because they co-opted the message of the 1979 Revolution as oppose to discarding it in favor of more liberal backed demands.
The Burmese monks and layman made it very clear: they wanted the military out of the way. When that did not happen, the military cracked down in typically brutal fashion and crushed the back of the protests with sheer force. Iran too has used forced, as amply demonstrated by dozens of YouTube videos. But the Iranian regime is much more sensitive to its international image; the Burmese junta could care less about its "international standing" However, the Iranian regime wants their rule to be legitimated by their commitment to "justice" and "God's Will." Armed soldiers shooting women on the street in broad daylight does not fit this image, so the violence in Iran is mostly performed at night with unarmed thugs.
At this point, it is more than difficult to say where the Iranian protests are heading or what the result of the uprising will amount to in the form of political change. But it clearly has presented a major challenge to the ruling hardline conservative clerics and politicians. Rumors abound. We will wait to see what happens....
UN official--and former Brown Prof--speak out
June 18, 2009
Finally, a UN official involved in the Burma diplomatic process has publicly stated that the UN's approach to Burma has failed. Paulo Pinheiro, the former UN Rapporteur on Human Rights to Burma, stated in the NY Times that the UN needs to address the plight of ethnic minorities in Burma's ethnic areas.
The article can be read here:
I work with Prof. Pinheiro. During my time at Brown he was a visiting professor and we have worked on a number of articles together. I am glad that this piece finally came out in the NYT and it is on record from a UN official. It will be important for mounting on offensive for the ICC campaign.
Suu Kyi on Trial
May 19, 2009
Currently, the Burmese junta is putting Aung San Suu Kyi on trial on trumped up charges of allowing a visitor into her compound. This is a ploy by the junta to extend Suu Kyi's house arrest and prevent her from participating in Burma's upcoming elections in 2010.
So far western leaders have spoken out, but Burma's two main backers, China and India, have remained silent. China says it is unwilling to get involved in the internal affairs of Burma, a typical Chinese response. India's reaction--or lack of reaction--is a bigger dissapointment. As the world's largest democracy, India should be leading the effort to free Suu Kyi. Instead, Indian leaders coddle the regime in order to continue to extract Burma's many natural resources.
It is unknown how long the regime will extend Suu Kyi's trial. But it is likely that they want to end the trial quickly in an effort to prevent further international media attention. But it is clear that Suu Kyi will continue to be locked away. The only question is whether she will return to her home or to notorious Insein Prison.
Burma and the International Criminal Court
March 20, 2009
Over the past decade over 3,200 ethnic villages in eastern Burma have been burned to the ground. In addition to burning down villages, Burmese soldiers plant landmines, burn crops, rape women, and recruit child soldiers. Unfortunately, the situation has received little international attention.
In the past few months, there have been two reports that have called attention to the situation in eastern Burma. Both reports state that the Burmese junta has committed crimes against humanity. These reports, issued by Amnesty International and the Thai Burma Border Consortium, can be accessed here:
In addition, a report from Johns Hopkins University details the junta's
disastrous response to Cyclone Nargis. They too state that the Burmese
junta has committed crimes against humanity:
Following on these reports, Burma advocacy groups from around the world have come together in an effort to take the Burmese junta to the International Criminal Court. Over the next few months, I will keep updates posted on the campaign here.
Burma: A year later
September 24, 2008
It has been a year now since thousands of monks in Burma bravely rose
up against Burma's military junta. I am sure that everyone remembers
the images of monks, followed by civilians, marching through the
streets of Rangoon demanding a transition to democracy.
Burma dropped out of the news until Cyclone Nargis, which killed over
140,000 Burmese last Spring/Summer. And many of the victims of Cyclone
Nargis still have not received aid.
This week marks the year
anniversary of the uprising. All across the country, schools,
communities of faith, and communities are marking the anniversary by
Click here to learn more about events happening in your area. Or sign up here to hold an event:
Schedule for the Fall
September 3, 2008
I will be based in Santa Fe working for Obama for the next two months until the election. During that time, I will be available to speak in the Southwest area.
After that, I will head back to the East Coast to speak for a few weeks. From there, I will head to Europe to speak for a few months.
So if anyone is interested in having me come speak and it works with my schedule, please send me an email.
Waiting, waiting, waiting....
May 8, 2008
The Burmese junta continues to prevent the Indian, British, American, and French navies from providing aid to the country. All four navies are sitting off the coast. The American navy has a fleet of helicopters (at least 23) that are ready to be deployed along with amphibious crafts and tons of food and medical aid. But the junta has said no.
Instead, they are using 5 helicopters to provide aid to 24 million people. Incredible.
They also turned away a UN worker assessment team member because he was not Asian; he was a westerner and therefore denied entry to the country.
Meanwhile, journalists are being barred from entering the country so the damage and suffering from the storm is going completely underreported. This will likely be more devastating than the tsunami and yet the world in some ways is already moving on.
I urge everyone to continue to keep following the disaster. Simply because it is not as well covered as the tsunami or Katrina, doe not mean the wreckage is not on the some scope.
I read an unconfirmed report today that up to 500,000 people may be dead soon if fresh water and food does not come soon. Already reports of cholera have been reported and many affected areas have not received any fresh water or food since the tsunami hit on Saturday.
Burma already has one of the worst health care systems in the world, so the disaster after the cyclone is likely to be worse than many expect. On top of this, the cyclone hit the rice basket of Burma, so much of the rice crop this year is now wiped out. With the global food crisis, it will be unlikely that Burma will be able to feed itself. And as the junta is now showing: it is unlikely to care if its people starve to death just as the North Korean generals were willing to watch their people starve in the 1990's.
I am not even sure how to react at this point. I am sickened, dumbfounded, and each day wonder if I am dreaming up this reaction. How can the regime watch 1.5 million people potentially die while aid sits less than a few hours away? How can a group of people be so callous? It is well beyond me.
As I noted yesterday, there is an aid organization already doing good work on the ground. Their info is below.
I will update this tmrw at least once with fresh news. Hopefully it will be a little better.
The aftermath of the cyclone and what you can do
May 7, 2008
First of all, the scope of the disaster is horrific. The latest report I read
is that the death toll will be over 100,000.
Over at least a million people are homeless and 24 million people (nearly half
population is estimated to be affected). The disaster is certainly on par with
the Tsunami of 2004 and the wreckage is likely worse than after Katrina. The
reason you are not seeing the scope of the wreckage is because the junta is not
allowing journalists into the country.
The junta's response has been absurd: they have only accepted aid so far from
their "friends" and they are preventing UN team members from entering
the country by refusing to give visas to aid workers. Aid from the U.S. and Britain
is sitting off the coast of Burma,
but the generals have refused it. It is only in Burma
that the military government would prevent aid workers from cleaning up the
worst storm in Asia since 1991.
Furthermore, people I know from inside Burma said that the government did
not warn the people about the cyclone, even though Indian government
meteorologists told the junta about the storm two days prior to its arrival.
And the junta is still planning on having their "referendum" this
weekend to put a stamp on military rule. Imagine New Orleans having mayoral elections a week
after Katrina. Ridiculous.
But there are some things that you can do to help. The most important thing on
the ground is the need for clean drinking water. There is an excellent
organization that is on the ground providing water tablets and purifiers called
Thirst Aid. I can personally verify that this is an excellent organization and
all donations will go directly to people on the ground. The organization is run
by two awesome Americans that have full access to Burma (they already have visas).
They have worked inside Burma
for a number of years and they have a well-established network to get out fresh
drinking water. Here is a link to their donation page (click on the
"donation" tag in the top left corner): http://ttocirrod-foundation.org/Thanks.html
All donations go to their bank account in the US
and are accessible in Bangkok, where they
withdraw the money and take it to Burma. I strongly urge you to make
a donation. There are going to be over 20 million people without access to
clean drinking water and people need help NOW. There are already alarming
reports about diseases and water shortages (the price of water has quadrupled
over the past few days and many cannot get any clean water).
Secondly, we are making an effort at US Campaign for Burma to force the Burmese junta to
allow aid into the country without conditions. We are setting up an email
campaign to put pressure on Ban Ki-Moon to take action at the UN. To send him
an email, please click on the following link: http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1189/t/5102/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=24494
It would be great if you all could take make a donation and send an email. It
would mean a lot to me. It is the little we can do for a people whose
government refuses to provide them with aid.
If you would like to figure out other ways to take action, you can sign up for
the US Campaign for Burma
alerts at: http://uscampaignforburma.org/
If you all would like other updated news coverage, check out these sites:
I cannot explain how frustrated I am personally. There are literally hundreds
of thousands of people who are running out of water, food, and medicine and the
junta will not allow the international community to help. I appreciate all of
your support and please keep the people of Burma in your hearts and minds.
Also, please feel free to forward this on to anyone you know to spread
awareness about Thirst Aid.
Upcoming Constitutional Referendum in Burma
March 31, 2008
This May, the Burmese military junta is holding a "constitutional referendum" followed by "freee and fair" elections in 2010. This is a ploy on the junta's part to appease the international community and make is seem as though they are walking down a democratic path. But this process is anything but free and fair.
The constitution was written up by the junta's cronies behind closed doors. According to the constitution, the military would hold 25% of all seats and they would be able to declare "emergency powers" whenever they saw fit. In addition, Aung San Suu Kyi would be barred from holding political office.
The junta is imprisoning those that speak out against the constitution. I have friends who are risking their lives to campaign against this whole process. And I urge you to stand with them.
Recently, the House of Representatives introduced a bill to condemn the constitution and call for the UN Security Council to take council on Burma. It is critical that we, as active US citizens, contact our local house member and ask them to co-sponsor this resolution as a means of showing our support for the Burmese people. Here is a link that will allow you to send an email to your member. It is easy: you plug in your address and that is it. Please take 2 minutes to do this. Here is the link: