As you may know, I am now back in Canada. My 're-entry' transition is taking more time than anticipated, as is so often the case. However, as the days pass I find myself more and more inclined to follow up on my intentions to pursue some awareness-raising activities here in this country. As I speak with friends and family, I realize that precious few people are aware of the challenges facing the people of Myanmar. Unfortunately, there is an array of possible issues that could be raised with regard to challenges in Myanmar. To simplify, I will discuss a few issues based on my experiences in Mindat and Yangon from November 2006 to June 2007.
The first issue I will address is human rights.
As a brief introduction, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and sets forth a 'standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations' with regard to, among other things, recognizing the 'inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.' The declaration comprises 30 articles.
United Nations member states, of which Myanmar has been one since just before the declaration's adoption in 1948, are, in theory, expected to promote these rights and freedoms.
So, what I will do is select the articles which, according to my experience in Myanmar and opinion, are being expressly ignored and trodden over in the course of daily life in Myanmar. I forewarn that the below information will make you angry and incredulous. I just hope it makes you angry enough to learn more, pass on the information and ask me about good, responsible ways to take action.
-all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights
-everyone is entitled to the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration
-everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person: The thousands of families who are displaced by internal conflict do not enjoy these rights.
-no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment: Political prisoners, being held without trial, are subject to crual and degrading treatment. There is video evidence of degrading treatment to Myanmar citizens by military personnel. Rape, water torture, forced displacement and ethnic persecution are among the degrading and inhuman treatment experienced. Amnesty International states, "Torture has become an institution" in Burma (see website: http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/aboutburma/humanrights.html). Many people I met consider their continuous poverty to be degrading and inhuman given the riches of the government.
-all are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection against discrimination in violation of this declaration: No Myanmar citizens are protected against discrimination. Government actors do as they wish and are not accountable to any regulatory body.
-no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile: Many citizens (all those I have met, at least) live in fear of arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. Friends of a contact were deported after participating in an anti-government demonstration. Most citizens do not speak of the government at all for fear of being overheard by government agents and subsequently punished. Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi (whose name you cannot speak of in Myanmar) has been under house arrest since 1989 with but a few brief releases. Many former political prisoners choose to live in exile to avoid the continued mistreatment on the part of the government.
-everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal: As far as I know, political prisoners are sentenced under 'extrajudicial' processes or by military tribunals. See AAPPB's website for more interesting and compelling data on the past and current prisoners (currently totalling over 1,100): http://www.aappb.org/aboutaapp.html
-no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour or reputation: Private communication and correspondence is almost non-existent in Myanmar. Emails and phone calls are all monitored for anything about the problems in the country (IDPs, conflict, poverty, etc., etc., or the military regime itself). Conversations in public places are listened in on and can be reported if any questionable subjects are breached.
-everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas in any media and regardless of frontiers: I have not met one Myanmar citizen who would claim they have this freedom. There is no freedom of expression as all media outlets, publications and broadcasts are controlled by the military regime. Any anti-government statements or ideas are censored or omitted. Seeking, recieving and imparting information and ideas is very difficult as communication to people inside and outside of the country is monitored. A slip of the tongue during a telephone conversation results in the phone line being cut.
-everyone has the right to peaceful assembly and association: Public assemblies are prohibited in all of Myanmar.
-everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country: No elected representatives form part of the current government. No elections have been held since 1990. The government selects and appoints representatives in each province, division, district, township and village tract.
-the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage: The last elections were held in 1990. The citizens of Myanmar voted overwhelmingly for the National League for Democracy, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi being the part leader (see http://psephos.adam-carr.net/countries/b/burma/burma1990.txt for election details). However, the military took over as the State Peace and Development Council and has since maintained control. The will of the people is definitely not the basis of the authority of the military regime.
-everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection:
-everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family
-everyone has the right to education
For each of the above points, please think about your own experiences of human rights and how your life is affected by this declaration. If you can, try to imagine for just a few seconds what it would be like not to have these rights observed and protected. This will give you a tiny glimpse of the constant fear and discrimination experienced by all citizens Myanmar.