Archive for August 2007

UN Special Rapporteur Deplores Arrest of Non-violent Protestors in Burma

August 31, 2007

In a press statement issued few minutes back, Mr. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma has deplored the arrests made by the authorities since 21 August 2007. He has also appealed to the ruling military junta to immediately release the non-violent protestors and condemned that citizens expressing peacefully their views are being severely treated.

Although it is doubtful, that country which genuinely needs a United Nations Security Council Resolution to free incarcerated Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners in Burma recently scuttled by Russia and China in January 2007, how far respects UN Special Rapporteur appeal to free peaceful protestors? Most importantly, the press release also urges the governments of the region to assist the present ruling Government of Burma to resolve the crisis, which obviously indicates initiatives from China, Russia, India, Japan and ASEAN countries.  

However, Mr. Pinheiro has also expressed his serious concern regarding the launch of yesterday’s hunger strike by a group of detainees, at the Kyaikkasan Detention Center, following the denial of medical treatment by the military authorities for their fellow detainee who was severely beaten during the protest. The Special Rapporteur has shown concern that the detainees and protestors have been severely beaten and tortured.

The press statement once again voices that the future of the political transition process in the country must be directed by the people of Burma and the ruling Government. Although the brutal attacks by authorities on recent non-violent protestors across Burma indicates the other side of rampant violations of UN Charter spirit by the military regime. It is important to note that, this is second press release issued by UN Special Rapporteur in last four days, the earlier one made public on 27th of August 2007 and prepared on 24th August 2007, calling on the authorities in Burma to immediately release the peaceful protestors who had been arrested following a series of demonstrations against the drastic increase in the prices of fuel and other essential commodities.

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Daw Aung San Suu Kyi: A True ‘Satyagrahi’

August 15, 2007

By: PROF.  RAMU MANIVANNAN*   

The crisis in Burma represents the struggle between the power of arms and the power of non-violence. The power of (arms) violence represented by the military regime in Burma and the power of non-violence, as opposed to the armed strength, is the soul-force representing the oppressed people of Burma. This soul-force in other words can be described as ‘Satyagraha’. ‘Satyagraha’ is the way of non-violence based on truth. Non-violence and truth are convertible terms. The past two decades of the events in Burma has proved that, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is a true Satyagrahi walking on the path shown by Mahatma Gandhi. During her journey towards freedom from fear in Burma, She has faced several years of imprisonment with great courage and dignity of human spirit. Her extraordinary courage and sacrifice brings alive what Gandhi expressed as the spirit and essence of a true ‘Satyagrahi’. Gandhi observed that it is soldier like to allow oneself to be cut down by a sword, not to use the sword on another. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s life resembles to the extraordinary personal sacrifices and political courage that, Gandhi refers here as one who has chosen the path of non-violent resistance against the ruthless military regime in Burma.   

I believe and I’m by no means alone, that, one of the most challenging tasks of twenty-first century political transformation will be to change Burma towards real democratic governance, for which Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is facing prolonged detention. The Burmese military regime has been in power defying all political, social and ethical norms for more than four decades, like a chameleon hiding beneath different names. The oppression and sufferings of the common people in Burma has been told and re-told several times ever since the 8.8.88 movement to the global community. There is a sense of helplessness and political dismay at every step because of the internal oppression and external indifferences prevailing over Burma.

There are many who believe that, the global community would respond at an appropriate time. The question before us is what is the appropriate time to raise our voices against the brutal military regime in Burma? Are there other more important agendas that, the world community is engrossed or engulfed with? Should we not consider that, the Burma situation deserves no more or less attention than the fact that, it deserves an equal attention at par with other crisis situations in the world?   

There are others who believe that, the response has to come from within and not from outside. Given the argument, that, it is an internal affairs of a country that none outside should intervene. There are two factors to consider in this case, first, the concern about the existing status of civil and political rights of the people in Burma in contemporary phase under military regime. Secondly, those nations, regional groups and thinkers, who consider that, it is the paramount role and responsibility of the national population to organize non-violent protest against the military regime should help ensure their governments do not extend support in any form to the military regime in Burma. Thus, either way, world community can’t afford to become a mere spectator of the suppression of people’s voices in Burma.   

We do well remember the human rights abuses and atrocities committed by the military regimes in Latin America, especially the case of Chile under General Pinochet. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela have all believed in non-violence and suffered enormous hardships in pursuing their struggle for freedom, equality and justice. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi holds an unquestionable political and spiritual commitment in pursuing the path of non-violence. She is deeply committed towards dialogue and non-violent conflict resolution. She has always led and encouraged her people to act non-violently even under testing conditions.   

She never sought release and refuge in another country sacrificing her political values. She is compassionate and ready for dialogue even though imprisoned for over a decade now. She is fully aware that, she is not alone.

The new century has been waiting for the non-violent political transformation in Burma led by the extraordinary courage and determination of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Once Gandhi ji said, that, “If a single individual has to defy the world he /she can do so only through non-violence. Where there is non-violence, there is God. The sword breaks in its presence.” And also in the coming days of Burma, the guns has to fail and the spirit of justice, freedom and democracy will succeed, as the voice of Burma is represented by the soul of a true ‘Satyagrahi’ – Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.   

(*Prof. Ramu Manivannan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration in the University of Madras. He is also the Co-coordinator of the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Peace and Conflict Transformation, University of Madras, India  

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From 1942 Quit India Movement to Quit Dictatorship Movement of 8888 in Burma (Part:I)

August 10, 2007

More than six decades ago on 8th of August 1942, India under the charismatic leadership of Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement with the slogan of “Do or Die” against British Colonialism and ultimately achieved success in freeing her from colonial rule in five years on 15th of August 1947. During the struggle of Gandhi’s Quit India Movement, Burma stood with India in its hour of pain, hardship under the leadership of Ba Maw, Bogyoke Aung San, U Nu and many other great leaders and also achieved freedom four months later on 4th of January 1948. Although, in this last struggle of independence Burmese leadership had been more close to Subhas Chandra Bose plan of action and his Indian National Army compared with Gandhi. But Subhas Bose and leadership in Burma never lost the opportunity of taking blessings from Gandhi in their common struggle of independence. At that time nobody would have imagined, that one day; after little more than one decade of parliamentary democratic experiment of U Nu, Burma would once again fall victim of military dictatorship in March 1962 and had to start her glorious war of freedom against army dictatorship on same historical day of Modern Asian History on 8th of August, four decades later in 1988, in a different historical settings with same spirit of “Do or Die” in their growing non-violent struggle under the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

However compared with 1942 Quit India Movement, the glorious 8th of August 1988 student revolution popularly known as four eight movement – 8888 movement had some important similarities and little but significant differences. The important similarities were that, both the revolution stood for freedom to express opinions with immense love for respective country and demand for participative transparent government controlled by people’s mandate. In addition, both the movement had popular support of all walks of life having immense support among youths and students touching every nook and corner of the country.   

One was against alien rule in 1942 but other was against military dictatorship in 1988 and against own army General’s turned out alien to people’s demand for participative rule of benevolent governance.   

The significant differences exists that Quit India Movement’s Colonial British Master, despite many police atrocities had been more benevolent in terms of rule of law in comparison with SPDC of Burma by allowing congress party leaders, workers and relatives to meet Gandhiji and allowed him to correspond with his co-workers and supporters at prison as well as the opportunity of free trial of Netaji’s (Subhas Chandra Bose) Indian National Army officers watched by media. After the 8th of August 1942 Quit India resolution by All India Congress Committee, Gandhi ji was arrested in the early morning of 9th of August 1942 and was taken to Aga Khan Palace, Poona and thereafter members of congress working committee were also arrested. But Gandhi was allowed to interview by the editor of newspaper – “The Bombay Chronicle”, Syed Abdullah Brelvi on 21st February 1943, who used to be also a member of the All India Congress Committee.[1] Gandhi also met his much celebrated disciple Mirabehn in the same month on 27th February 1943.[2] During his prison term from 9th of August 1942 to 6th of May 1944, Gandhi was allowed to write more than hundred letters to his party workers and lovers including British Viceroy and administrators’. Even one day after her arrest he was permitted to write a letter to the Governor of Bombay, Sir Roger Lumley on 10th of August 1942[3] and issued a message to the countrymen on 9th of August 1942 at 5 A.M., that, “Everyone is free to go the fullest length under ahimsa (non-violence). Complete deadlock by strikes and other non-violent means. Satyagrahis must go out to die not to live. They must seek and face death. It is only when individuals go out to die that the nation will survive – “Karenge Ya Marenge (We will do or die)[4] 

Whereas army dictators in Burma first known as State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and later State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has crossed all the civic norms including the United Nations Convention on the rights of political prisoner by shunning Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders under prolonged detention without any accessibility to her own political party workers, sons, friends and world media. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is also not allowed to meet world media and write letters to his friends, party colleagues and family members.

And interestingly, United Nations Security Council two esteemed permanent partner China and Russia as well as ASEAN is making assessment that every thing is going fine in Burma and the ongoing National Convention started on 18th July 2007 is a welcome step as it unfolds for genuine democracy without the participation of NLD and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?  In the case of Daw Suu Kyi, apart from her being a much loved personality in Burma and Nobel laureate and leader of the NLD party which won the May 1990 elections, UN has also failed to protect its own former staff suffering under military rule since last seventeen years.  

The other significant differences had been that, 1942 was a well planned political programme of actions proposed by earlier meetings held at Wardha on 14th of July 1942, before a final decision taken at Gowalia Tank in Bombay on 8th of August 1942 by a well established Indian National Congress party.[5] Whereas the 8888 revolution, had natural outburst of long simmering people’s discontent against army misrule. This found definite political actions with the entry of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Burmese politics, with her first public appearance at the Rangoon General Hospital on 24th of August 1988 and Shwedagon Pagoda Speech on 26th of August 1988.[6] And a month later it got organized with the establishment of The National League for Democracy Party (NLD) on 24th September 1988 by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi together with Aung Gyi and Tin U as a political challenge to the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which had assumed power on behalf of the military establishment six days before to crush the people’s revolution.

Although despite NLD’s one month late formation after the 8th of August 1988 revolution and Congress being an old political party established in December 1885, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD soon gained immense popularity among Burmese people and won the May 1990 elections with absolute majority. It also negated the theories that, Burmese people lack democratic values and more inclined to totalitarian regime and proving importance of 8888 revolution in Modern history of Burma. 

(Continued…)     

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ENDNOTES:  

[1] The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume – LXXVII, The Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, New Delhi, October 1979, p.65.

 

[2] Ibid, p.69.

[3]The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume – LXXVI, The Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, New Delhi, July 1979, p.404.

[4] Ibid, p.403.

[5] Bipan Chandra, Gen. Editor, India’s Struggle For Independence (1857-1947), Penguin Books, New Delhi, 1989, p.459.

 

[6] Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom From Fear and other writings, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 1995. p.333.

♠ Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s first intervention for democratic change in Burma begins with her open letter to the military government on 15th of August 1988, proposing that a consultative committee be formed, composed of respected independent persons, who would steer the country towards multi-party elections. Following Gandhian principle, She stresses the need for restraint from violence on the part of the government and demonstrators, and the release of persons arrested, which also gained support of U Nu, the last elected Prime Minister, and other pre-1962 political leaders.

 (Continued…) 

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