Tag Archives: Myanmar

We Failed Rwanda; Let’s Stand for the #Rohingya

Indonesia Muslim Rally
Indonesia Muslim Rally

It’s been almost 20 years since the Rwandan genocide. We were too stupid, callous, or indifferent to stop it, and Senator Dallaire has more than a few words on the topic.

Granted, the WWW was just getting going in the early 1990s, so we didn’t have the kind of viral campaigns we see now, like Avaaz’s campaign to stop the imminent genocide of the Rohingya in Burma [see below]. It started on Canada/Settler Day and accumulated over 300,000 signatures in less than two days. They’re going for 1,000,000.

Genocide is perhaps the surest sign that humanity is reaching for profound depravity.

Why would a country not issue birth certificates to babies of one cultural group?

How can a people cultivate such hatred? How can a people ignore systematic execution? How can a people be blind to dehumanization? I wrote about it yesterday, with Canada’s nice-guy self-concept combined with a studied self-delusion about our generations of abuse of the first peoples.

Maybe that sheds some light on what is happening in Burma. Maybe that also sheds some light on why Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has sent over two dozen emails about expanding trade relations with Burma in the last 50 weeks, yet only one email that had any reference to the Rohingya. If they are hated for taking away jobs from other Burmese, Canada should stop pouring kerosene on that fire.

Maybe it also explains how Al Jazeera has some significant coverage of the Rohingya, but how the CBC doesn’t.

Whatever the case, the Avaaz platform of viral campaigns for social justice is a proven model, and a welcome development from those who spent the 1980s getting together one Friday each month to jointly write letters to support Amnesty International campaigns.

Signing on to shine a spotlight on an approaching genocide is a useful act, but it’s not a final one. It is an opening act. The rest of your responsibility lies in forcing our government to see ALL Burmese as humans first, not sweatshop labour.

You can let your Member of Parliament know what you want if you know your postal code.

You can let the prime minister, foreign affairs minister, leader of the opposition, opposition foreign affairs critic, Liberal party leader and Liberal foreign affairs critic know what you want them to do to help the Rohingya by emailing this article to these folks, along with your personal message: romeo.dallaire@sen.parl.gc.ca, stephen.harper@parl.gc.ca, john.baird@parl.gc.ca, thomas.mulcair@parl.gc.ca, paul.dewar@parl.gc.ca, justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca, dominic.leblanc@parl.gc.ca.

Most people didn’t know who the Rwandans were until it was too late, and 800,000 of them were dead. Right now, the fate of Burma’s Rohingya people is hanging by a thread. Racist thugs have distributed leaflets threatening to wipe out this small Burmese minority. Already children have been hacked to death and unspeakable murders committed. All signs are pointing to a coming horror, unless we act.

Genocides happen because we don’t get concerned enough until the crime is committed. The Rohingya are a peaceful and very poor people. They’re hated because their skin is darker and the majority fear they’re ‘taking jobs away’. There are 800,000 of them, and they could be gone if we don’t act.

– from Burma: Stop the next Rwanda

No Iron Lady, But the Lady is a True Orchid of Steel

Michelle Yeoh during her visit with Suu Kyi outside her house gates in Rangoon.

Coming out in the heels of Aung San Suu Kyi recent electoral breakthrough of her National League for Democracy, The Lady, is an epic feature film directed by Luc Besson, about the Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Michelle Yeoh’s true to life depiction of Suu Kyi’s political life as the Uniter of the Burmese peoples’ democratic aspirations gives us a very accurate understanding of the events that led to her pro-longed house arrest. She was no Iron Lady but Suu Kyi was called the Steel Orchid.  This film really helps us understand why and how she used her time in solitude to read and write her ideas about democracy and justice.

Yeoh describes the film as “an incredible love story” against the background of “political turmoil”. Paris Match names the film an extraordinary story of love between her deceased husband Michael Aris played by David Thewlis, and a woman who sacrifices her personal happiness for her people. Michelle Yeoh called the film “a labour of love” but also confessed it had felt intimidating for her to play the Nobel Prize winner.

During the shooting of the film, news broke that Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest had been lifted. Luc Besson hesitated to believe what he saw on TV because it looked so much like his recent footage. Yeoh used her spare time to visit Suu Kyi immediately. She says that she got the feeling she was still on the film set during the visit because Luc Besson had recreated the house so accurately. On 22 June 2011 Yeoh wanted to visit Suu Kyi a second time but was deported, reportedly over her portrayal of Suu Kyi. Yeoh watched about 200 hours of audiovisual material on Suu Kyi and took lessons in Burmese to get it all right. This really pays off and becomes evident when she delivers Suu Kyi’s historic first speeches in public in Burmese.

Social Justice and Democracy Activists Fool their Foes on April Fools

Long time social justice and democracy activists fooled their foes on April Fools this year giving the world a double victory with Aung San Suu Kyi and George Galloway winning by-elections to restore voices for reason in the world.

Suu Kyi, a long time political prisoner, won her first election after being freed by the Myanmar military regime. She has fought long and hard for the democracy movement in the former Burma in the tradition of her father General Aung San. The military still controls the country and elected politicians have a token role to play.

George Galloway was also returned to the British Parliament in a by-election, handly defeating his Labour rival Imran Hussien by over 10,000 votes. Galloway formed his own Respect Party when he was thrown out of the Labour Party for his critical opposition to the Labour government policies on the Middle East. This was a great comeback for him after loosing his seat in the 2010 general election.

Even though these two are lone voices in the wilderness, this April Fool’s victory is a victory for all of those who are fighting for social justice and democracy around the world.

Harper + Aung San Suu Kyi + G20 Protesters = Hypocrisy

On Saturday, Stephen Harper issued a fantastic statement explaining why Canada is happy that the Burmese totalitarian regime released Aung San Suu Kyi.

The amazing thing is how many of his criticisms of the despotic regime apply to him and his treatment of G20 protesters. The DFAIT/PMO bureaucrats must have had an awesome time crafting this statement. Let’s track the similarities:

Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada on the release of Aung San Suu Kyi

13 November 2010

Yokohama, Japan

Prime Minister Stephen Harper today issued the following statement on the release of Nobel peace laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi:

“I am pleased that Aung San Suu Kyi has finally been released from house arrest in Burma. She is an unwavering champion of peace, democracy and respect for human rights in Burma, despite being held in detention for 15 of the past 21 years.

via Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada on the release of Aung San Suu Kyi – Prime Minister of Canada.

Peace: the G20 featured thousands of peaceful protesters who consistently argue that the neoliberal capitalist agenda of the G20 undermines peace around the world by exacerbating material disparities and preventable poverty and despair. Hundreds of peaceful protesters were rounded up in terrifying fashion, then detained and charged with either NOTHING or non-existent breaches of the criminal code.

Democracy: the G20 is a patently anti-democratic body that sets the global economic agenda from the perspective of…take a breath here…the 20 richest nations in the world. Protesters oppose this kind of wealth totalitarianism.

Respect for Human Rights: the beatings and Charter violations of G20 protesters in Toronto are widely documented and a stain on Canada’s reputation as a nation that respects human rights. Mind you, this is not surprising when the Harper government “endorses” the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but with this disclaimer: “in a manner fully consistent with Canada’s Constitution and laws” which means the government will nod happily at what it likes and ignore the rest if it contravenes our current despotic relationship with indigenous peoples of Canada…much like Bush’s signing statements.

“Neither her trial nor appeal process were conducted in line with international standards. She was not granted due process and should never have been detained.

Due process: I laughed out loud when I read this when I considered the absolute lack of due process afforded to hundreds of detainees at the G20 in Toronto. The Canadian regime that enforced the draconian response to peaceful protest in Toronto failed to meet Canadian standards, let alone international standards.

“Canada has long supported Ms. Suu Kyi in her efforts to bring genuine democracy to Burma. In recognition of her struggle to promote fundamental freedoms and democratic principles, she was granted honourary Canadian citizenship by the Parliament of Canada in 2007.

Genuine democracy: we have no democracy when people have legitimate fears of being rounded up and detained for dozens of hours, perhaps beaten and intimidated, certainly abused for peacefully protesting, partaking of a “free speech zone” or merely walking in public near a protest. The chill factor created by the G20 abuses is designed to discourage future protests/demonstrations. The Orwellian bail conditions foisted upon Alex Hundert and many others undermine fundamental freedoms, the rule of law and democratic principles.

“Canada stands resolutely with Burma’s democratic forces and like-minded members of the international community in the quest to restore civilian government to the Burmese people. We continue to call on the Burmese authorities to release all political prisoners and allow the meaningful political participation of all Burma’s opposition and ethnic groups.

Restoring civilian government: I would like to see a return to civil government that respects the Charter pro-actively, rather than gambles that it can violate the Charter and our rule of law, then hope it avoids/delays sufficient scrutiny until the psychological trauma has been fully embedded in the population.

Release all political prisoners: I call on Stephen Harper to release the G20 protesters still held, initiate a non-partisan public inquiry into G20 security abuses, and initiate judicial review of all charges and bail conditions.

Meaningful political participation: I call on the prime minister to apologize for G20 security excesses and abuses and enact restorative measures towards the protesters and the public at large to affirm for Canadians that his regime is not designed to undermine meaningful political participation in Canada.

“In December 2007, Canada imposed the toughest sanctions in the world against the Burmese regime to indicate its condemnation of the regime’s complete disregard for human rights and its repression of the country’s democratic movement. Those sanctions will remain in place.”

Toughest sanctions in the world: I call on the global community to condemn the behaviour of the Harper government’s G20 security abuses. Harper likes to spin “tough on crime” rhetoric, in this case championing our sanctions on Burma, but he clearly refuses to permit democratic expression at home. His “complete disregard for human rights and…repression of the country’s democratic movement” stemming from the G20 abuses demand that the world community act in whatever way they deem suitable to pressure the Harper regime to acknowledge and actually champion the rule of law, for the sake of democracy in Canada.

The delusion/arrogance that Stephen Harper must now be carrying to have the gall to release this statement condemning the Burmese totalitarian regime and its treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi that also apply to his treatment of G20 protesters is unfathomable.

As long as Canadians permit this kind of abuse of our democracy, Harper will continue to beat us, in full irony, with the text of our Charter.

Please, feel free to forward this post to our irony-loving prime minister at pm@pm.gc.ca so you can let him know that he needs to live up the standard he demands of…of all places…Burma!