The Last of the Komissar

By Kanbawza Win | January 19, 2012

Looking at my beloved country I recollect Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, the last Komissar of the Soviet Union who tried his level best to save the Communist system through long-necessary reforms, as what the Burmese regime is doing now in releasing hundreds of political prisoners. It also catches two birds with a stone in placating the maximum impression on European and American diplomats and "human rights" organizations to lift their punitive sanctions which they so crave in order to legalize their personal wealth. Not that I am predicting that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be the Boris Yektsin of Burma as she has famously put it: "It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to It." but because the system of the dictatorial regime is rotting beyond repair and is crumbling. 

The Nargis Constitution following the Nargis Cyclone of May 2008. exposed not only reveal the dictator's inability to cope with a natural disaster but its inability to deal with those offering help, from both home and abroad that clearly proves how much the corruption has been that have eaten the foundation of military dictatorship resulting more than 100,000 unnecessary deaths, and the suffering of millions of survivors and lost of billions of dollars.

Cease fires with the ethnic nationalities must be followed up by stopping the ethnic cleansing policies because in modern Burma is that the ethnic nationalities have been residing in their specific area long before the Myanmar race came into Burma.[1] The Generals using their pocket army the Tatmadaw is endeavoring these “undesirable" population due to religious or ethnic discrimination, political, strategic or ideological considerations, or a combination of these to satisfy their grip on powers will soon come to an abrupt end. This forcible deportation of a population - is defined as a crime against humanity under the statutes of the International Criminal Court which "constitute crimes against humanity and can be assimilated to specific war crimes.[2]  Furthermore such acts could also fall within the meaning of the Genocide Convention." The UN General Assembly condemned "ethnic cleansing" and racial hatred in a 1992 resolution.

In 1985 Anti Slavery International (ASI) was the first Non Burmese organization to raise the issue of concern at the United Nations. In March 1987 in response to growing reports of an alarming catalogue of human rights abuses by the BSPP (Burmese Socialist Programme Party), ASI sponsored a visit to Europe of a delegation from the Karen National Union. This was the first time since Burma gain independence in Jan 1948 the  ethnic nationality delegation from one of “Asia most war torn countries” had entered such an international forum where its delegation speak to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

The ethnic cleansing of the Burmese regime has become a worldwide international concern and experiences of other multi ethnic countries, such as Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Burundi, and Rwanda. It shows how desperate these conflicts can become if left unresolved. It could easily become an all out civil war. Human rights abuses in ethnic nationality areas are the single most important cause of conflict-induced internal displacement in Burma and the scale of atrocities committed by the Burmese army is unparalleled within Asia. Surges of attacks by the Burmese army since autumn 2005 have compelled thousands to flee, especially in the Karen state where 11,000 people have been reported displaced during the months of March and April 2006 alone.

While an increasing number of people in the country face a deteriorating humanitarian situation, Burma’s internally displaced like the Kachins are particularly vulnerable and face acute humanitarian problems in health, nutrition and education. The Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) has carried out the most reliable existing survey of internal displacement in eastern Burma. According to this study, which covers 37 townships in the Tenasserim and eastern Pegu divisions and the Mon, Karen, Karenni and Southern Shan States, the total number of people who have been forced or obliged to flee their homes over the past decade and have not been able to return, resettle or reintegrate into society is estimated to be at least to be half a million There are no similar surveys from other parts of the country, but other studies conducted by human rights groups have estimated that 650,000 are internally displaced in the border areas and at least one million countrywide.[3]  Between 700,000 and one million people are also believed to have fled Burma to Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and other countries to escape human rights violations.[4]  The large majority of the internally displaced, 340,000 people, are in temporary settlements in ceasefire areas controlled by ethnic minority groups, while at least 92,000 civilians remain in hiding and another 108,000 are in relocation sites after being forcibly evicted from their homes by the army. [5] Army attacks to increase control over areas in eastern Karen state, close to the Thai border, have displaced at least 11,000 people and over 15,000 people have fled to refugee camps in Thailand.[6]

Human rights violations are the single most important reason for displacement than fighting between the Burmese and the resistance armies. In conflict areas, the army has for decades implemented a so-called “Four Cuts Policy” which aims to consolidate control in ethnic nationalities areas by eliminating the access of armed opposition groups to new recruits, information, supplies and financial support. In implementing this strategy, the Burmese army is accused of widespread human rights abuses such as forced relocation, expropriation of land and livestock, extortion, forced labour, threats and intimidations, sexual abuse and other forms of violence.[7]

As the Burmese Tatmadaw substantially expanded its control over ethnic nationalities areas during the late 1990s, more than 2,800 villages have been destroyed and about one million people forcibly relocated to government-controlled areas.[8]  In Shan state, approximately two thirds of the villages situated in the hills were relocated to lowland areas from 1996 onwards, and villages are still being destroyed.[9]  People forcibly relocated by the Tatmadaw are commonly given about one week’s notice to leave their village and move to poorly equipped relocation sites, after which government troops loot any remaining belongings and destroy buildings and food crops to discourage return.

 A development program, launched in 1989 to promote infrastructure in the border areas, have primarily served to consolidate military control over the ethnic nationalities population. Road building and natural resources extraction has led to easier access for the military and an increased threat of human rights abuses against the local population. A large hydro-electric project which will lead to the building of four dams along the Salween river in Karen and Shan states, has already led to forced evictions of 60 villages along the river and threatens to displace thousands of people when  implementation starts in 2007. [10]

In Western Burma, particularly in Arakan, the Muslim Rohingya and other ethnic groups have been displaced as a result of brutal discrimination policies, including the construction of "new villages" for trans-migrants from central and northern Burma. Many of those displaced have fled to Bangladesh, where conditions of asylum are very harsh, and where they face the prospect of forced repatriation.[11] The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma has repeatedly expressed concern about the situation. The Na Sa Ka (e p u), a border task force believed to be under the direct command of the regime is said to be the main perpetrator of abuses against the Rohingya population. Although UNHCR is present on the ground after a mass repatriation in 1994-1995 of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, abuses go on unabated.[12]

In urban areas, whole neighborhoods, mainly in poor areas, have been forced to move due to “security reasons” or to make way for infrastructure projects, including roads, bridges and “urban development programs”. Hundreds of thousands of residents of Rangoon and other towns and cities have been moved to “satellite towns” that have been established in recent years.[13]  A sudden move of key government ministries from Rangoon to Naypyidaw reportedly also led to the forced relocation of surrounding villages and forced labor. [14]

 Anti-personnel mines are a major risk in Burma, affecting nine out of 14 states. The concentration of landmines is especially dense along the border with Thailand and Bangladesh. Most of the land mines were laid by the Tatmadaw and they lay mines close to areas of civilian activity to prevent relocated villagers from returning to their native villages. There is no systematic collection of information about mine casualties, but there is evidence that Burma is among the countries with the highest number of casualties each year. The mine threat has been identified as one of the main impediments to any future return of IDPs and refugees.[15]

While the general humanitarian situation in the country has deteriorated over the past years, the situation is particularly critical for internally displaced in eastern Burma.  The TBBC documented the extreme vulnerability of the displaced populations, among other in terms of mortality and malnutrition rates which are significantly higher than for the rest of the population. Tens of thousands are in urgent need of basic medical assistance, food aid, shelter and education, but no assistance is reaching them and surely this is but one way of ethnic cleansing.

The large majority of people needing assistance in Burma are cut off from international relief. The Burmese government generally refuses to permit any external involvement in its border areas and does not allow international organizations[16] access to war-affected populations.

After a period of expanded humanitarian space to some areas in eastern Burma, access has again been curtailed, that further restrict assistance by international organizations.[17]  The tight surveillance imposed by the regime has led the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to terminate grants and Médecins Sans Frontières – France to cease its activities inside Burma. [18] Even the ICRC, which has a long-standing presence in Burma, has recently been restricted in carrying out its work, including prison visits. [19] Cooperation with the government has been complicated further by the sudden relocation of key ministries to Pyinmana in southern Mandalay division.[20]In ceasefire areas, relocation sites and in areas of mixed administration, the main method of minimizing threats is to comply with extortion and follow orders. [21]

The impending collapse of the Burmese military dictatorship system are political and economic because of the result of the Burmese military culture and totalitarian system The poor Burmese consumers turned to imports and black market to satisfy their needs because all the needs were swallowed up by military and there were no quality goods to balance imports except in extractive economy. These economic factors were linked to political and psychological factors. "the gloomy background of the worsening market situation ... has a depressing effect on people." Their gloom deepened as a result of policy failures such as the war against the ethnic nationalities and democracy movement.

Another factor was the lack of honest information, the secrecy and propaganda that is central to the culture of dictatorship. As contradictions mounted as the people of Burma became more and more cynical about the propaganda of government-controlled media. It was common to hear an average Burmese say that you could find truth anywhere except in government news. This was exacerbated by the free press of the dissidents, the BBC, VOA and Radio Free Asia.

Secrecy and distortion of information have disastrous economic as well as political effects. Secrecy and restricted movement, the hallmarks of militarism and bureaucracy, pervaded the Burmese society as all levels of the system, from institutes to ministries, were isolated from each other, both by barriers to communication and by an attitude that one should mind one's own business. Economic indicators were routinely suppressed or falsified to the point that when the final economic collapse was imminent there were no published figures to indicate the points of weakness.

 All of these factors accumulated on top of a profound alienation of the Burmese people that had grown up over the years as the country remained in the grips of the culture of war. Information was controlled in the form of propaganda and dissidents were sent to jail. People did not feel free to discuss this, resulting that most people did not participate in governance. In the Burmese military dictatorships all citizens were deprived of the basic rights and freedoms of organization, speech, thought, press, movement, residence, conscience and religion; full trade union rights for all workers including the right to strike, and one person one vote in free and democratic elections were in non existence. There is no free flow of honest information. Which is against the principles of a culture of peace and development?

The Generals are desperately gasping and no Western country should be in a hurry to reward the vehemently hated Burmese Generals. I would agreed with David Steinberg’s comment “We foreigners should remember how marginal we are in helping the downfall of the Burmese military dictatorship, the real heroes are the people of Burma f all ethnicities[22]

[1] The Mon  has been in Burma much earlier than the Burman/Myanmar
[2] Established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780
[3] see Human Rights Watch, June 2005
[4] UNNS, 28 October 2005
[5] Thai Burma Border Council , October 2005, pp. 2, 24
[6] Reuters News, 26 April 2006
[7] Amnesty International, Sept. 2005 and UNGA, 12 August 2005, par. 65
[8] Thai Burma Border Consortium, October 2005, p.22
[9] SRDC, 2006, p.3; S.H.A.N., 7 March 2006 SRDC, 2006, p.3; S.H.A.N., 7 March 2006
[10] KDRG, 2006, p.2; TBBC, October 2005, p.20; HRW, June 2005, p. 42
[11] Forum Asia, June 2003; FIDH, 9 March 2004; AI, 19 May 2004
[12] Amnesty International , 29-9- 2005; IPS, 6-12- 2005; Kaladan News, 16-3- 2006
[13] USDOS, 8 March 2006; KWN, September-October 2003
[14] UN Human Right Commission , 7 Feb. 2006, para. 36
[15] Human Rights Watch, June 2005, p.13
[16] Human Rights Watch, June 2005, p. 60
[17] Mizzima News, 13 February 2006
[18] COE-DMHA, 20 December 2005; MSF, 20 March 2006
[19] Mizzima News, 24 February 2006
[20] UN Commission for Human Rights , 27 February 2006, para 7
[21] TBBC, October 2005, pp.55-56
[22] Steinber; David J Myanmar: On Claiming Success in The Irrawaddy 18-1-2012

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