Back to BADA home

Please read this posting online:

NLD Says 'No' to Election: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, NLD and Burma need us more then EVER!!!!

Dear All,

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party has decided to not register for the military regime's 2010 elections.

In order to register for the 2010 elections, the regime has written the laws that would require NLD to do the following:

-  Accept the nullification of the 1990 elections results in which NLD won a landslide victory.
-  Accept and pledge to protect the regime's 2008 SHAM constitution that put the military in the driver seats formally.
-  Expel all political prisoners from the party  including its leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi -- there are 2000+ political prisoners in Burma. 

Within 60 days of March 8, the party will cease to exist legally according to the regime's (so called) election laws.

The regime has destroyed much of the Burma's institutions, and NLD, being the only major political institution (beside the military) and
major threat to its power, has always been under great scrutiny.   Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's says the party will be at the mercy
of the regime's if register -- very true as it has already been that way even with the land slide victory in the past election!!! it will
be much worse.

With this decision, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD

- have refused to let the regime formally override the true will of the people and redefine their role in Burma's struggle for Democracy.
- have decided to continue to stand up for the people despite threats, attacks and paramount oppression.

They are now in new and unfamiliar territory (soon to be illegal institution) and need our support more then ever.
We must not allow ILLEGAL regime make a legal institution (of the people) illegal in Burma.

Nyunt Than

Burmese Find Release in Music and Art Under Repressive Junta:

Irrawaddy: NLD Says 'No' to Election
The Independent: Ivan Lewis: Burma needs a general election, not an election of Generals
BBC: Burma military rulers give hints of change
NY Times: Despite Authoritarian Rule, Myanmar Art Grows
Irrawaddy: Human Trafficking Increases on Sino-Burma Border
Irrawaddy: Burma's Gruesome Animal Trade


NLD Says 'No' to Election
Monday, March 29, 2010

Burma's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), decided against registering for the general election this year, after party leaders met in Rangoon to discuss the issue.

On Monday, nearly 160 party representatives from across the country gathered at the party's Rangoon headquarters and 114 representatives voted in a ballot on whether to register the party or not.

Members of the detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy gather at Rangoon's headquarters before its central committee meeting on March 29. (Photo: AP)
Several party sources confirmed that the majority is against the party registering under the current conditions.


Party sources said that 92-year-old party chairman Aung Shwe, who recently voiced support for the party registering and taking part in the election, did not join in the meeting and instead sent a letter stating that he would abide by the majority decision.

“With unity, we all follow our party leader Aung San Suu Kyi's line against party registration,” said a NLD representative, Ohn Kyaing.

The meeting came six days after the NLD's detained leader Suu Kyi said she was against her party registering under the current “unjust” election law, which prohibits parties from having members who are currently in detention, so a decision to register would force Suu Kyi out of the party.

Although security is heightened with four riot police trucks deployed near the party headquarters, there has been no report of harassment of the NLD leaders by the authorities.

Before the discussion, several party township representatives and party youth leaders declared that they would stand by Suu Kyi's line against registration.

If the NLD fails to register within 60 days of March 8 when the junta's election law was announced, it will cease to exist as a legal entity, according to that law.

Meanwhile, junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe described the election as “the beginning of the process of fostering democracy” in his speech at Armed Forces Day on Saturday.

The NLD won a landslide victory in Burma's last election in 1990, but the results were never honored by the regime. Party leader Suu Kyi is currently serving an 18-month term of house arrest. With her sentence due to expire in November, Suu Kyi cannot be a member of any political party if she is not released before the May 7 deadline for party registration.

The Independent: Ivan Lewis: Burma needs a general election, not an election of Generals

Monday, 29 March 2010The message could not have been clearer. On Armed Forces day, as soldiers marched through Naypyidaw, Burma's Senior General Than Shwe set out his vision for "disciplined democracy". A moment that could have been cause for celebration is instead a cause for concern and regret.

There will soon be an election in Burma. But recently announced election laws mean there is no prospect of it being free, fair or inclusive. Aung San Suu Kyi's party are forced to either expel her, or accept that they will be disbanded. Prospective voters have already been warned to vote the "right way". Instead of a general election, there will be an election of Generals. This was why we secured an urgent Security Council meeting this week. We remain determined to keep Burma high on the international agenda. The sheer scale of the monstrous human rights abuses demand nothing less.

There is a choice for Myanmar's military leaders. Currently synonymous with brutal dictatorship and awful abuses of power, they could instead find a place in history for bringing about a transition to lasting stability and security and restoring Burma's international standing. There would also be strong benefits for Burma's neighbours. A genuinely inclusive political settlement would allow refugees to return home and end border instability. The Rohingya, Karen and other persecuted groups have fled in large numbers across Burma's borders. This worrying trend, as well as the growing flow of drugs and human trafficking, could be tackled and eventually reversed.

For these reasons, I am convinced of three things. First, that no one should be selling arms to a country where the military's primary purpose is to oppress and persecute its own people. Second, that we must make clear to Burma's leaders that without the release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and full participation of opposition and ethnic groups, elections planned for later this year will not be credible, nor help to solve Burma's many problems.

Finally, that we should resist the temptation to accept the status quo out of frustration at the lack of progress. If Burma's people can retain their optimism for the future, we have no right to turn away or give up hope.

Ivan Lewis is Minister of State at the Foreign Office

Burma military rulers give hints of change

Statues of ancient Burmese warrior-kings on the parade ground

By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Nay Pyi Taw

The vast, concrete parade ground shook as thousands of Burmese troops stamped their feet and stood to attention for their senior general, Than Shwe, who addressed the military on Armed Forces Day.

They marched unit by unit, saluted by their commander-in-chief, their patriotic songs echoing across the huge parade ground, overlooked by three giant statues of ancient Burmese warrior-kings.

Symbols of historical strength, they say a great deal about the man at the head of this 400,000 strong army - a man who sees it as the guardian of the nation, where power is unquestioned and opposition is not tolerated.

Gen Shwe addressed his ranks and the country - the whole thing was broadcast live on TV - in a short but firm speech.

Level playing field?

The only section highlighted in bold in the English translation presented to the few foreign journalists was "the nation will be strong only when the armed forces are strong".

There was a message for "external powers... who usually interfere and take advantage of their own interests" to stay away - a swipe perhaps at the UN's condemnation of the election laws.

Gen Shwe reviews the troops
The army shows few signs of leaving power

A warning to opposition groups against "improper or inappropriate campaigning" sat uncomfortably alongside a pledge the forthcoming elections will be "free and fair."

The opposition here and many foreign countries believe the election will be anything but free or fair, given the election laws which ban thousands of political prisoners from office.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League of Democracy (NLD) party has not yet decided if it will take part, but she has made it clear she is against the party's participation.

There are 2,100 political prisoners, an election commission appointed by the generals and some ambiguities to the law which tilt the balance squarely in the military's favour.

The invitation of foreign journalists to come to the country and the parade, in a place normally closed to reporters, could be read in a variety of ways.

Either the military want to open up to gain the legitimacy they would like for the election, and more journalist visas and invitations will follow, or it was a good opportunity to show their strength and resolve to the outside world, and the door will soon slam shut.

Although we were free to move around the new Burmese capital city of Nay Pyi Taw, people were afraid to talk, and such is the climate of fear when it come to politics, it was difficult to find anyone who would even help translate.

To be seen helping a BBC reporter, even one invited in by the government, could result in a knock at the door late at night, one man told me.

Empty streets

Nay Pyi Taw itself is a strange place.

Amid the vast flower- and tree-lined avenues and eight-lane highways are lavish government ministry buildings, scattered among the hills and shallow valleys of what once was scrubland 250 miles (402km) north of Rangoon.

Gaudy fountains adorn beautifully tended roundabout flower beds and a slightly smaller replica of the famous golden Shwedagon pagoda in the former capital gleams in the hazy sunshine.

Construction worker in Nay Pyi Taw
Construction works continues apace in Nay Pyi Taw

Doric pillars adorn luxurious houses for important military officers, a glitzy shopping mall sells flat-screen TVs and fridge freezers to a soundtrack of Beatles cover music.

Building work goes on at a seemingly frenetic pace, but yet there are few cars on the roads; empty and abandoned bus stops stand without passengers, let alone buses; and there is an eerie lack of soul to this whole fabricated city.

The country's capital was moved here according to the astrological calendar, perhaps to make it harder for an invading power or to shrug off the colonial past.

But certainly it was on the whim of the country's few rulers, who care more about the excessive infrastructure and show of wealth than the health and education of their people.

The elections may not be free and fair in a Western sense, but some aid workers and diplomats here argue at least it is some change, some movement after years of stagnation.

Gen Shwe's "gentle transition to democracy and market-orientated economics" may sound hollow, but there is little here to be optimistic about, and where there is even limited chance for change, there is hope.

Despite Authoritarian Rule, Myanmar Art Grows

YANGON, Myanmar — The dance music thundered through a crowd of thousands of drunken fans, past the pavilions where skinny women in impossibly high heels gyrated around metal poles and into the streets filled with taxis that ferried partygoers to this free, whiskey-soaked concert in the park.
The New York Times

A dancer at a recent concert in Yangon. Young Burmese are pushing the limits of what the junta allows.

The New York Times

Thxa Soe, a popular musician in Myanmar, performs at a concert in Yangon in early March.

“Our parents don’t allow it, but we do it anyway,” said Zun Pwint Phyu, one of the dancers who endured hours of lascivious stares.

Myanmar is a country where owning a fax machine without a permit is illegal, where even spontaneous gatherings of more than five people are technically banned and where critics of the government are regularly locked away for decades in tiny prison cells.

Yet despite this repression, or perhaps partly because of it, young people here are pushing the limits of what the military government, let alone their parents, considers acceptable art and entertainment.

Art exhibitions, some featuring risky hidden political messages, open nearly every week in Yangon, Myanmar’s main city. Yangon has a festival of underground music, including punk bands, twice a year. Fans of the most popular musical genres, hip-hop and electronic dance music, wear low-slung baggy pants to regularly held concerts here.

U Thxa Soe, a popular artist who mixes traditional “spirit dances” with something resembling techno music, said he believed that the government tolerated wild concerts in recent years partly because it suited its strategy of control. “You need to squeeze and release, squeeze and release,” he said.

“We live in fear,” he said. “We live under a dictatorship. People need fresh air. They release their anger, their energy.”

The success of artists like Mr. Thxa Soe undermines Myanmar’s often monochromatic image as a place of zero freedoms. This country, formerly known as Burma, is by many measures a brutally authoritarian place — human rights groups count 2,100 political prisoners.

But even if the generals willed it, people here say, the government would probably not be able to pull off North Korean-style totalitarianism. Society here is too unruly, disorganized and corrupt; people are too creative, the climate too hot for 24-hour repression.

The police are famously brutal, but they, too, suffer from tropical torpor: a common scene is a group of police officers napping in the back of a truck.

Over the past two years, entertainment options have rapidly expanded for residents of the country’s largest cities.

The government has nurtured the creation of a soccer league after years without any organized matches. Soccer games are famously raucous, with fans spewing invective toward the opposing side, ignoring government exhortations to be “polite.”

The number of FM radio stations in Yangon, formerly Rangoon, has gone from just one a few years ago to a handful that play both Burmese and Western-style music. Last year, a private company started up the country’s first television channel dedicated to music videos.

“The government is trying to distract people from politics,” said a Western-educated Burmese businessman who declined to be identified because he thought it might jeopardize his business. “There’s not enough bread, but there’s a lot of circus.”

The contrast between the military government’s heavy-handed authoritarianism and the surprisingly uninhibited entertainment scene can be jarring.

Early this month the leader of the ruling junta, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, observed Peasants Day, a national holiday honoring farmers, with a message addressed to the “Esteemed Peasantry.”

“I wish you, the peasantry, physical and mental well-being and greater success in agricultural farming,” the message said.

By contrast, as night fell at a lakeside fairground in Yangon, security guards had trouble holding back the thousands of fans, who clambered over one another like peasants in revolt. Police officers at times raised their nightsticks menacingly but were largely ignored by the crowd, who had come to see a bill of popular artists playing music that ranged from heavy metal to pop.

One longtime analyst of Myanmar said the government tolerated politics with a small p — gatherings of intellectuals and members of smaller political groups. But it cracks down on Politics, with a capital P, which the analyst defined as anyone who questioned the legitimacy of the military rulers, like groups that support Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and Nobel laureate.

Human Trafficking Increases on Sino-Burma Border
By ALEX ELLGEE       Friday, March 26, 2010

A Burmese woman who worked in a Chinese brothel on the Sino-Burma border in 2009. (Photo: Than Aung/The Irrawaddy)

RUILI, China —Thi Thi Win reminisces about a time when she wore traditional Burmese clothes and walked around her village at sunset. For the best part of her childhood, she considered herself to be lucky—she had two loving parents and food was plentiful.

Until one day when her family was pushed out of their farm by the Burmese army to make way for a highway. One of eight siblings, she knew she had to find work to help her family.

While she was selling some of her families clothes in the local bus station, a man approached her saying he could find her a “factory job” in China. With high hopes, she packed her bags and left for Burma’s booming neighbor.

“He told me I would no longer have to sell my family’s belongings and could buy presents for them within a month,” said Thi Thi Win, who asked that The Irrawaddy not use her real name.

She said her trip to the border was full of excitement. As she looked out the bus window, paddy fields flew past ,and she dreamed of her new life in China. At the bus station, she was greeted by a Chinese man who took her to a teashop where she was given noodles, which she quickly ate.

“The next thing I remember I was in a small room with Burmese girls—they had drugged me,” she said.

“The next couple of hours I spent chatting with the other girls, and they all had the same story. Then they led us out into a room, in front of lot of Chinese men —one man pointed at me.”

That was the moment that the man “bought” her, and without delay or discussion, she was taken to his farm in rural China to be his wife. At first, she refused, and his family was furious. They beat her until she couldn’t take the suffering anymore, and finally gave in.

Like thousands of girls who are trafficked from Burma to China each year, what followed her forced marriage was a life of hardship. The family forbade her to leave the house, and her days were spent housekeeping and cooking, as a way to “repay” the fee they had paid for her.

One day, after a year with the family—what she says felt like a lifetime—the police came to the home and took her into custody. Treated as an illegal immigrant, she was thrown in prison for three months, without an interview or assessment.

Treatment of trafficking victims is a major concern for NGOs that work in the region. They say that China is not doing enough to identify foreign women who have been forced into marriage. Lacking interpreters and proper screening processes, many trafficking victims end up in jail.

Despite the lack of attention to foreign victims, more work has been done to curb domestic trafficking in China.

With most of the trafficking is related to urban migration, the government has spent large sums educating farmers about the dangers of trafficking. China has a total of 1,351 Relief Administrative Centers located at provincial, county and city levels which work with trafficking victims.

Various counter-trafficking training courses have been held for media, trainers, police and key government officials in collaboration with UN agencies and international NGOs. Legal aid for victims has increased with more centers being opened across the country, and China is attempting to improve its prosecution procedure.

Last year, the public security ministry launched a special crackdown. Police across the country rescued 3,455 children and 7,365 women from April to the end of December last year. A total of 1,684 human-trafficking groups were identified and 2,895 trafficking cases were solved with 19 out of 20 suspects arrested.

In March, China's police chief, Meng Jianzhu, called for greater effort in halting trafficking of women and children, saying the crime "grossly violates human rights." Meng vowed zero tolerance for trafficking cases, asking local governments to address economic and social problems that are at the root of rampant human trafficking.

Unfortunately, all this has done little to stop the flow of Burmese women being sold for between 10,000 and 40,000 yuan (US $1,500 to $6,000) into forced marriage. Local grassroots organizations working along the Sino-Burma border believe that more and more women are trafficked across the border each week.

Burma's Gruesome Animal Trade
By SIMON ROUGHNEEN  Saturday, March 27, 2010

BANGKOK—Noted wildlife photographer and cameraman Karl Ammann has made numerous trips to the Golden Triangle region to document the illegal and destructive trade in wild animals. His trips have included the Shan Special Region 4 in Burma where a lucrative cross-border business has emerged in recent years, with tigers, bears, leopards and other animals hunted, caged and killed for food and medicinal products, mainly for consumption in China's Yunnan Province.

A stall in Central Market in Mong La, on the border between Burma and China, sells various dead wildlife, such as this bear (foreground), and skewers of unidentified meat in this undated photo. (Photo: Karl Ammann / National Geographic)
At a screening of his 2007 documentary on the Mong La animal trade in Bangkok earlier this week, Ammann lamented the apparent decline of the animal population in the region around Mong La, the revamped casino town in Shan State near the Chinese border. Once a haven for gambling, drug trafficking and prostitution, the people of Mong La and the surrounding area––for a time at least––have taken to hunting large, rare and exotic animals.

Ammann's documentary featured some gruesome exhibits, such as a group of around 80 black bears kept in small cages, having their bile “milked” via catheters. This so-called "liquid gold," is popular in traditional Chinese remedies, an apparent cure for eye and liver problems. Ammann highlighted the vast array of animal body parts used in traditional Chinese medicine––such as bear paws and gall bladders, big-cat teeth and tiger penis––which can be found at markets around the town.

Ammann believes that much of the economic motivation for the illicit animal trade comes from the reduced drug trade in Shan State in recent years. China closed its border post near Mong La in 2005, apparently after family members connected to the Communist Party leadership lost heavily while gambling at the casino there.



A large male tiger skin is offered for sale in a private backroom in Mvng La, a casino town near the border between Myanmar (Burma) and China, in this photograph taken in summer 2005. (Photo: Karl Ammann / National Geographic)
The Swiss-born photographer's images included cages stacked on top of each other, containing macaques, small primates, pangolins, rare birds and a wide variety of reptiles. Other pictures showed gore-laden tables covered with animal remains, including dogs and monkeys, some with bullet holes through their heads, their throats cut or beheaded. Many of the animals on display are listed as endangered species.

Ammann says the scale of the illicit trade he witnessed in Mong La outweighs anything he has seen, including the well-documented “bushmeat” trade in central and eastern Africa, adding that animal numbers have declined significantly due to hunting.

However, just as Ammann found a desolate Mong La in 2007, and a near traffic-free border post, he fears that the nearby hills and forest are now barren of much of the large wildlife that once roamed the region.

The border post has reportedly reopened from the Chinese side, enabling a return influx of Chinese gamblers and tourists, and a return to the older, bustling Mong La, once known as “Las Vegas in the Jungle.”

The border post apparently re-opened amid Burmese junta pressure on ethnic cease-fire groups, including the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) and United Wa State Army (UWSA), to stand down and become part of the junta's border security forces. The re-opening appears to have taken place not long after the Burmese army offensive against the ethnic Chinese Kokang, which sent 37,000 refugees into China and caused consternation in Beijing.

The NDAA, UWSA and other cease-fire groups are thought to be stepping up drug production and selling off stocks to finance a possible war with the government forces, should Naypyidaw seek to enforce the border guard plan.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) gathering has just concluded in Doha, Qatar, and has been condemned as a failure by conservationists after member states vetoed protection measures proposed to reduce the hunting of various sharks, blue-fin tuna and bears.

“LDCs [lesser-developed countries] no longer want to be dictated to by the West. They say, 'You have consumed so much over the past century, but now you want to stop us doing the same,'” said Ammann.

Burma and China are both signatories to CITES, and the trade puts both countries in breach of their obligations under CITES. Burmese government officials protest that they cannot do anything about the illegal animal trade, as the ethnic area in question has local autonomy.

Ammann said he sought to interview Chinese officials in Geneva about the issue, but said he was “given the runaround,” with no opportunity to ask questions.

Asked about what can be done to reduce or stamp out the illicit trade in wild animals, Ammann says that while education and cultural awareness can help in the long term, “what is needed now is enforcement, as time is running out for some of the animals, as we have seen from Mong La.”

Elsewhere, years of war in eastern Congo have seen gorilla numbers reduced drastically, according to activists, with rebels hunting the animals for food and for re-sale into the bushmeat trade. Chinese demand for ivory has seen elephant numbers drop as China expands its diplomatic and commercial presence across Africa. Elephant poaching is on the rise across Africa, 21 years after the ivory trade was outlawed. Last year, China approved 37 new retail ivory stores. However, China says it is committed to the ban on the ivory trade, and officials say that ivory seizures by Chinese customs officials have almost doubled in recent years.

Experts say the illicit trade piggybacks on lawlessness, state failure and political conflict. According to the CITES Web site: “The illegal wildlife trade that takes place around the world is often highly organized and sophisticated and can involve criminal gangs, armed with automatic weapons, who don’t hesitate to murder the wardens, game scouts or forest guards whose daily job it is to protect our planet’s natural resources.”

In the past, all too often, the response to such criminals has not been equally organized or sophisticated,” said Willem Wijnstekers, the secretary-general of CITES.

-------------------------- MARCH 12 ------------------------------

Washington Post Editorials: Burma shunned U.S. diplomacy with new election law. Now what?
Irrawaddy Commentary: Ghost of Orwell Still Haunts Burma
rrawaddy: Opposition: International Community Must Reject Election
The Nation Editorial: Frustrating fight for a lost cause

Burma shunned U.S. diplomacy with new election law. Now what? 

Friday, March 12, 2010

PRESIDENT OBAMA took office hoping that constructive diplomacy could yield progress on some of the thorniest foreign-policy challenges facing the United States. Among these was Burma, a Southeast Asian nation of 50 million people that has been misruled into poverty, decline and perpetual warfare by a benighted military dictatorship. Mr. Obama did not abandon economic sanctions against the regime, but he did hold out the prospect of warmer relations if Burma's regime would show some sign of easing up on its people.

This week the regime delivered its answer: Get lost. The government promulgated rules that make clear that an election planned for this year will be worse than meaningless. That had always been the fear, given laws that guaranteed the military a decisive role in parliament, no matter who won the election. But the new rules make it official: Burma's leading democratic party and its leader, Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, will not be permitted to take part.

Burma (called Myanmar by its rulers) is a unique case, because the opposition has legitimacy that cannot be denied. Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of the country's independence hero, led the National League for Democracy to a landslide victory the only time reasonably fair elections have been permitted, in 1990, even though she was under house arrest. No transition to civilian rule is plausible unless she and other legitimate stakeholders are allowed to play a role.

A State Department spokesman said that the new law "makes a mockery of the democratic process and ensures that the upcoming elections will be devoid of credibility." The question now is how the administration will respond. It needs to pursue financial sanctions that target Burma's ruling generals and their corruptly amassed wealth. It needs to rally the European Union and Burma's enablers, such as Singapore, to take similar actions. And it needs to take more seriously the security challenge posed by the regime's intensifying wars against minority nationalities and the resulting refugee crises.

A senior U.N. official, in a draft report that became public this week, said that Burma is guilty of "a pattern of gross and systematic violation of human rights" that has continued for years, that reflects state policy and that may constitute "crimes against humanity, or war crimes." The official, Tomás Ojea Quintana, special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, will recommend the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate these crimes, which include ethnic cleansing and the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war.

Mr. Obama was right to offer, cautiously, an open hand. It has been spat upon. Now is the time for something new.

Ghost of Orwell Still Haunts Burma

By YENI                                      Thursday, March 18, 2010

Many Burmese admirers of George Orwell like to say that the 20th century's greatest literary commentator on totalitarianism could never have written his masterpiece “1984” if he had not spent his formative years in Burma.

Indeed, some add, only half-jokingly, that “1984” is in fact a sequel to his first novel, “Burmese Days,” his indictment of British colonial rule in a country where he had spent the years 1922-27 as an assistant superintendent in the Indian Imperial Police. But whereas “Burmese Days” describes a dysfunctional system of governance, “1984” is a full-blown dystopian nightmare.

Had he lived to see Burma as it is today, Orwell would probably have felt that life does indeed imitate art. His vision of a society in which “Big Brother” and the “Party” seek power entirely for its own sake has come true in the country where he first learned the naked truth about the nature of oppression.

Sometimes it even seems as if Burma's ruling generals have been turning to Orwell's fiction for inspiration. The current regime—the “State Peace and Development Council,” which rules by fomenting conflict and keeping its citizens impoverished—seems to take perverse pleasure in twisting the meaning of words. Slogans such as “War is Peace,” “Slavery is Freedom” and “Ignorance is Strength” would not look out of place on the front page of a Burmese state-run newspaper.

Now that the junta has announced its laws for this year's election, we can add another Orwellian slogan to its repertoire of insults to the intelligence of the Burmese people and the international community: “Election is Selection.”

Under the new election rules, which have so far been released only in Burmese, existing political parties wishing to participate in the vote must first expel members serving prison sentences; any party that fails to do so faces dissolution.

But in a country with more than 2,000 political prisoners, this is clearly intended to weaken or disqualify genuine democratic contenders such as the National League for Democracy, whose leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is under house arrest on trumped-up charges.

To add to the opacity of the election laws (which some observers suspect will not be released in English, just to make matters more confusing for foreigners with an interest in seeing how the election is conducted), the regime has also ordered local newspapers and journals not to write anything “negative” about them. Indeed, all coverage of election-related issues must be “optimistic” and essentially indistinguishable from that found in the state-run media.

To further narrow the field of prospective candidates, the Technical Regulations for Political Parties Registration law also requires that all political parties pay a 300,000 kyat (US $300) fee to register, while individual candidates must pay 500,000 kyat ($500). The regulations also state that parties may spend a maximum of 10 million kyat ($10,000) for each candidate running for a seat in parliament—a measure that will favor the relatively well-off, who are, overwhelmingly, those connected to the junta.  

It is little wonder, then, that Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, concluded after a recent visit to the country that the election was unlikely to be free and fair.

All the indications are that Burma's Big Brother, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, has called the election only to pass on the torch of power to a hand-picked successor. Although it is not immediately clear who that will be, it is evident that he has already begun a pre-election process of elimination.

By the time the Burmese people are allowed to “choose” their new leader, it will already have been done for them. After all, this is Burma, where “Dictatorship is Democracy.”

Opposition: International Community Must Reject Election

By SIMON ROUGHNEEN                                                                          Friday, March 19, 2010

More than 150 organizations representing the Burmese opposition, ethnic minority groups and overseas supporters call for the international community to denounce the planned Burmese election and refuse to recognize the results.

The recently announced electoral laws should serve as “a wake-up call” for those who thought that the election represented a potential opening for change in Burma, according to U Thein Oo, an MP-elect for the National League for Democracy (NLD) in the 1990 election.

From left to right: Khin Ohmar, Zipporah Sein and Thein Oo call on the international community to reject Burma’s planned election unless changes are made to recently announced election laws. (Photo: Ba Saw Tin/The Irrawaddy)

“Parties cannot campaign or participate when the law obliges them to kick out their leadership or many of their key members in advance,” he said. “With more than 2,100 political prisoners in Burma, many activists and politicians will be excluded, though some queries were raised as to whether the law prevents former prisoners from remaining in a political party. We are not clear on that.”

The opposition groups want to renegotiate the 2008 Constitution, which they regard as fundamentally flawed and an attempt by the junta to revamp military rule with a civilian veneer. This should be done via a “genuine and inclusive political dialogue,” they say, as called for by Australia, the UK and the US in recent months.

Other “minimum benchmarks” include the unconditional release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi and the end of attacks against ethnic communities and democracy activists.

Ethnic minority groups are being urged to boycott the election, as the 2008 Constitution does not recognize ethnic diversity, according Karen National Union (KNU) head Zipporah Sein.

She said that the junta's pressure on ethnic militias to form a junta-led border guard force has worked with some of the smaller groups.

“They then adopt regime-style policies and tactics toward the local population,” she said, “committing the same atrocities as the army, such as forced displacement, rape, killing and more.”

Ma Khin Ohmar, the foreign affairs secretary at the Forum for Democracy in Burma, said that the UN Security Council should support the recent recommendation made by UN Special Rapporteur on Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, that an international commission of inquiry be set up to look into possible war crimes in Burma, adding “We call for a global arms embargo on a regime that uses its arsenal against its own people.”

Asked by The Irrawaddy about ethnic parties that are fielding candidates in the election, or have joined with junta-backed parties, Zipporah Sein and Khin Ohmar both said that people and groups can choose to join whichever groups they want, but warned, “They will not have any rights or opportunity under this system. We ask them to join with us, rather than endorse the 2008 Constitution, which they are doing by agreeing to participate in this military election.”

Asked about a possible split among ethnic voters, Zipporah Sein said, “Our message to the Karen and the other ethnic groups is that we do not accept the 2008 Constitution or the proposed 2010 elections.
The regime is using the election to cause divisions within the NLD and the ethnic groups.”

However, none of the speakers could point to any possible pan-opposition or pan-ethnic alliance, with a common position on opposing the election, as outlined in the campaign launched today.

“There is a network in place, but there is no plan for a summit to discuss a unified front,” said Zipporah Sein.

Burma watchers who remember the 1990 election recalled that although that election was not free and fair, on polling day the vote count resulted in a surprise landslide win for NLD candidates.

Asked if a similar outcome was possible in 2010, Khin Ohmar said that Burma is different now, with many of opposition leaders in jail or in exile and ethnic groups are under greater pressure from the junta, which has a vastly stronger military backed by increased oil and gas revenues. 

“In 1990, the opposition was harassed, but it could carry out some work before election day,” she said. “This time the regime has done its homework, and the USDA and other groups are working ahead of time backed by massive spending resources and corrupt business cronies of the regime.”



Frustrating fight for a lost cause

By The Nation
Published on March 22, 2010

The International Criminal Court's lack of jurisdictional power prevents it from achieving its raison d'etre - prosecuting the perpetrators of humanity's worst crimes.

The ICC, the court set up to have jurisdiction over crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide when states are either unwilling or unable to prosecute the perpetrators, theoretically has the power to hold the individuals accountable for these crimes and impose deserved punishment on them.

During a visit from officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC) recently, Russia vowed to fully cooperate with the court regarding the investigation of alleged crimes committed in South Ossetia's armed conflict in 2008.

Last week, Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special investigator on human rights in Burma, accused the Burmese government of systematic violations that might encompass crimes against humanity. While it is still a long shot, there are many people hoping to see Burmese leader Sr General Than Shwe and his entourage charged for these crimes by the ICC.

But don't hold your breath.

Russia and Burma, as states not party to the ICC, are not legally bound to the court, so don't expect them to extradite individuals to be possibly charged for crimes committed.

In the court's short history, this has already become a recurring theme. Today, 110 countries are members of the court, slightly more than half of the world's states. Notable non-signatories are China, Thailand, Burma, the US and Sudan.

Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, the incumbent Sudanese president, under whose reign more than 200,000 people have died and more than 2 million have been displaced during the ongoing civil war, has been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC, which issued a warrant for his arrest in February 2009.

More than a year after the warrant was issued, Al-Bashir has yet to be brought to trial, and as president of Sudan, he is unlikely to extradite himself to The Hague anytime soon.

The ICC will therefore remain inefficient until allegiance to the Rome Statute, the ICC's treaty, becomes a necessary condition attached to UN membership. Evidently, this would not guarantee the capture for trial of every charged fugitive, but because state parties to the ICC are legally obliged to fully cooperate with the court in prosecuting individuals, it would certainly help.

While the court's treaty stipulates that the Security Council can order the arrest of an individual in any state under its Chapter Seven powers, the majority needed for such an action is almost impossible to attain, as cases are divisive and non-signatory states populate the Security Council. The warrant for Al-Bashir was deplored by China and Russia, both permanent members of the Security Council, so relying on the latter to counterbalance a lack of jurisdictional power is not a viable permanent solution.

As crimes of this nature often originate inside governments, the belief that every country will one day relinquish its sovereignty over justice to a supranational organ, even if only for a limited list of crimes, is nothing short of an illusion.

The court's ability to bring individuals to justice and hold them accountable for their crimes thus rests on a voluntary submissiveness to the court by states, and as we all know, any solution based on the wilful cooperation of states is rarely a recipe for success.

The court's plight is symptomatic of a deeper reality. As long as states remain the supreme actors on the world stage, the ICC and UN organs alike will ultimately remain powerless and mass criminals will be able to avoid prosecution within the safety of their borders.

The creation of the court was still a great leap forward in ridding the world of atrocious crimes, and it has had its share of success. The trial of Radovan Karadzic, the former leader of the Bosnian Serbs responsible for the slaughter of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims during the civil war in the 1990s, began on March 1 after a manhunt that lasted more than a decade.

An important concept in law is retributive justice, based on the moral belief that the gravity of the crime should dictate the severity of the punishment. However, the lack of jurisdictional power suffered by the ICC means the court would most likely fail to follow the concept of retributive justice, as the perpetrators of humanity's worst crimes - genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes - often remain unpunished.