by Ebba Lekvall on 04 Jun 2012 | Comments
After decades of isolation, Burma has recently been on a charm-offensive. It has quickly found its way back into the good graces of the international community, which seems to have enthusiastically embraced what it apparently considers to be democratic reforms and did not need much to start easing sanctions. Travel bans for individuals with top positions in government have been lifted, Norway now encourages businesses to invest in Burma, and the European Union (EU) recently suspended sanctions for one year. International media has also turned its attention to Burma and countless articles have been written about the ‘new Burma’ – one supposedly now on the road to democracy.
A more accurate assessment of Burma’s progression to democracy is perhaps best expressed in the words of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, when she said Burma is “on the road that leads to the road to democracy.’ More recently, at the World Economic Forum in Thailand, Daw Suu cautioned the world against what she called “reckless optimism” and said that “healthy scepticism” is in order.
The situation in Burma has resulted in an estimated 650,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Displacement can occur for a variety of reasons, the most obvious being as a direct result of armed conflict between insurgents. However, other reasons include a variety of abuses, such as: land confiscation by the Burmese army or other armed groups (often for the extraction of natural resources), predatory taxation, and forced labour. Due to the sheer magnitude and severity of these abuses, it is often argued that they constitute crimes against humanity.
There have been several calls for a United Nations Commission of Inquiry to look into the claims of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Burma, but so far there seems to be little international interest in accountability. Also, the controversial 2008 Constitution fails to give ethnic groups equal rights, guarantees the military 25% of the seats in Parliament, and offers immunity to all former and serving military generals. This means that there are few realistic channels for accountability in Burma.
In light of the international community’s apparent lack of concern for the ongoing ethnic conflict and the situation of IDPs, as well as the near total failure of the media to report on this, the Oxford Burma Alliance has recently launched its awareness campaign, ‘Displaced But Not Forgotten 365’ – and action week is now. The campaign seeks to inform and educate on the current situation affecting IDPs in Burma and to express solidarity with them. We believe that awareness can breed responsible, positive social action, and it is our hope that through the dissemination of information on this important issue, the campaign will encourage participants to seek out other channels through which to help local efforts to build civil society and support those affected reconstruct their livelihoods.
To make a statement that we have not forgotten the IDPs of Burma, we want to collect pictures of at least 365 people making a statement that they stand in solidarity with the IDPs of Burma—one person for each day of the year. We will use them collectively to show joint support in the form of a photo collage. We have created a Facebook event with further information and instructions, as well as a campaign video.
While the signs of reform in Burma are encouraging, and while the country may now be moving towards the path to democracy, the road will be long and demand more comprehensive reforms. In the meantime, it is important to not forget those still affected by on-going conflict and human rights abuses. Join the campaign and help us spread awareness about ongoing humanitarian disaster happening in Burma.
Ebba Lekvall, is a law student at the University of Oxford and former intern at the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court. She is also the Co-President and Founder of the Oxford Burma Alliance. The OBA is a student-run organization working to raise awareness about Burma at Oxford and provides a platform for Burma activists and others with an interest in human rights and education to exchange views and ideas and initiate concerted social action. For more information about the OBA, please visit: http://oxford-burma-alliance.weebly.com/