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MYANMAR: POLITICAL HISTORY IN BRIEF

During 2010, Myanmar plans to hold its first national and local elections in 20 years, against a backdrop of political repression and unresolved armed conflicts. The country's record on human rights is extremely poor. Myanmar's 50 million people continue to suffer from poverty and public health challenges, wrought largely by the government's longstanding economic mismanagement. Widespread and systematic attacks on civilians in eastern Myanmar have been carried out with virtual impunity. Despite pressure from its neighbours in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), renewed communication with the main political opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and various foreign critics (chief among them the United States), and another round of United Nations (UN) visits and resolutions, the government has not substantively improved the country's human rights situation. There are significant and credible reasons to fear that the planned 2010 elections will intensify the already severe repression of political critics, in particular those from the country's large and diverse population of ethnic minorities. Amnesty International is campaigning to highlight the wide extent of popular opposition to the Myanmar government; the need to ensure that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD, and other political opposition groups--including those founded by ethnic minorities--are able to participate meaningfully in the coming elections. Background The last time the country's government held general elections, in May 1990, it was won by the National League for Democracy (NLD) and a coalition of smaller opposition parties. The authorities responded by ignoring the election results and arresting scores of opposition leaders and parliamentarians. The most prominent detainee was the NLD's leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has remained in some form of detention for over 15 of the past 21 years. More than 2,200 political prisoners, currently languish behind bars in Myanmar.

Burmese Monks take part in the Global Demonstration for Myanmar, London, 2007.

"Unless there is democracy in Myanmar, I won't return. I don't want to see another crackdown."

- Thu Mana, fled Myanmar following the crackdown that took place after the Saffron Revolution in 2007.

In late October 2007 authorities detained and reportedly tortured U Than Pe, vice-chair of the Taunggut township NLD,... Covering his head with a soaked cloth so that he was unable to breathe, a health worker stood nearby measuring his blood pressure to determine how much of the treatment he could For Suu Kyi, the NLD, and much of the country's ethnic withstand. He was deprived of sleep for minority opposition, their thwarted victory 20 years ago forms eight of the 13 days he was detained, the basis of their claim that the current government is not and given little food.

legitimate. That government views this year's elections as a means to strengthen its claim to legitimacy and blunt internal and external criticism.

- An account portraying the continued repression following the Saffron Revolution.

It is highly unlikely that the government will repeat the conditions of 1990, when relatively open campaigning and voting led to an election defeat for the government. Consolidation of power To a large extent, the government has already cemented its position ahead of the elections, as the country's 2008 constitution ensures that the military will continue to dominate it. The constitution was "approved" in a referendum held a week after Cyclone Nargis left nearly 140,000 dead or missing, and displaced hundreds of thousands. The constitution contains strict requirements on the eligibility of presidential candidates, including: Ruling out Daw Aung San Suu Kyi because her children hold British citizenship; Reserving legislative seats for the military, effectively giving it veto power over constitutional amendments; Leaving the military in control of key security ministries and; Affording the military the authority to administer its own affairs. Why Amnesty uses the name Myanmar In 1989, the ruling government changed its name from Burma to Myanmar. The change was recognised by the United Nations (UN). Although organisations and nations differ in what they call the country, internationally both names are recognised. Burma is a colonial name, given by the British. The military government adopted the name Myanmar, to relate to a particular ethnic majority in the region. The legitimacy of both names therefore, is questionable. Amnesty uses the names of countries that are registered with the UN. Doing so means Amnesty avoids taking a political position regarding the legitimacy of governments. It also prevents Amnesty from alienating governments that it is trying to influence, with the aim to improving the likelihood of achieving vital aims to better human rights.

TAKE ACTION NOW!

Take action on behalf of Prisoner of Conscience Mie Mie who was detained solely for peacefully exercising her rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Mie Mie received a 65 year prison sentence for her role in the peaceful August and September 2007 protests. Both her sentence of 65 years for peacefully organising for change in Myanmar and her on-going detention are an appalling breach of her human rights. Write to General Than Shwe urging him to: Immediately and unconditionally release Mie Mie; Ensure that Mie Mie is treated in line with international law: that she is provided with adequate food, any necessary medical attention, and granted access to family and lawyers immediately. Address: Senior General Than Shwe Chairman State Peace and Development Council c/o Ministry of Defence Naypyitaw Union of Myanmar Salutation: Dear General Than Shwe

Left: National flag of Myanmar

Amnesty International is a global movement of 2.8 million supporters, members and activists in more than 150 countries and territories who campaign to end grave abuses of human rights. Our vision is for every person to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards. We are independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion ­ funded mainly by our membership and public donations.

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