Report from Burma

Here is a report from Burma by a long time exile leader who has returned for a visit.  She will make a great president someday.  Khin Ohmar

By Khin Ohmar

After feeling outraged by the government’s violent crackdown on Latpandaung Taung protest, I just want to quickly share with you briefly the assessment/findings from my trip to Burma for now, even briefly.

During my trip, I was able to meet with about 200 people from various sectors of the society: NGOs, CSOs, CBOs, grassroots communities, human rights defenders, s

tudent activists, labor activists, former political prisoners, political parties and media. Geographic-wide, they are from various areas including Mandalay, Magwe, Sagaing and Naypyidaw Divisions and Shan and Kachin States, in addition to Rangoon.Political atmosphere in cities like Rangoon are quite different than before as claimed by foreigners and local alike: “Open and free to talk about politics everywhere you go or anywhere want!”. But how much of this change should we praise as “freedom of expression and assembly” knowingly what happened to peace activists on International Peace Day in September and what happened to the protesters at Latpandaung Taung protest.

No matter where they stand politically, there is a common opinion and concern that I heard from the people I met during the trips over the Naypyidaw Government’s reform agenda and process: “Loudly talked but little is seen!” meaning reform has been talked a lot but no real change or positive impact has reached to the ordinary people yet.

I asked if they were having too much of high expectation on the government, given the short time of this government being in power that it would not be able to do much yet. Some answered with laughter that they were not even expecting that much of improvement yet in their da-to-day life, but at least the government should stop committing abuses towards the people.

In some places, people replied to me with a smile, “… Those people in power are the same people with the same mindset with the same greed but even with more corrupt practices and abusive behaviors towards the people. What do you expect?” While saying that, they were constantly referring to the land grabbing cases and power abuse of their local authorities, including the authorities’ misuse of public materials donated by the international/UN agencies for private use.

Many people brought along and gave me loads of papers describing the cases or petitions that they had filed with relevant authorities including to President Thein Sein regarding cases of their rights being violated by the authorities at various levels and in many cases involved by business cronies. Well, guess what is the most common problem all these communities face at present under the reform process by President Thein Sein?

Needless to say that it is land grabbing, of course. What is more irony is that there is growing number of people who have been sued by crony companies and/or officials for lodging complaints about their confiscated lands at relevant departments or with relevant authorities.

It was so obvious that the culture of impunity is deeply rooted in our society that authorities all along have never been or can never be prosecuted for their wrong doings or abuses against people, or for staying above the law.

At the press conference in Rangoon on November 20th, I shared with the media my assessment on the reform based on the following (6) key benchmarks that I use to measure whether the current reform is genuine and substantial, or not.

1. Rule of Law
2. Accountability & Countering Impunity
3. Political Prisoners
4. Environmental & Economic Justice
5. Peace & National Reconciliation
6. People’s participation in Reform Process

And then I made the following key recommendations to the Naypyidaw Government:
• Abolish nepotism, cronyism & corruption
? Major obstacles to development
• Establish efficient & ethical market economy
? Need infrastructure (i.e. banking system)
? Fair competition; No “permit” system;
? No laws or practice No monopoly/oligopoly
• Ensure Transparency & Accountability
? Political: There must be dignified equal footing when comes to peace process with ethnic Non State Armed Groups; meaningful space for democratic opposition to take part in the reform process
? Donors’ trust funds, development aid (new loans from WB/ADB, grants)
• Ensure that all opposition, civil society groups and communities take the ownership of the reform process.

Here I would like to let you know one thing I notice vividly from the Press Conference: I may be inaccurate with this observation, but I noticed many people in the audience looked uncomfortable; not many media shot me with questions afterwards; only a few media covered the story of my PC.

Another observation at the PC: As you can imagine, all security personnel are still under the payroll of the government. I wonder what their new assignments are nowadays if not arresting and/or torturing activists. But I am sure they are all intact and still under the payroll. And there were a few of them at my PC taking notes, recording and photos. Not only they were at PC and other difference places I went around, one SB (special Branch) security person also “visited” my family and asked for some information about my trip.

Well, this is my brief reflection from my trip for now. And I hope to share more in another sooner time.

Meanwhile, let us join hands and raise our collective voice together to the Naypyidaw Government that such kind of violent crackdown that they did on the Latpadaung Taung protest is NOT ACCEPTABLE and that they must ensure there is genuine rule of law which is to protect the people, but not the other way around. The crackdown is no way in accordance with any “democratic principles” nor to protect the “rule of law”. President Thein Sein office’s excuse is absolutely outrageous!

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