The Global Digest

Asia Pacific


Special Contribution
By Roland Watson(dictatorwatch)
Aug 26, 2017

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army

Bigotry, the conviction that a group bears collective guilt for a perceived offense, can have many foundations. These include differences in skin color, ethnicity, and religious belief. For the last, the nature of the actual belief system is irrelevant. That others think differently is enough to justify persecution against them. Presently, there is widespread bias against Muslims. While it is true that certain fanatical cults such as ISIS and al Qaeda self-identify as Muslim (and which self-identification is false, even though they - supposedly - follow the Koran), this in no way implicates all Muslims. With a population over 1.5 billion, one out of five people on earth practice the faith. To think that all of them are fanatics is not only ludicrous, it is the most pervasive form of bigotry in the world today - other than on the basis of skin color.

There are many types of terrorism. There is the terrorism of cults such as ISIS, and on the opposite end of the spectrum the terrorism of right-wing extremists, who typically act as “lone-wolves,” including followers of neo-Nazism, the Klu Klux Klan, and more generally who identify as white supremacists and anti-Semites. The worst terrorists of all, though, who generate the most fear, and who perpetrate crimes against humanity against the largest number of victims, are state actors. In this group would go the dictators of such countries as North Korea, Syria, China and Burma, who terrorize their populations every day and who have been doing so for many decades. Anyone who opposes in self-defense such state terrorism, and who limits their actions to armed rebellion against state agents, but not civilians - innocent targets, is a pro-democracy rebel, not a terrorist.

For Islam, the United States clearly does not consider every Muslim to be a terrorist. Many are in fact allies. U.S. soldiers from Special Forces up to larger units from the Army and Marines and also the Navy and Air Force are presently fighting side-by-side with anti-terror/pro-democracy Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and likely other countries as well. The U.S. also has bases in additional Muslim countries, including Kuwait, Djibouti, Qatar and Turkey.

The situation at the moment in Burma is very unusual. The regime’s military and police are State perpetrators of terrorism. This has gone on for over fifty years, notably in the East and North of the country. Since 2012, there has been a State campaign of terror in the West, against the small Muslim group, the Rohingya. The Rohingya have been terrorized so severely that they are experiencing nothing less than genocide. Historically a peaceful people, now - one might say finally - they are beginning to stand up for themselves. They have established a self-defense unit, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). This group is essentially the same as the KIA, KNLA, TNLA, and Burma’s myriad other ethnic armed organizations (and should likewise be invited to participate in the nationwide peace negotiations).

The military dictatorship is dominated by Buddhists from the ethnic group, the Burmans. (By no means are all Burmans racist.) The dictatorship hates Muslims, and has been slaughtering the Rohingya. It calls the ARSA “terrorists” (and also the EAOs that are active in Shan and Kachin States). The generals have been helped greatly in this propaganda through the words and actions of Aung San Suu Kyi, also a Burman Buddhist, who while formerly a democracy campaigner herself has now abandoned fundamental political change and indeed the idea of having any moral foundation at all, in her quest for personal power and self-gratification.

The United States has been put in a difficult position. It has opposed the Burma dictatorship since its bloody massacre of students and other activists in 1988, and supported Suu Kyi who came on the scene at that time. Now, both are bad, partners in crime. What will the U.S. do? Will it actually begin to cooperate with the military regime, and assist the genocide, out of loyalty to Suu Kyi; or, will it condemn the terror against the Rohingya and even potentially begin to help its, and the country’s other, ethnic nationality pro-democracy armed groups? If it is doing this in Syria and Iraq, why not Burma?

Burma: A Reality Check

Special Contribution
By Roland Watson(dictatorwatch)
Jun 11, 2017

Wa Army


Burma has now had its third peace conference. The first, in January 2016, was organized by former President Thein Sein, who to this day is also a top general in the country’s military dictatorship. The second and third were held in August and then this year, although the latest was postponed from February. These were arranged by Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counselor, who - formerly at least - had opposed the military.

Following the conference, Democratic Voice of Burma reported Suu Kyi’s “upbeat closing remarks,” where she said peace “is starting to take tangible form for the first time.”

Not nationwide, not for peace

Such an assertion is absurd. It is time for a reality check. First, all of the conferences have been described as Union, meaning nationwide. Therefore, nominally at least, this was the third Union Peace Conference, or UPC. As a peace conference, it was presumably about this subject: finding a way to end the hostilities between the dictatorship’s Burma Army and the country’s Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs). Burma in fact has dozens of different armed groups, and it is essential to distinguish them. They can be sorted into the following categories:

- The Burma Army itself, or Tatmadaw.

- Its allies who signed ceasefires starting in the 1990s, thereby abandoning revolutionary struggle. Many of these groups, or their leaders, subsequently focused on making money, ranging from resource exploitation to the narcotics trade. A number in recent years also willingly transformed into regime Border Guard Forces.

- Its allies among the different local militia that are spread around the country, and which also typically profit from resources or narcotics.

- Its newest allies, the KNU and the SSA-S (even though for the first the goals of the Karen Revolution have not been achieved). Both groups rejoined the “legal fold” by signing the “Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement” before the first UPC. (The other groups which signed the NCA were either already dictatorship allies or inconsequential.)

- And, the groups which remain true to their people and who refused to sign the NCA.

Interestingly, the last includes some of the regime’s former allies in the north such as the KIA, who resumed their revolutions when the Burma Army unilaterally reversed their ceasefires. Also, long-standing ally the UWSA seems to have changed sides as well, since it is now openly assisting these groups.

In summary, the current revolutionary pro-democracy resistance includes the following: members of the UNFC (KIA, SSA-N, KNPP, NMSP, ANC, LDU, and WNO, although the KIA and WNO have signaled their intention to resign from the group); the Northern Alliance (UWSA - and with which the WNO intends to unite, KIA, SSA-N - it will apparently remain in both alliances, TNLA, MNDAA, AA, and NDAA); and the Naga - NSCN-K - whose goal is to establish a unified Nagaland nation together with communities in Northeast India.

Of all these groups, however, only nine are estimated to have at least 500 troops: the UWSA, KIA, SSA-N, TNLA, NDAA, MNDAA, NMSP, KNPP, and NSCN-K. The real peace negotiation in Burma therefore comprises the dictatorship and its allies, and these groups. And, since the Northern Alliance’s participation at the latest conference was superficial - just a combined committee, not full individual EAO delegations, and the remaining UNFC members boycotted it, what took place was in no way a real Union Peace Conference, as it was not nationwide. There has yet to be a true UPC, since groups have been absent from all three meetings. (Nonetheless, for ease of description I will continue to use the abbreviation “UPC.”) (Also, while formally under the KNU top leadership, the northern brigades of the KNLA, and the KNDO, remain true to the Karen Revolution. It is unclear how they would act were a widespread offensive for freedom to be launched.)

The NCA and Anti-Panglong

Thein Sein based the first conference on the NCA, which is a complex document focused more on political issues (such as the formation of a federal structure for Burma), than peace. Indeed, it does not even oblige its signatories to stop fighting. This lack of an on-the-ground ceasefire is at the insistence of the dictatorship, which clearly does not want any legal hindrance (other than international law) to get in the way of its continuing attacks against the EAOs. The pro-democracy resistance itself has called repeatedly for the first step to be a real ceasefire. Because of this, the EAOs view the NCA with extreme suspicion. They recall that the dictatorship pushed through its 2008 Constitution following years of stage-managed meetings, and a fraudulent referendum. The NCA is considered to be a similar regime tactic, a new means to delay real peace and which will also put Burma’s ethnic nationalities at a permanent disadvantage.

On the other hand, UNFC members are still trying to work with the document, by pushing for additional changes. They are continuing to negotiate in good faith. The dictatorship has responded though that alterations are forbidden. Surprisingly, Suu Kyi also decided to have the NCA as the basis for the second and third meetings. (The third UPC was postponed because no additional groups were willing to sign.) She even rebranded the meetings as “21st Century Panglong.” This implies that they were successors to the 1947 conference held by her father and which led to the signing of the Panglong Agreement, through which treaty ethnic equality - on paper at least - was enshrined.

By doing this, Suu Kyi joined forces with the dictatorship. Both she and the top generals are members of the Burman ethnic group. She has repeatedly demanded that the EAOs sign the NCA in its current form as a precondition to participate in the conferences. She held to this position even though, as just mentioned, the NCA does not have as its goal actual peace, and since it does not ensure that ethnic interests are satisfied. At the latest session, General Min Aung Hlaing dictated the exact opposite of the Panglong Agreement. Suu Kyi herself has implied that the ethnic nationalities should accept repudiation of the Agreement’s legal provisions, and instead settle for a lukewarm and ultimately meaningless “Panglong Spirit.” This argument, which is a subterfuge - it hasn’t been debated openly, is so contemptible that the UPC should now be named the 21st Century Anti-Panglong Conference.

What happened at the meeting

In contrast to her optimistic words, this is what really happened at the latest UPC. The UNFC members said that they would not attend unless they were given full rights of participation. Suu Kyi had demanded that they accept “observer” status, and when they refused this was adjusted to “special guest.” But since nothing had really changed - only the label, they stayed away.

Surprisingly, the Northern Alliance did attend, including its members the KIA and the SSA-N, who also - for the moment at least - still belong to the UNFC. (The KIA has received a public backlash from the Kachin community for going.) This was arranged following intense pressure from China.

As described in the Irrawaddy interview with the Wa’s Zhao Guo An, the regime did many dirty tricks. First, the invitation to the Alliance was only given at the last moment, so they had little time to prepare. Secondly, when they went to pick up their visas in Kunming, the three groups that had been denied participation at the first two UPCs, the TNLA, MNDAA and AA, were told that they would only be “observers.” On the spot the full Alliance decided not to go, until Chinese diplomats guaranteed that all the representatives would comprise an official delegation. Finally, when they arrived at the meeting their seating cards said “special guest. “ They got up to leave, and Suu Kyi’s staff removed the cards. That night, China negotiated for hours with the regime, and the next day the cards said “official delegates.”

Even with this, the Northern Alliance returned home early. They did not stay the extra day that was added to sign a conference agreement. Because of this, and the absence of the UNFC, the agreement that was signed, even though it had many general “points,” was essentially meaningless. It did not cover the major outstanding issues for Burma, and it included no signatories from among the groups that are actually fighting for freedom. In fact, even NCA signatories the SSA-S and ALP refused to sign, since they had not been allowed to hold community forums. They said they would not commit their groups without receiving public input. The only armed group signature on the agreement was that of KNU turncoat Kwe Htoo Win, and who fraudulently signed on behalf of all the EAOs. Similarly, the signature on behalf of the political parties (by a representative of the Democratic Party Myanmar) was done without all of their consent.

Following this outcome, and in contrast to Suu Kyi’s rosy summary, the first appraisals were - accurately - negative. In damage control, and as reported in The Star Online, Suu Kyi’s spokesperson blamed the EAOs for the failure because of their demand for greater autonomy. The spokesperson made no mention at all of the true core issues - the Burma Army’s obstinacy and its continuing war of colonial aggression against the ethnic nationalities.

The “issues”

The main disputes at the conference involved the ethnic nationalities’ right of secession from the Union of Burma, and the issue of how to restructure the military if the day ever comes that real peace is achieved. For the first, both the Burma Army, in Min Aung Hlaing’s speech, and Suu Kyi, through many different statements, have been demanding that the ethnic groups give this up. The right of secession is established law in Burma. It was initially agreed at the Panglong conference and then formally included in the 1947 Union of Burma Constitution. So, and once again, a major point of contention at the latest UPC arose from the military and Suu Kyi’s efforts to get the ethnic nationalities to renounce Panglong.

The second dispute involved the nature of a post-peace national army, with the regime insisting that it, meaning Burman generals, must retain full command including over absorbed ethnic nationality forces. This in turn is simply a restatement of its long-standing insistence on DDR - Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration, which for the EAOs is tantamount to surrender. Clearly, Burma’s military dictatorship, and now with the open and unwavering support of Suu Kyi, has no intention of yielding on any of its basic demands. Because of this, the UPC was not even a real negotiation. Instead, it was a hoax, carried out to benefit various parties and to deceive both the EAOs and the entire general public of the country.

No peace, freedom, democracy, or justice for Burma

The question, then, is where does this leave the people, particularly for their long-denied dream of peace? The answer - in a hopeless position. Burma Army attacks against the Northern Alliance continued throughout the UPC, including with a significant escalation, which is still underway, once it ended. Peace requires the Burma Army to declare an actual ceasefire (to which the EAOs would immediately agree), followed by a pullback of its troops from ethnic nationality areas, starting with its bases next to local villages. But, at the present there is no prospect that the regime will ever willingly do this.

For freedom and democracy, were peace to be achieved nationwide, there is then the question of the 2008 Constitution. To be democratic, the Burma Army and the ethnic armies must be integrated through SSR - Security Sector Reform - and in a fair way (with the EAOs having responsibility for security in ethnic areas); the entire national army must be put under the direct control of - made subordinate to - democratically-elected leadership; the military must relinquish control of its three ministries to this government; and, a new Rule of Law must be established, which ends the impunity for crimes now enjoyed by Burma Army soldiers, police, and other pro-regime groups and parties.

Ultimately, for Burma to be free, power in the country must be transferred from the military, and Suu Kyi - who has also been acting like a dictator, to the people. However, and just as with the issue of peace, none of this is likely to be achieved. Indeed, Suu Kyi now backs the dictatorship’s Constitution, saying that she will not address changing it until after all the EAOs have signed the NCA, which she of course understands will never occur.

Finally, and most unfortunately, the people of the country will not receive justice for the dictatorship’s crimes of which they have been - and continue to be - victims. There will be no end to the impunity. The justice system including the courts; the legal code, such as Telecommunications Act clause 66(d), which is now being used to imprison an entirely new generation of dissidents; and the actual conditions in the prisons, will never change.

The problem of course is that talk - a negotiated peace - cannot succeed if one of the parties, in this case the Burma Army, is not sincere. In fact, since Suu Kyi is not only an intermediary - she is a full participant in the negotiation as well - we can say that two of the parties are insincere. Suu Kyi autocratically represents both the government and the political parties, of which the NLD is dominant. And, she is on the side of the generals. She has even opened a second front in their overall divide and conquer strategy. The regime had divided the EAOs by enticing some to sign individual ceasefires. She has expanded this by demanding that all the groups sign the NCA to be able to participate in the “peace process.” This has created the new split between NCA signatories and non-signatories.

(One other attribute of the divide and conquer strategy is that the dictatorship purposely commits as wide a variety of abuses as possible. Different pro-democracy groups then focus on the distinct abuse classes. This too has the effect of splitting the opposition, distracting it from the need to unify and to press for freedom above all.)

Fortunately, Suu Kyi and Min Aung Hlaing’s two-on-one strategy to force the EAOs to surrender was not successful. It turns out that they are not all corrupt, and also that they cannot be defeated. They have determined armies, and with the country’s rough terrain can draw out asymmetrical guerrilla warfare forever. The solution to Burma’s problems has not changed since Ne Win seized power in 1962. The dictatorship must be defeated, by popular uprising or armed revolution, or a combination of both.

Who won

Clearly, the people of the country are the losers in the UPC process. But for some parties it didn’t fail at all. They got exactly what they wanted. The UPC is a carefully staged mirage - a magician's trick. All that is happening, with the dictatorship, Suu Kyi, and also the U.S., Europe, and China, is a well-orchestrated effort to distract the people of Burma and to condition them to accept the fact that they will never truly be free. For such “power-players,” the conference was an important step in a larger criminal conspiracy. There will be another talk fest in six or so months, and then another after that, etc. Meanwhile, nothing fundamental will change.

In other words, by following the UPC there will never be real democracy, just a fake "disciplined democracy" - i.e., a dictatorship. All of this is essentially applying the model that has already been established for China. As a closing note, China’s role is worth highlighting. Some analysts say that the Burma regime’s relationship with its neighbor has changed materially over the years, in particular in response to the U.S. ending its sanctions. I believe this view is dubious.

China backs the military dictatorship. It always has, and it always will. They are blood brother tyrants. The last thing China wants is for Burma to be a real democracy. It seems that China intervened in the UPC to save Suu Kyi an embarrassing loss of face. Why? Because the Burma regime has been using her quite effectively as its apologist, and China knows that having the ability to continue to exploit her weakness is an effective strategy against real change. This is very clever. China backs the Northern Alliance militarily, and which kills Tatmadaw soldiers. But the Burma dictatorship doesn’t really care about such losses. Regime soldiers are cannon fodder after all. (Neither does China care about its own villagers who are killed by stray bombs.) It is better for both if there is no peace - if the war continues for years and years in a low grade way, with periodic but controllable flare-ups. China will help with this, but at the same time try to prevent the Northern Alliance from ever pursuing a real war of liberation. Ultimately, nothing will change. Suu Kyi will become decrepit and then die. The rule of Burma’s generals will get more and more entrenched, as they make deals with international corporations. Indeed, many of these corporations will be Chinese. Continuing warfare and accompanying human rights atrocities will dissuade all but a few truly horrible Western companies from making the leap.

It’s amazing how people tend to believe only the things that they can actually see. But, there is always much more going on that meets the eye. There are obviously meetings - secret meetings - between Chinese representatives and the military dictatorship. I would be shocked if there wasn’t a well-trodden path to Min Aung Hlaing office - and Than Shwe’s mansion. That’s right: Than Shwe is absolutely still calling the shots. He’s healthy, and he’s pulling the most important strings. That’s part of the reason why he is rarely seen in public. He doesn’t want to call attention to himself. The so-called changes in the Burma-China relationship, including the former’s public embrace of the West, are a fiction. Than Shwe and the Chinese autocrats are playing the West, and the people of Burma, and Suu Kyi, in a real world game of Go.

The Northern Alliance needs to resist China’s influence. It should fight to win, and recruit the other UNFC members and the loyal KNU units to the battle. Everyone else should take to the streets.


Special Contribution
By Roland Watson (dictatorwatch)
May 7, 2017

Protest in London

As far as I know, I was the very first person to criticize Aung San Suu Kyi publicly. This occurred in my first Dictator Watch statement, from February 2002 - End the Dialogue: An Open Letter to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

At that time, pretty much everyone supported her. I think a few people from the ethnic nationalities were suspicious, about her lack of cooperation with them, but this is Burma after all. No one was going to confront her, and cause her to lose face. I realized that it would be useful to say what people of the country, because of social form, were too deferential to mention.

In the statement I was exceedingly polite. I just pointed out that you can’t negotiate with tyrants, certainly from a position of weakness. She was involved in a “dialogue” with the dictatorship, which had released some political prisoners to give her ammunition that the approach might yield real results. To my knowledge, this was the first time they “played” her, used her to reduce the domestic and international pressure that their human rights atrocities generated. But it was absolutely clear that the regime was not sincere, that the release was a token step, and that the dialogue would never change anything. Now, fifteen years later, she is still following the same failed strategy.

My criticism subsequently became much more pointed, when she betrayed the pro-democracy movement by reregistering the NLD in 2011, ending her election boycott; when she ignored the new Burma Army offensives in the North against the Kachin and other groups, also starting that year; and when she refused to condemn the Muslim pogroms that were perpetrated the following year, and which grew into the Rohingya genocide. I called her “the worst person in Burma,” and then compared her to Dictator Robert Mugabe from Zimbabwe, who similarly changed from being a resistance leader to an authoritarian ruler. Now, she has even progressed from surrendering to the generals to actively covering-up and attempting to justify their crimes.

The people of Burma have to throw off their reservations and oppose her forcefully. Let your voices be heard in London tomorrow (I wish I could be there!), elsewhere around the world, and most importantly inside Burma itself. If she has her way, you will always be dominated by the Tatmadaw. You will never know true freedom. There will be no peace, and the crimes against humanity will never cease.

Karnataka Government must freeze Mass Tree Felling till necessary public review safeguards are in place

trees on Jayamahal Road

It has been confirmed by the Tree Officer of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) that over 30,000 objections have been received in response to the Public Notice1 issued by BBMP on 07 February 2017, proposing to fell 112 trees for the widening of Jayamahal Road, Bangalore. This notice, declared on the basis of an “on spot inspection” carried out by the Tree Officer, presumed that the only way forward for relieving traffic congestion is to fell these age-old trees and widen the road. This appears to a pattern in the BBMP: claim mass tree felling is essential to relieving traffic congestion, without in any public, transparent and accountable manner addressing various intelligent and rational solutions.

Clearly perturbed by the massive public opposition to this proposal, generated in large part by the efforts of the Citizens for Bengaluru campaign, the Tree Officer is now taking shelter under the claim that the public has not offered “practical working solutions”.2 In fact, he has questionably argued that the only solution to relieving traffic congestion is to fell trees and widen the road. It is not the business of the Tree Officer to so justify mass tree felling per law and judicial directives.

Such reckless enthusiasm to fell trees by the Tree Officer is in clear violation of the decisions of the High Court of Karnataka in WP 7288/2011 (Suo Moto v. Government of Karnataka and Ors.) read with WP 13241/2009 (Environment Support Group and Ors. v. Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited and Ors.)3. In these directions, the Court has held that the Tree Officer must ascertain if BBMP has conformed with the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1961 (KTCPA, 1961) provisions , involving several public review and accountability procedures, prior to reviewing applications seeking felling of trees, be they for road widening, Metro or any other infrastructure projects, as per the Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act, 1976 (KPTA 1976).

It is an undeniable fact that in the case of Jayamahal road widening, BBMP has not taken any steps to conform with various provisions of the KTCPA, 1961, which demands a series of public reviews. Consequently, no application can be made by BBMP seeking permission to fell trees under KPTA, 1976. In fact, the Tree Officer should have rejected such applications requesting mass felling of trees as illegal. In WP 7288/2011, the High Court held that the Tree Officer is to examine if various alternatives have been considered to limit the damage to the living heritage of Bangalore: its avenue trees. Clearly, a “spot inspection” in no manner conforms with the demands of careful appraisal made by the Court. Yet, in clear contempt of the Court's directive, the Tree Officer is now in an unseemly rush to accord permission to fell trees.

Leo F. Saldanha and Harsh Vardhan Bhati of Environment Support Group sent a legal representation on 9th February 2017 to the Tree Officer of BBMP highlighting that the Public Notice he had issued was without legal mandate and that the Jayamahal Road widening project is illegal for other reasons as well.4 The representation highlighted that the State Government had taken a stand in the Supreme Court in the Bangalore Mysore Infrastructure Corridor Case that unless the KTCPA, 1961 was fully complied with, no infrastructure project could proceed to secure consequent legal permissions, such as under the KPTA, 1976, as is the case with Jayamahal Road.5 In stark contrast to this stand taken in the Supreme Court, the same State Government seems to overlook the fact that BBMP and Bangalore Metro projects are comprehensively violating the KTCPA, 1961. A copy this representation was marked to the Chief Minister, elected representatives and various authorities highlighting this duplicitous stand.6 In response, on 16th February 2017, the Chief Minister’s Secretariat has forwarded ESG’s legal representation to the Department of Urban Development for further action (No. CN/9326 REP-GEN/2017).

In a follow up representation7, ESG has communicated on 27th February 2017 to Mr. Mahendra Jain, IAS, Addl. Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary, Karnataka Department of Urban Development, that he should that ensure no tree felling is allowed in any urban infrastructure project unless they are comprehensively approved under the KTCPA, 1961, and only after due public consultation. In addition, the Secretary has been urged to direct civic agencies to institute procedures to protect trees as directed by the Karnataka High Court in WP 7288/2011. This would entail the establishment of appropriate Tree Protection Committee with clear working procedures and guidelines. In addition, the State Government must institute necessary procedures to guide the Tree Officer to elicit public opinion and formulate a reasoned decision in any project, be it involving the felling of a small number or the mass felling of trees. Environment Support Group has urged that until these procedures are in place, no project involving mass felling of trees must be allowed. This press release has been issued by Suguna Sridhar and Pushpalatha on behalf of Environment Support Group.

In Lunar New Year Message, Thích Quảng Độ calls for Fearlessness to win freedom for Buddhism in Vietnam

The Most Venerable Thích Quảng Độ

PARIS, 30 January 2017 (IBIB) - The Most Venerable Thích Quảng Độ, Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) has issued a Message for the Lunar New Year of the Rooster (Tết), sent from the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon where he is under effective house arrest. The Message invoked the theme of fearlessness, one of the central teachings of Buddhism, which the UBCV Patriarch proposed as the only way for Buddhists to put an end to more than four decades of repression, harassments and restrictions imposed by the Communist authorities since 1975.

“Forty-two long years of relentless oppression against Buddhism in Vietnam are proof enough that violence will not end by itself. The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam will continue to be denied the right to freedom of religion and prevented from spreading Buddha’s teachings to deliver beings from suffering. Clearly, if we do not free ourselves from oppression, no one will do it in our place”.

Resorting to violence was no solution, he said, for violence would only “push society and humankind to the brink of the abyss”. The key is fearlessness, freeing one’s mind from fear in order to confront all obstacles with serenity. “Fearlessness is the force of nonviolence that enables us to dissipate the wild follies that engender so much suffering, separation and death to humankind”. Looking at Vietnamese history, Thích Quảng Độ observed that fearlessness “inspired hundreds of resistance movements during the first millennium CE to protect the cradle of our civilization, Giao Châu. Thanks to this, the Vietnamese people preserved their national identity and our nation has never become a slave to China”. Fearlessness also characterized the Đinh, Lê, Lý and Trần dynasties, which promoted cultural development and pushed back successive foreign aggressors.

Thích Quảng Độ called on Buddhists in Vietnam to place the spirit of fearlessness “at the centre of your efforts for the survival of Buddhism in our homeland”, and Buddhists overseas to work internationally to bring forward Vietnamese Buddhism as a “force of compassion and peace that can contribute to overcoming the scourges of totalitarianism and terrorism that threaten our world today”. The 20th Century CE, he wrote, had seen two remarkable Buddhist movements in Vietnam – the Buddhist Revival Movement in the 1920s and the Buddhist movement against religious discrimination in the 1960s. Today, he urged Buddhists to instigate “a new movement of Vietnamese Buddhism for peace, democracy and development”. Such a movement, he wrote, “is awaited by our country more than ever before”.

MESSAGE for the Lunar New Year of the Rooster 2017 by the Most Venerable THÍCH QUẢNG ĐỘ Fifth Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam

Blessed be Lord Sakyamuni Buddha !

On behalf of the Bicameral Council of Institutes of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, I extend my warmest greetings to respected elders, dignitaries, monks, nuns and Buddhist followers at home and abroad. I wish you peace and happiness in the New Year, may all your wishes be fulfilled and your efforts for Buddhism be accomplished. Forty-two long years of relentless oppression against Buddhism in Vietnam are proof enough that violence will not end by itself. The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam will continue to be denied the right to freedom of religion and prevented from spreading Buddha’s teachings to deliver beings from suffering. Clearly, if we do not free ourselves from oppression, no one else will do it in our place.

Confronted with this desperate situation, what should we Buddhists do? Using violence to combat violence is a wild folly that can only push society and humankind to the brink of the abyss. I am therefore calling on you to develop the Buddhist spirit of Fearlessness in order to reestablish the Dharma’s existence and become the cornerstone of our mission to serve our people and humankind.

Fearlessness is the force of nonviolence that enables us to dissipate the wild follies that engender so much suffering, separation and death to humankind. In Vietnam, fearlessness inspired hundreds of resistance movements during the first millennium CE to protect the cradle of our civilization, Giao Châu. Thanks to this, the Vietnamese people preserved their national identity and our nation has never become a slave to China. It was this spirit of fearlessness that enabled our people to build the Đại Việt nation which flourished under Đinh, Lê, Lý and Trần dynasties, stood firm against foreign aggression, and established the rich historical tradition which is characteristic of our nation and also characteristic of Vietnamese Buddhism.

The New Year comes and goes, people are born and pass away, in keeping with the laws of impermanence. But the New Year is never lost from the cycle of regeneration, and people live on forever thanks to the spirit of fearlessness which gives life to Buddhist teachings and perpetuates its mission of saving all beings from suffering and distress. To Buddhists in Vietnam, I urge you to embrace the spirit of fearlessness and place it at the centre of your efforts for the survival of Buddhism in our homeland.

To Buddhists overseas, I call upon you to cultivate the spirit of fearlessness, and work together with Buddhists from other Asian nations to bring forward Vietnamese Buddhism as a force of compassion and peace that can contribute to overcoming the scourges of totalitarianism and terrorism that threaten our world today. In the 20th Century, Vietnamese Buddhism successfully accomplished two well-known and effective campaigns. The first was the Buddhist Revival Movement in the 1920s, which radically reformed the structures of Buddhist clergy and the development of Buddhist teachings. The second was the Buddhist movement for religious freedom in the 1960s, which called for social equality and an end to religious discrimination.

In launching this appeal for Fearlessness in the Lunar New Year, I sincerely urge all monks, nuns and Buddhist followers to devote your energy to mobilizing a new movement of Vietnamese Buddhism for peace, democracy and development. Such a movement is awaited by our country more than ever before. Thanh Minh Zen Monastery, Year of the Rooster, 2017, Fifth Supreme Patriarch, of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (Signature and Seal), Sramana THÍCH QUẢNG ĐỘ


Special Contribution
By Roland Watson(dictatorwatch)
Dec 20, 2016

Than Shwe, Min Aung Hlaing and other army officers

Many people believe that the worst thing that could happen is for the Burma military dictatorship to seize overt power once again. Hence it is okay for Aung San Suu Kyi not to criticize regime atrocities, including the war offensive in the north and the Rohingya genocide in the west.

They are wrong. The most important thing that the generals got from her surrender in 2011 was legitimacy (not more money through business deals, or new weapons, or anything like that). This is their greatest strength. To the international community, starting with their benefactor, President Obama, they are now legitimate. Contrast this to Assad of Syria, who also commits mass atrocities against his people, but who has no such international backing - just the self-serving support of Russia and Iran.

If the Burma generals launch a coup, they will lose their new legitimacy. They can’t have that. Hence, this is what we should push for. Burma has always been a case of good versus evil. The generals were evil and the population good. Suu Kyi’s actions destroyed that perception. The reality, though, remains unchanged. The generals are evil and the public are the victims. But the world no longer has to act on that basis.

The best thing Suu Kyi could do is criticize Than Shwe and Min Aung Hlaing, and make them so angry that they launch a coup. If she did this, she would regain her status as a democracy fighter. Everyone could then unite against the junta, and force them out. Then a real democratic age could begin.

If Suu Kyi refuses to confront the dictatorship, she is part of the dictatorship. She and her disciples might argue otherwise, but the effect is the same. She should be opposed no less strongly that the rapist-murderer police and soldiers.

The very best thing would be if the generals’ coup triggered a counter-coup, by secret democracy-sympathizing subordinates, and through which Than Shwe, Min Aung Hlaing, and the other top junta officials were executed.

Vietnam New Law contravenes the Fundamental Right to Freedom of Religion or Belief

Heiner Bielefeldt

PARIS, 19 November 2016 (VCHR) – The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) strongly denounces the adoption of a new Law on Belief and Religion by Vietnam’s 14th National Assembly on Friday 18 November at the end of its second session. VCHR believes that the law, which replaces the current Ordinance 22 on Belief and Religion and various other decrees and regulations, is deeply flawed. It enables the communist authorities to interfere intrusively in all aspects of religious life and grossly contravenes the rights enshrined in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

“This is the first time Vietnam has adopted a law on religions, and it was an important opportunity to improve its people’s rights” said VCHR President Võ Văn Ái. “But instead of adopting legislation to protect and promote the enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief as in most civilized countries, Vietnam is once again using the law to increase state control, criminalize independent religious activities and give the authorities a cloak of legality to continue harassing, arresting and convicting its citizens at will”.

Under the new law, registration remains mandatory, although the process is now accelerated (it will take 5 years instead of 23 years to obtain state recognition), and makes no provisions for religious groups who cannot, or choose not to register with the state, such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. Mandatory registration is a violation of Article 18 of the ICCPR, as UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, stressed after his visit to Vietnam: “the right to freedom of religion or belief is a universal right which can never be “created” by administrative procedures. Rather, it is the other way around: registration should be an offer by the State but not a compulsory legal requirement”.

“Advocates of freedom of religion or belief risk imprisonment under the vaguely-worded “prohibited acts” cited in this law” said VCHR President Võ Văn Ái. He cited the case of UBCV Patriarch Thích Quảng Độ, who is under house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon after decades of arbitrary detention for his advocacy of religious freedom and human rights. “Vietnam acceded to the ICCPR over 30 years ago, but it continues to flagrantly violate its citizens’ rights, in violation of its binding international obligations”.

Unusually, whereas most laws come into force some months after their adoption, the Law on Belief and Religion will not come into force until 1st January 2018.

In October, in an initiative launched by VCHR and Christian Solidarity Worldwide, 54 religious bodies and civil society organizations sent a letter to National Assembly President Nguyễn Thị Kim Ngân, calling for an urgent revision of the draft law before it came up for vote.


Oct 28, 2016

The Karen National Union Central Standing Committee

The annual meeting of the KNU Central Committee begins on October 31st, and lasts a week. Since this is also the year for the organization’s Congress, held every four years, the meeting, in addition to reviewing reports from the various KNU departments, would also make Congress preparations.

This cycle, though, KNU Chairman Mutu Say Poe wants to postpone the Congress. (This is allowed under the KNU Constitution, for one year.) Mutu says the Congress should not be held until Burma’s peace process is completed. Of note, he will require the assent of 70% of the Central Committee’s 45 members, or 32 votes, and which decision will be taken at the end of the meeting. Why would he do this? Why does he really not want the Congress to be held?

It’s worth remembering that Mutu’s election as Chairman at the last Congress resulted from electoral fraud. Congress delegates elect the Central Committee members first, and then the “Big 5” (the top five officials, and who must be CC members). They in turn appoint the rest of the members of the KNU Executive Committee, and other department heads, which appointments are then ratified by the delegates. At the last Congress, several individuals from the organization’s realist wing (they do not accept the proposition that the military dictatorship has reformed), and who advocate great care in dealings with the regime (recognizing its decades of repression), were not re-elected to the Central Committee (thereby preventing them from running for the top positions). The election official Robert Htwe tampered with the outcome. He counted the ballots on his own, without an independent check - this is required under KNU procedures; burned them before announcing the result; said that the realist members had been not been elected; said there was no possibility of a recount when they protested (because the ballots were burned); and immediately left the Congress.

Following this, Mutu and his fellow fraud beneficiaries (notably Htoo Htoo Lay, Kwe Htoo Win, David Taw, and Saw Johnny) traveled to Rangoon and signed a preliminary ceasefire, even though they were expressly forbidden from doing so by the Executive Committee. He then had the KNU withdraw from the ethnic alliance, the UNFC, and signed the so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement.

For all of this, Mutu received over $2 million dollars from the European Union, channeled through Harn Yawnghwe’s Euro-Burma Office, and likely other payments as well. He distributed some of the money to his associates on the Central Committee. Mutu has established a system of patronage in the KNU, thereby ensuring that it is no longer democratic nor that it represents the interests of the Karen people. New development businesses have also been established, such as the Dawei Princess family of companies, that depend on continued cooperation between the KNU and the dictatorship, and which no doubt contribute to the patronage as well.

All of this means that he has a lot to lose. The realists could be reelected to the Central Committee at the upcoming Congress, and then compete for the top positions, including his own. And, this time he won’t be able to rig the result. He is therefore trying to avoid this by having the current CC members, many of whom are in his pocket, postpone the Congress.

This is not only extremely significant for the Karen, it will determine the prospects for freedom and democracy for all of Burma. If Mutu prevents the normal changeover of power, he can continue to side with the dictatorship, and Aung San Suu Kyi, including on promoting commercial development, and trying to force the Ethnic Armed Organization NCA non-signatories to sign (which they absolutely should never do, until the Burma Army stops attacking and withdraws its troops). Conversely, if Mutu and his co-conspirators are blocked, and the Congress is held next month, the realists may well regain control. They would then likely rejoin the UNFC, and ethnic nationality unity would be established.

The EAOs united would form an incredibly powerful group, both politically and militarily. (This would be appropriate, since the ethnic census results, still unpublished, no doubt show that the different ethnic nationalities in total comprise over half the population.) The reconstituted UNFC would create an effective counterbalance to Suu Kyi’s alliance with the dictatorship, such that real and sincere peace negotiations become possible - if the regime generals ever demonstrate sincerity. But, and as is likely, if they don’t, the EAOs will be much better positioned to defend their people.

The result of the KNU Congress postponement vote is of critical importance. The Karen Civil Society Organizations which will attend the Central Committee meeting as observers, including KWO, KYO, Kesan, etc., should do everything they can to lobby the Committee members to vote against Mutu’s plan. His “wait for the peace process to end” excuse is just that - an excuse. It will never end, which means Mutu will try to postpone the Congress year after year. The Congress should be held, this year.

Vietnam: End ongoing crackdown on peaceful dissent

Nguyen Huu Vinh (L)

PARIS, 22 September 2016 (FIDH & VCHR) - Vietnam must end the ongoing repression of peaceful dissent, repeal its repressive laws, and immediately release all political prisoners, FIDH and its member organization Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) said today. FIDH and VCHR’s call followed the imprisonment of three government critics in three days. “Vietnam’s relentless persecution of government critics using repressive laws and kangaroo courts shows that compliance with the country’s international human rights obligations ranks at the bottom of Hanoi’s priorities,” said FIDH President Dimitris Christopoulos.

Today, the People’s Supreme Court in Hanoi upheld a lower court’s conviction of blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy for “abusing democratic freedoms to harm the interests of the State” under Article 258 of the Criminal Code and sentenced them to five and three years in prison respectively. The trial was held behind closed doors. In addition, Vinh’s wife, Le Thi Minh Ha, has not been allowed to visit him in prison for the past five months.

Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy were arrested on 5 May 2014 and accused of “publishing online articles with bad contents and misleading information to lower the prestige and create public distrust of government offices, social organizations, and citizens.” On 23 March 2016, a People’s Court in Hanoi sentenced the two to five and three years in prison respectively.

On 20 September 2016, the Dong Da District Court in Hanoi sentenced land rights activist Can Thi Theu, 54, to 20 months in prison on charges of causing public disorder under Article 245 of the Criminal Code. Theu was arrested on 10 June 2016 for leading protests against land confiscation outside various government offices in Hanoi. Police beat and detained several activists and family members who attempted to attend the trial. “Vietnam’s protracted refusal to repeal its repressive laws and release all political prisoners shows it has absolutely no intention of respecting fundamental human rights. Hanoi’s repression must be met by stronger international condemnation, not friendly overtures,” said VCHR President Vo Van Ai.

Vietnamese authorities have repeatedly used legislation inconsistent with Vietnam’s obligations under international law to suppress the right to freedom of opinion and expression and to detain government critics (1). Vietnam holds about 130 political prisoners – the largest number among Southeast Asian countries.

Press contacts: FIDH: Mr. Arthur Manet (French, English, Spanish) - Tel: +33672284294 (Paris) FIDH: Mr. Andrea Giorgetta (English) - Tel: +66886117722 (Bangkok) VCHR: Ms. Penelope Faulkner (Vietnamese, English, French) - Tel: +33611898681 (Paris)


Special Contribution
By Roland Watson
Aug 27, 2016

Burma Army Troops Killed and Burned Four Kachin Villagers

The UNFC has announced that it will attend the upcoming Burma peace conference. I have previously presented reasons for boycotting the conference, but there is a good argument for going as well. If the ethnic armed organizations are bold, they can use their attendance to further their objectives, meaning for real peace, democracy and federalism. The rationale for the boycott position is as follows. It is worth restating, since without changes by the Burma Army, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the country will never be at peace.

The conflict is still ongoing - specifically, the Burma Army has launched offensives in both Kachin and Northern Shan States. It is difficult to understand why there would even be a peace conference now, when one side is so dedicated to war. For example, peace talks are presently underway for the Philippines, following the announcement last week of an on the ground ceasefire by both sides. Also, a peace agreement has just been signed in Columbia, again after the first step of halting fighting on the ground. Until Burma’s military dictatorship follows the lead of these two countries, and becomes a sincere and willing partner, there is plainly no hope of peace.

Secondly, the peace process negotiation is biased, remarkably, in favor of the dictatorship. Suu Kyi, who should be an independent arbiter, has sided with the generals. Indeed, one of her key spokespersons on the issue of peace, Khin Zaw Oo, is a Burma Army general and, according to a 2014 Harvard Law School study, an indictable war criminal. Irrawaddy quoted him last week, saying: “The Burma Army and the government share the same view.”

Thirdly, the dictatorship still has not budged on the issue of inclusion, meaning the TNLA, MNDAA and AA will not be able to attend (despite their publicized willingness to do so.) Suu Kyi backs the dictatorship and accepts their exclusion. Again, a peace process that excludes important parties to the conflict cannot succeed. Finally, the peace conference has no overt objective. The participants will share their views, but there will be no serious negotiations or target outcome (such as declaring a true nationwide on the ground ceasefire), and the entire exercise will be held again in six months.

Why, then, has the UNFC decided to go? The answer, to me at least, is simple. There is, both in Burma and internationally, a blackout on the country’s civil conflict. Even though there is an actual air war, with Burma Army jets and helicopters repeatedly attacking EAO positions and ethnic nationality villages, this gets almost no attention. Even in Burma itself, there are no combat journalists, who stay at the front lines and report on the crisis firsthand. Instead, the war is only covered by local media outlets when the EAOs themselves publish information about the latest battles.

This all links back to Suu Kyi. She refuses to even acknowledge the fighting, certainly in specific terms, since were she to do so she would be forced to criticize its instigator, the military dictatorship. Diplomats and the media in turn follow her lead, meaning that the Burma Civil War, which is a major conflict, outside of the Middle East possibly the largest war now in progress, gets no recognition or coverage. The peace conference therefore is a chance for the EAOs to explain what is really happening. Suu Kyi doesn’t want to have a formal Truth and Reconciliation Commission (like in South Africa). Fine. The ethnic nationalities can use this meeting to get the truth out.

Many EAO representatives will speak, and I would suggest that they all dispense with self-censorship and diplomatic niceties. They should openly, and using concrete examples, describe the regimes’s decades of tyranny, and its current actions at the front lines. While the format might not permit them to introduce individual victims as witnesses, such as people who have had family members slaughtered or who have been raped, they should nonetheless document, one speaker after another, the regime’s invasion of their homelands and its crimes against humanity. It is time for the truth in Burma to be told! Suu Kyi’s demand for censorship must be rejected!

This is a good reason to attend. Let’s clear up the manufactured confusion - that the Burma Army and the EAOs are somehow “equivalent” - once and for all. The criminal dictatorship aggressor needs to be publicly outed and shamed, and then pressured to end its hostility and atrocities. This is the only way the country will ever know peace.


Special Contribution
By Roland Watson(dictatwatch)
Aug 5, 2016

IDP camps in Kachin State

Burma’s Ethnic Armed Organizations have completed their latest summit. They are once again talking with the government about the nation’s peace process.

An excellent analysis of the summit is available in Sai Wansai’s article, Mai Ja Yang EAOs’ Plenary Meeting: Successful but need time to iron out common positions, available on the Shan Herald Agency for News website. This statement abstracts from the article the different steps that now lie on Burma’s critical path to peace, including who holds the responsibility for seeing that they are achieved.

Ceasefire - There can be no effective peace process until there is a ceasefire on the ground. As the conflict is the result of the military dictatorship’s continuing offensives against the EAOs, it must suspend its attacks, and withdraw Burma Army troops, before there can be any hope of peace.

Inclusion - There can also be no peace process unless the EAOs that have been excluded are allowed to participate. As they have been banned by the dictatorship, the responsibility for this step lies solely with it. No inclusion means no peace process, ever.

Peace Principles - Referred to at the summit as the “Panglong Handbook,” these are the principles and provisions that the EAOs expect to see incorporated into any ultimate peace agreement (many of which date to the 1947 Panglong Agreement). As these represent the rights that are the foundation of Federal Democracy, they are all completely justifiable and must be accepted. Therefore, once again, it is the military dictatorship which must give, and embrace the fact that Burma can only have peace if it implements real democracy.

Federal Constitution - The peace principles in turn can only be realized if the nation’s constitution is either rewritten or substantially amended, which again the dictatorship must permit.

National Structure - Related to this is the issue of Burma’s organization into States and Divisions, and which currently embeds a bias in favor of the Burman ethnic group. Equality for the ethnic nationality peoples can only be achieved if this structure is altered, and which too will require constitutional change. The dictatorship in this case must accept this need, and which in turn should begin with the government publishing the ethnic census data, as it is required to properly evaluate such national redesign.

Security Issues - The dictatorship has demanded that the EAOs disarm (including by becoming Border Guard Forces under Burma Army control), which falls under a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration approach (DDR). The EAOs have countered that to accomplish federal democracy the country requires security sector reform (SSR), starting by placing the Burma Army under the control of the elected civilian government. As the country’s Civil War is solely due to the dictatorship’s 1962 takeover and subsequent decades of atrocities, it must accede to this position.

Political Dialogue - In addition to all of these factors, peace in Burma will require extensive dialogue as the country transitions to a truly democratic system. Aung San Suu Kyi has implied that to participate in such dialogue those EAOs which did not sign the so-called Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement must do so. (This is coercion. Also, strictly-speaking, they may participate without signing, but only as observers.)

A second issue is which specific interest groups will participate in the dialogue, meaning whether it will be tripartite (the EAOs, the government and the military, and registered political parties), or the seven groups envisioned in the NCA. While it is certainly legitimate to include as broad a representation as possible in the nation’s peace discussion, it is actually much more likely to succeed if the negotiation is limited to the parties who can directly influence the war. For this reason the EAOs prefer the tripartite structure, and which in varying forms the pro-democracy movement has been advocating for for years. This is the simplest approach to what will undoubtedly be an extremely complex negotiation.

Finally, there is the issue of who will design the dialogue (the Framework for Political Dialogue). At present, only NCA signatories may be involved. (This is a second aspect of Suu Kyi’s coercion to get the non-signatories to sign the NCA - she is trying to force them to follow the regime’s blueprint.) This too is unacceptable. On all of these issues both Suu Kyi and the military dictatorship must relent. Otherwise, the dialogue planned for the 21st Century Panglong Conference will achieve nothing.

In summary, while progress was certainly made on the EAO side at Mai Ja Yang, there are many significant blockades to peace, all of which the dictatorship controls. Unless it, and Suu Kyi where appropriate, alter their positions, peace is not possible. It is this writer’s view that the dictatorship will never change. While the decline in repression in Burma for some (largely the Burmans) is welcome, it is still the case that the most straight-forward route to real nationwide peace and freedom remains the EAOs fighting offensively as a comprehensive force and either defeating the Burma Army or triggering among the generals a top-level pro-democracy coup.

It is also this writer’s view that all of these barriers are in fact the main elements of the dictatorship’s underlying strategy never to allow real democracy. They are designed to postpone such change. To the extent that the above issues are not addressed before the new Panglong Conference, it will only serve the regime as yet one more delaying tactic. It is therefore a waste of time to hold the conference until the dictatorship does compromise.

2016: India’s degrading journo-murder index

Special Contribution
By Nava Thakuria

Anshita Bawa

As the first half of the year 2016 passes on, India emerges as one of the worst places for working journalists similar to the conflict-ridden nations like Mexico, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq. The largest democracy of the globe witnessed the murder of four journalists in the first six months of the year, where the populous country lost five journalists to assailants in 2015. As nobody has been convicted in all nine journo-murder cases, the Indian media fraternity rose to the occasion for special protection laws and a national action plan to safeguard the media persons.

The first incident of journalist murder this year took place in Uttar Pradesh, where a young scribe named Tarun Mishra was shot dead on 13 February 2016 at Gosaiganj locality in Sultanpur district. Mishra (32) used to work for a Hindi daily named Jan Sandesh Times and he was targeted for highlighting the illegal soil mining activities in his district. Three motorcycle riding miscreants shot at him near to his residential locality in Ambedkar Nagar and he succumbed to his severe injuries in the hospital.

The second casualty was reported from Jharkhand, where a television news channel reporter was killed by the local goons. Two unidentified people targeted Indradev Yadav (also known as Akhilesh Pratap Singh) at Dewaria locality of Chatra district. Yadav (35), who used to work for Taaza News, faced the bullets in front of the village Panchayat office and died on his way to the hospital. The third case of journalist murder came to light from Bihar. Unidentified gunmen shot at Rajdeo Ranjan at Siwan railway station locality. Employed and working for a national Hindi newspaper (Hindustan), Ranjan (45) died in the hospital. A senior journalist with brave image, Ranjan earned enmity with local political goons for his reporting against those elements.

Both the incidents created instant wave of protests in Ranchi as well as in Patna and then it spread to other parts of the country. Various local, national and international media (rights) bodies including the members of prestigious press clubs based in New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata etc demonstrated their angers against the vicious attacks on scribes and demanded distinctive punishment to each & every single perpetrator of the crimes. Shashi Shekhar, the chief editor of Hindustan narrated in his column that ‘journalism today is amongst the most dangerous professions in the world’, but even though people get attracted to it, as the society needs truth and journalism is the most powerful medium to bring out that truth.

“We have made sacrifices and we will continue to do so, till it is necessary…The first target of this struggle will be to bring the killers of Rajdeo Ranjan to book. Here I would like to thank friends in the media for their united stand on the issue….Believe me, we are nothing without your patronage. And we once again reaffirm our resolve to continue to be your voice,” added the column. Even the information & broadcasting minister Arun Jaitley came out with a statement condemning the killings and twitted, “I strongly condemn murder of journalists Rajdeo Ranjan in Siwan and Akhilesh Pratap Singh in Chatra district. Independent investigation may be instituted and guilty be punished.”

Lately another tragic incident came to light from Punjab, where a brave lady scribe named Anshita Bawa (22) died under a mysterious situation. Anshita on 22 April drove her vehicle to meet one friend, but she did not reach the location, rather her body was found floating in a canal at Bool locality of Sudhar areas. Initially it was understood as an accident or a suicide case, but the post-mortem result narrated a different story. The autopsy report revealed that Anshita was subjected to severe injuries before her death. She suffered nearly nine injuries with a fatal one on her head. Under pressure from her family members, the local police registered an FIR terming it a case of murder.

India’s robust media fraternity lost five journalists namely Jagendra Singh (UP), Sandeep Kothari (Madhya Pradesh), Raghavendra Dube (Maharashtra), Hemant Yadav (UP) and Mithilesh Pandey (Bihar) to assailants last year. Shockingly, no one has been convicted in all these cases till date. The New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Paris based Reporters Sans/Without Borders (RSF) strongly condemned the killings and called for an authentic investigation into the incidents. They also expressed concerns that India is slipping down in the media freedom parameters turning the largest democracy into a worst place for working journalists.

Condemning the killings, the Vienna based International Press Institute (IPI) commented that it shows the failure of the province governments to provide basic protection to journalists to carry out their works. The forum also called the Indian authorities to conduct a full, swift and transparent investigation into their deaths to ensure justice to the victim families with an aim to end a growing culture of impunity for crimes against journalists. According to the RSF, India continues to languish in the bottom third of the 2016 World Press Freedom Index. Though the Indian media is dynamic and much more capable of playing the role of democracy’s watchdog, the number of journalists killed and the impunity for crimes of violence against the media fraternity escalate.

Published annually by the RSF since 2002, the global press freedom index measures the level of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries using the following criteria – pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative environment, transparency, infrastructure, and abuses. “Wherever they work, Indian journalists are exposed to growing violence. As well as frequent verbal and physical violence, attacks by armed groups are on the rise in several States and the local authorities have had little success in reining it in,” said a recent RSF statement.

The media rights body also added that it had repeatedly urged the Union government in New Delhi to launch a national action plan for the safety of journalists and for the prevention of dangers and threats to them, however RSF’s requests had so far gone unheeded. Lately the Press Council of India chairman justice (retired) Chandramouli Kumar Prasad came forward to strongly condemn the killing of scribes and urged the Centre to enact a special law for protection of journalists and speedy trial of cases of attacks & assaults on the media persons.

“Nearly 96 per cent of the cases of killing of journalists have not been taken to logical conclusion and is either languishing in the courts or in some cases, investigation reached dead-end in the last two decades, as reported by a Committee of the PCI,” said the press council chairman.

Across the globe, over 25 journalists lost their lives to assailants (from 1 January 2016 till date), where India emerges as one of the deadliest countries. According to the CPJ, India finds itself with troubled countries like Mexico, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq etc losing over three journalists each in the last four months. After Syria (2) and Turkey (2), Philippines, Guinea, El Salvador and Pakistan Earlier the northeast India based scribes also joined in the protest against the killing of journalists in central Indian provinces. The representatives of various journalist organizations assembled in front of Guwahati Press Club on 16 May and demonstrated their angers.

Covering their mouths with black clothes, the demonstrators also demanded stringent actions against the culprits. The Guwahati demonstrators also supported the move for special protection laws for the benefit of working journalists across the country and called upon the Narendra Modi led Union government in New Delhi to formulate a national action plan to safeguard the media persons, who pursue critical journalism for the interest of society, nation and the human race.

Facing the heat of protests, the Jharkhand police arrested two persons suspecting their involvement in the killing of Yadav. According to the police the arrest was made on the basis of CCTV records, mobile call details and other relevant evidences. Lately, the Bihar police also arrested five persons suspecting their role in the murder of Ranjan. Few others were detained by both the Jharkhand and Bihar police for further interrogations. However, adding worries to the Bihar government, Ranjan’s father Radha Chaudhary and wife Asha Devi demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe to unearth the killers and they publicly declared that they had little faith in the local police.

Many Bihar based journalists also asked for a CBI probe into Ranjan’s murder, which compelled the State chief minister Nitish Kumar to recommend for a CBI investigation to look into the matter. The author is a Guwahati (northeast India) based journalist

Understanding an Indian diligent healer

Special Contribution
By Nava Thakuria

Dr Prathap Chandra Reddy

Years back, when I was in Bajali College hostel, my roommate fall sick. He was treated in Pathshala civil hospital for some weeks, but his health only deteriorated. Following the direction of our hostel superintendent, I informed his family members in the village. Next morning his father, a retired school teacher, arrived in our hostel and took the roommate to his home. His father also prepared a leave application for my roommate and asked me to submit it to the hostel superintendent. His father murmured, “It will take time (to recover), I will send him to Apollo.”

For me it was a formal introduction to Apollo Hospitals, Chennai. Later I came to know many patients, who went to Chennai Apollo for treatment and returned with smiling faces. For them the Apollo was comfortable as it turned to be cheaper and also satisfactory as the medical staff passionately listened to their difficulties before prescribing any medicines. That is why they found it useful to visit Chennai Apollo even after taking the pain of train journey for two days and three nights. And the exercises continued (continue for many till date) for years, almost like an annual pilgrimage.

By the middle of Ninety, by then I became a fulltime scribe, I could visit the Apollo hospital in Chennai and even got the opportunity to meet Dr Prathap Chandra Reddy, the man behind the Apollo healthcare movement. I tried to understand the visionary medical entrepreneur who emerged as a caring & soft spoken gentleman for me. As usual I put some questions with journalistic instinct to Dr Reddy and he answered cleanly. About his struggling life, he avoided the narration, but said a book was coming out with most of his stories. Otherwise he was a happy man with his wife, four working daughters with a host of relatives.

And it happened sweetly, when I got a copy of his biography at my office in Guwahati. The voluminous and splendid book titled ‘Healer Dr Prathap Chandra Reddy and the Transformation of India’ carries a life size photograph of a smiling physician at the cover page and anyone looking at his face can understand the confidence, energy and satisfaction possessed by Dr Reddy in his life. Published by Penguin Books India, New Delhi in December 2013, the English version of the biography, which is authored by journalist turned writer Pranay Gupte, comprises 548 pages and priced at Indian rupees 899. Forwarded by Allan E. Goodman, president of the US based Institute of International Education, the book sincerely describes the life of a revolutionary of our time.

For records, Apollo Hospital is recognized as India's first corporate hospital group. Emerged as one of the world’s largest providers of high-technology healthcare in reasonable prices, the group achieves a combined annual turnover of not less than US $ 100 million. Presently staffed by around 70,000 professionals the Apollo Hospital Group with over 10,000 beds in more than 50 hospitals had served nearly 32 million patients across Asia. With its first clinic started in Dubai decades back, the group now comes out with the plan to start similar projects in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Oman and many African countries.

But the beginning of his extraordinary journey carried no such significance. Born on 5 February 1933 at Aragonda locality of Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh, Dr Reddy completed his primary educations in native places and then shifted to Madras Christian College, Chennai. He completed his graduation in medical science from Stanley Medical College. Then he went abroad for higher studies and even worked as a resident doctor at Missouri State Chest Hospital and Worcenter City Hospital in America.

However, an emotional letter from his parent changed his course of journey, where they asked Dr Reddy to come back and serve the native people. Accordingly he returned to India in 1970 and started practicing in Madras (now Chennai) as a cardiologist with a modest earning of rupees 100 per day. He worked happily in HM Hospital for a decade. But a tragic event changed his way of life. Dr Reddy treated a middle aged heart patient in 1979 and suggested the patient to go outside India for the life-saving heart surgery. But the patient was too poor to follow Dr Reddy’s advice and finally he died. The incident shook Dr Reddy’s conscience and pledged that he would bring all modern quality healthcare facilities to India.

After numerous problems and limitations, Dr Reddy finally erected the building of Apollo Hospital in Chennai. The then President Gyani Zail Singh inaugurated the hospital with 150 beds on 18 September 1983. Soon the hospital expanded its wings to different parts of the country. Dr Reddy took the pain to lobby for corporatizing his hospital as most of the hospitals, during that period, were either run by the government or charitable trusts. Of course, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi amended various institutional acts in the Parliament to make the process much easier.

The chronicle of his struggling & achieving life was recently translated into Tamil tiled Dirgadarisi. The doctor turned entrepreneur was honoured with various awards including Padma Bhushan, Asia-Pacific Bio-Business Leadership Award, Sir Neel Ratan Sarkar award etc. But Dr Reddy still believes that he got the priceless award & honour from the families of patients who got treated in Apollo. The author is a Guwahati based journalist and media commentator


Special Contribution
By Roland Watson(DictatorWatch)
May 24, 2016

UWSA soldiers before Chinese leader Mao Zedong image

There have been a number of significant events in Burma in the last two weeks. However, it is difficult to discern how they might come together - what their overall import will be. They include: - With a few exceptions, the U.S. maintained its sanctions on the military regime. - There were new large-scale arrests of protestors. - Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD reinforced their position that the Rohingya are persona non grata.

- Suu Kyi is now having regular meetings to organize her new “Panglong” peace conference, reportedly by the end of July. - Senior General Min Aung Hlaing announced that peace will take five years; that the Constitution will not be changed until then; that the three ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) which were excluded from the nationwide ceasefire negotiation must remain excluded (unless they disarm); and that the Burma Army will retain the right to launch offensives against the ethnic pro-democracy forces at any time.

- Two of the three groups that the Burma Army excluded and which are members of the UNFC stated that they would be willing to leave the alliance, to allow it to participate more easily in future peace negotiations. However, the excluded groups reportedly have also broached the idea of forming a new Northern Alliance, together with the United Wa State Army. - And, the Burma Army launched aerial offensives against the different ethnic forces, using jet fighters and attack helicopters, and which have been accompanied by dozens of ground clashes. Some of the aerial attacks also directly targeted villages, which without question were war crimes.

The United States position

The U.S. cannot end its sanctions while the Burma Army is terrorizing villages. While Washington is following - or leading - Suu Kyi, this is behavior that it cannot ignore (in policy preparation). Nonetheless, out of deference to her, the Obama Administration is continuing to avoid public mention of the Army’s aggression and war crimes. Interestingly, the new offensive began right after the U.S. announcement. It gave the appearance of being a regime temper tantrum. Also, and although it hasn’t been commented upon, the entities in Burma’s secretive nuclear relationship with North Korea remain firmly under sanction.

Flexing muscle

The challenge for Suu Kyi, since she has accepted the military regime as legitimate, is how to rein in its abuses. The dictatorship controls the police and the army. It is showing, through the new arrests of protestors; its unwillingness to release other political prisoners, such as U Gambira; and its military offensives, that it can and will do what it wants. There is nothing that Suu Kyi can do about it. Even if the NLD passes laws making protest completely legal (which they have actually resisted doing), as well as legalize the status of the ethnic armed groups, the regime will continue to detain people and to launch attacks.

The Rohingya

Here, the partnership between Suu Kyi and the dictatorship is openly symbiotic. The regime demonized the Rohingya, and Muslims more generally, to distract the overall population from its crimes. Now, since so many people have been manipulated into becoming raving Islamophobes, Suu Kyi has decided that it is convenient for her to accept this. The regime has created a ready-made body politic for her to lead. She is, after all, and in her own words, a politician, not a human rights champion. Amazingly, she even pressed the U.S. not to use the word “Rohingya,” and which, even though there was mild protest, Washington appears ready to accept (just as it has now accepted “Myanmar.”)

Peace, and Suu Kyi’s strategy

In common parlance, the issue of peace relates to the civil war between the Burma Army and the EAOs. However, it is of course much broader than this. The country is not at peace when protestors are brutally arrested, and minority groups are “cleansed.” Suu Kyi is secretly trying to convince the general public to make a series of sacrifices: “If you want a better life in Burma Proper, you should ignore the war in the Frontier Areas; ignore the fact that the Rohingya people are being exterminated (and which genocide will tar Burma’s reputation for the next century); stop protesting; and otherwise stop challenging the generals about their stranglehold over the nation’s economy. If you will just do all of this, everything will be fine.”

As I said in my last article, Suu Kyi can believe in unicorns if she wants. That doesn’t mean that anyone else should, or will. For the peace negotiation, and as I also observed in the article, she has picked up where things left off - she has sided with the generals. Her strategy is to accept the NCA, as well as the MPC in its new form and with her own man supposedly in charge (she is in charge). The task therefore is to get the non-signatories to sign, and what better venue for that than a new Panglong Conference.

Once again, the EAOs must be cautious. They should not even agree to meet until the Burma Army ends its aggression, and there is a clear signal that their demands for a new constitution, federalism, and self-determination will be met. But, Min Aung Hlaing has just promised that the Burma Army will keep attacking and that there will not be peace. Therefore, there is no reason to go. Still, they are being invited by Suu Kyi, so they will have to do something, just to be polite. At a minimum, rather than respond individually, the UNFC should meet to consider the invitation, and prepare a common position.

The end of the UNFC?

It is therefore extremely disconcerting that there is talk of abandoning the UNFC and establishing a Northern Alliance. While it is true that the UNFC was weakened when corrupt leader Mutu Say Poe forced the KNU to defect, thereby destroying the organization’s southern flank, it still has great strength as the voice for those groups that have refused to give up. The last thing the EAOs need is the shattering of yet another alliance. Far better would be to oust Mutu at this years’s KNU Congress, and re-establish the southern flank. Even more, and while many people may not realize it, creating a Northern Alliance with the UWSA would restructure the opposition in Burma no less substantially than when Suu Kyi flip-flopped and had the NLD compete in the 2012 by-election. The consequences would be so far-reaching they are difficult to overstate.

The appeal of the Northern Alliance idea, though, is that it reflects what is happening on the ground. The Burma Army is attacking across the north and the resistance groups there are trying to fight together and with not insignificant support from the Wa. Still, I would argue that formalizing this relationship is a step too far. Right now, the Wa have self-excluded from the different alliances, in part to pursue their claim to their own state, not just a self-administered territory. This has served everyone’s interests, since having an open relationship with them is problematic given the group’s link to narcotics. The EAOs cooperate with the Wa because it is in their, and the Wa’s, best interests. There is no need to change this relationship.

Burma as a USA-China proxy war

However, if a Northern Alliance is established, it will create a completely new regional geopolitical situation. Right now, the EAOs have covert links to the Wa, and also to China. But, with a new alliance, these connections will become overt. The Northern Alliance will become a resistance that is openly linked to China, harkening back to the situation during the days of the Communist Party of Burma.

It is important to remember that the U.S. backed dictator Ne Win during those days, to counter China’s influence. Creating a Northern Alliance will resurrect that dynamic. Northern Burma will become a new front - a proxy war - in what is rapidly becoming a new U.S.-China cold war, fomented by the latter’s belligerence in the South China Sea and cyber espionage. Not only should the EAOs be very careful in their relationships with Beijing, in recognition of the fact that it is also a totalitarian dictatorship, they do not want to give the U.S. an excuse to re-engage with the Burma Army, including with arms and training.

Indeed, if a new Northern Alliance is established, with the participation of the Wa and therefore of China, I believe you can conclude that the prospects for peace in Burma are finished, meaning civil conflict peace, and no matter what meetings or conferences Suu Kyi organizes. The Burma Army can’t defeat the resistance already, no matter how many times it threatens its annihilation. With increased support from China, and even with the U.S. backing the generals, the civil war will drag on for decades.

Than Shwe’s strategy

If Suu Kyi’s strategy is to wear the Burma Army down with hugs and kisses, what about Senior General Than Shwe? He obviously still pulls the strings behind the scenes, including no doubt giving the order for last week’s aerial attacks. What is he up to? Than Shwe’s goal is to wait Suu Kyi out. Let her be State Counsellor - she’s really President, there’s no harm in calling her that - for the next five years. He just needs to have the Burma Army continue to attack the EAOs. Suu Kyi can’t do anything about it, and if they form a Northern Alliance, so much the better.

It is critical to realize, the key alliance for Burma, the most fundamental alliance of all, is between the dictators of Naypyidaw and Beijing. An absence of peace suits the regime (both regimes). Even though it is wholly their fault, the generals use it in their propaganda to justify the need for eternal military rule. This includes their portrayal that they are the saviors of the nation, and which propaganda Suu Kyi has reinforced, and which the Burman portion of the population appears increasingly willing to accept. (Suu Kyi, stop stalling - release the ethnic and religion population data now!)

China is happy to help with this. It doesn’t care if there is a little war in Burma. The very last thing China wants in the country is not the permanent cancellation of the Myitsone Dam, but democracy - real and well-functioning democracy. Finally, if Suu Kyi ever becomes too demonstrative, the generals can just seize absolute power again in a coup, using the civil war as the excuse. They will let her play her games, and bring them more foreign investment - more money, but if she ever becomes a real threat, they will shut her down. And then, when she is gone, they will move on to the job of controlling the next generation of freedom fighters.


It’s a cynical view and distressing, undoubtedly, but this is what is happening. Social theory and history demonstrate that rulers only yield power when they are confronted by a greater force. This can be more and bigger guns, or millions of people taking to the streets. There is no other option. They can deflect any and all other attempts. Therefore, and once again, the stalemate in Burma is the responsibility of Aung San Suu Kyi. She has two fatal flaws. First, she is an aristocrat. She has an unshakeable sense of personal privilege and the rightness of her action. She is in such denial about what is really happening that it would take years of therapy and pharmacological treatment for her to see the light - to be cured.

This is illustrated by her reaction to the Depayin massacre. Suu Kyi lost her father so she is also one of the victims of Burma, but this happened when she was two. Until Depayin, she had no personal experience of the horrors that the people experience. (Her years under house arrest in a lakeside villa don’t count.) That day, her protective envelope popped. She saw her friends, her followers and protectors, cut down. She barely got away. In the face of this, she could no longer deny the truth. And, she had a choice: to give up, or to renew the fight. But, it is clear that she blamed herself, that she felt she had blood on her hands. The people died because of her. They were there because of her.

They say the true test of leadership is to ask people to sacrifice themselves, and to live with it. The nobility of the cause justifies both the order and the act. Suu Kyi failed the test. She was happy standing on the balcony, waving to the crowds, and accepting all the awards, but she simply couldn’t handle the heat when she was called upon to lead. Then, in 2012, and when she saw her chances at power evaporating, she gave up the pretense and entered the by-election. Now, she has been coronated. But, she is deceiving herself, and the people of Burma, that her way can bring peace and democracy, while the beast, the military dictatorship, is still on a rampage. Her betrayal and self-delusion would be bad enough, were it not be for the countless people who have already made the ultimate sacrifice. But, wishing that this is enough does not mean that it is. The fight is still ongoing. More sacrifices will be required, and heroic individuals to lead the way.

The recent history of Burma has been all about waiting, for those precious opportunities to generate enough pressure for the dictatorship to break. There have been some close calls - for Than Shwe, including the Saffron Uprising, and when following this the ethnic armies had one battlefield success after another, leading to the collapse of Burma Army morale and the possibility of an internal pro-democracy coup. Neither of these opportunities succeeded (for varying and complex reasons). Suu Kyi then changed her mind, and the long wait until the 2015 general election began. Now, we are waiting once again, for her to do something, but with the certain knowledge that the timid steps she is proposing are guaranteed to fail. The next opportunity for freedom is now hazy and far in the future.

Frankly, and although it is a lot to ask, and it will obviously never happen, Suu Kyi should just stand down and get out of the way. The longer she insists on dominating the stage, the darker the country’s future will become. The clouds may lighten over Burma Proper for a while, but this will only be a temporary respite. The storm will return. You are only free when you can say and do what you want, and are not at risk of arrest, rape and death. The people of Burma enjoy no such freedom. Under Suu Kyi’s “leadership,” they never will.

UBCV Patriarch Thich Quang Do calls on President Obama to speak out for human rights during visit to Vietnam


PARIS, 9 May 2016 (VCHR) – From the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), the Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam Thích Quảng Độ has sent a letter to US President Barack Obama urging him to press Vietnam’s leaders on human rights when he visits the Communist state later this month. The US President will make his first trip to Vietnam when he comes to the region to attend the G-7 Summit in Japan on 26-27 May.

Thích Quảng Độ, 87, prominent dissident and 2016 Nobel Peace prize nominee, sent the letter through clandestine channels to the UBCV’s International Spokesman and VCHR President Vo Van Ai, who forwarded it to the White House. The leader of the independent, non-recognised UBCV has been held under de facto house arrest since 2003 without any justification or charge. His communications and visits are monitored and he is subjected to continuous Police surveillance. Although he is allowed to receive certain diplomatic visits, Buddhists and other visitors are frequently harassed and threatened by Police, who say they should not visit Thích Quảng Độ because he is a “criminal”. The UBCV leader has spent three decades in detention (internal exile, prison and house arrest) for his outspoken criticism of government abuses of religious freedom and human rights.

In the letter, Thích Quảng Độ said the Vietnamese people looked forward to the US President’s visit. For himself, he had a “debt of gratitude” to pay to the US, because he was released from prison thanks to an appeal by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who visited Vietnam in 1998. However, he wrote, “I am not writing to ask you to win my freedom. More important, I sincerely urge you to use your trip to speak out for the thousands of Vietnamese, young and old, men and women, farmers and workers, academics, journalists, bloggers and followers of all religious denominations who are suffering imprisonment, house arrest, assaults and harassments because of their engagement for religious freedom, democracy and the respect of human rights”.

Commending Vietnam’s economic opening, he nevertheless regretted that “the government has made no attempt to open the political system, nor establish the institutions necessary to safeguard its citizens’ rights. Forty-one years after the end of the Vietnam War, we still have no free press, no democratic opposition parties and no independent civil society”.

Vietnam’s young generation look to social networks and the Internet to communicate and learn new ideas, he said, yet “this thirst for connectivity has led many into prison, condemned under archaic laws couched in Cold War rhetoric such as “abusing democratic freedoms to threaten the interests of the state”. Economic globalization without political rights in Vietnam had seriously impacted workers, who “endure sweatshop conditions and inadequate pay, yet have no free trade unions to voice their grievances and defend their rights”.

“As your visit approaches”, Thích Quảng Độ told President Obama, “human rights abuses are escalating in Vietnam. Promises of reform at the Communist Party’s XII Congress in January have not been upheld, and a hard-line leadership has now taken the helm. The former Minister of Public Security is now the President, and the climate of repression is palpable”. Political trials in March 2016 alone had resulted in prison sentences of a total of 22 years for seven human rights activists, and the National Assembly had adopted extensive new legislation to further restrict human rights.

“Vietnamese people welcome the strengthened relationship between the United States and Vietnam, and we believe it will help put our government on the path to reform”, he said. But at the same time, Vietnamese were convinced that this relationship was only sustainable if it was grounded on the mutual respect of democratic freedoms and human rights.

The UBCV Patriarch emphasized the crucial importance of the right to freedom of religion or belief - “the mother of all human rights” - and highlighted the role of Buddhism in the process of democratization in Vietnam: “Vietnam is home to a wide diversity of religions, but it is in majority a Buddhist country. Over the past 2,000 years, Lord Buddha’s teachings of tolerance and compassion have shaped the culture and identity of the Vietnamese people, and inspired them with a spirit of liberty, social justice and independence that characterises them today. It is precisely this culture of freedom and independence that the Vietnamese government is determined to stifle and suppress”.

In conclusion, Thích Quảng Độ urged President Obama “to stand by us, and speak out for human rights in your visit to Vietnam. By so doing, you will make this a truly historic occasion, one we will remember as a turning point in the movement for freedom and democracy in Vietnam”.

Vietnam: New Law on Access to Information and amended Press Law restrict freedom of expression and the right to know

Vietnamese National Assembly

PARIS, 6 April 2016 (VCHR) – The amended Press Law and the new Law on Access to Information, adopted by overwhelming votes by the Vietnamese National Assembly (respectively 89.5% and 97.5%) on 5 and 6 April, add new tools to Vietnam’s arsenal of repressive legislation, just as the authorities are launching a fierce crackdown on freedom of expression in Vietnam.

“Within the past two weeks alone, seven people have been sentenced to over 22 years in prison for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and the Minister of Public Security is now the President of Vietnam“ said VCHR President Võ Văn Ái. “These laws confirm once again the government’s all-out offensive against human rights. Under these laws, the one-Party State is empowered to stifle all free debate on politics, history, religion and social issues, and hide any information it wants from its population”.

The amended Press Law appears more like a shield against anti-government criticism than a law on press freedom. It increases the number of “prohibited acts” from four to thirteen. All are unduly vague and place wide-ranging restrictions on the media. Banned activities include publishing “distorted information about the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” perceived to “defame the people’s government”, “run contrary to the country’s international unity policies”, “cause alarm amongst the people” or “sow division between the people and State authorities”. The diffusion of “confidential information” and “state secrets” is banned, and the lack of a clear definition of these terms enables the authorities to apply this classification to virtually any document. Contrary to recommendations by the United Nations and civil society to bring Vietnam’s laws into line with international standards and norms, the amended Press Law continues to criminalize a wide range of activities which are left solely to the appreciation of the state, such as “propagating depraved lifestyles”, “violating the country’s traditions and values”, or “distorting history, denying revolutionary achievements or offending the nation or its heroes”.

Concerning freedom of religion or belief, the law bans “superstition”, without defining the term, and incorporates “national security” provisions from the Criminal Code such as “causing division between non-religious and religious people, people of different religions, between religious people and State authorities” which are routinely invoked to suppress independent religious activities. More disturbingly, the law adds a new prohibition on information which “offends people’s religious belief”. This evokes the “defamation of religions” debate which has raised grave concerns in the United Nations and within civil society worldwide because it questions the right to freedom of expression and the universality of human rights.

The amended Press Law also maintains state control on journalists by continuing to require that they re-apply for their press cards every five years. The law comes into force on 1st January 2017. The new Law on Access to Information, which takes effect on 1st July 2018, raises serious concerns regarding freedom of expression and the right to know, or the right of individuals to access information held by public authorities. The 2015 draft of this law was severely criticized by the Centre for Law and Democracy, who placed Vietnam near the bottom (93rd out of 102) of a list of countries rated for their access to information legislation. First and foremost, citizens’ right to access to information does not appear to be an inherent right in Vietnam, but one which only exists as regulated by law.

Furthermore, the Law on Access to Information does not override existing legislation, but stipulates a number of grounds for restricting access to information which are inacceptable under international law. These include “state secrets”, which are not defined, or vague terms such as “social order and ethics”, “State security”, “interests of the nation, people and State”, or “propaganda”. Moreover, the public will only have access to information produced after the law comes into force, and only information declassified by government. There is no time frame provided for the declassification of information

In addition, the law is dissuasive and cumbersome, requiring citizens who seek access to information explain why they need this information, and provide details of their names, addresses and ID or passport numbers. Under the law, the authorities are not obliged to provide receipts to those who request information, which deprives citizens of proof in case of dispute. Where access to information is denied, the authorities do not have to provide the reasons for their refusal, and the citizens have no alternative mechanisms of recourse. “Wrongful use of information” is subject to sanctions.

Also of concern is the lack of protection for “whistleblowers”, people who release information which reveals wrongdoing. Vietnamese laws provide heavy penalties for such acts under a range of different pretexts, such as the case of Nguyễn Mạnh Hà and Trần Anh Hùng, sentenced respectively to 5 and 6 years in prison in October 2013 for leaking a draft government report on a controversial development project in Nhatrang to the media. They were accused of “revealing state secrets”. ---

Vietnam: Imprisonment of blogger and activist condemned

Nguyen Huu Vinh

PARIS, 23 March 2016: The Vietnamese government must immediately end the ongoing repression of peaceful dissent, release all political prisoners, and repeal its draconian legislation, FIDH and its member organization Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR)said today.

The two organizations reiterated their demands in response to today’s decision by a Hanoi court to sentence blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy to five and three years in prison respectively for “abusing democratic freedoms to harm the interests of the State” under Article 258 of the Criminal Code. The two had been accused of “publishing online articles with bad contents and misleading information to lower the prestige and create public distrust of government offices, social organizations, and citizens.” “Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy should not have spent a single day in prison for merely exercising their right to freedom of expression. They must be immediately released, along with all other political prisoners in the country,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy have been detained since their arrest on 5 May 2014 in Hanoi. Nguyen Huu Vinh, a former police officer and the son of Vietnam’s ambassador to the former Soviet Union, is the founder of the widely-read AnhBasam (‘Gossip’) website. AnhBasam, one of the most popular sources for news and comments about human rights, democracy, and corruption in Vietnam, often featured articles critical of the Vietnamese government’s policies. In 2013 and 2014, hackers repeatedly attacked the website. “Today’s verdict is all the more concerning because it could signal a new wave of repression as new party leaders assume control,” said Mr. Lahidji.

The trial of Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, originally scheduled for 19 January 2016, was postponed ahead of the Vietnam Communist Party’s (VCP’s) congress, held in Hanoi from 21 to 28 January 2016.Between 31 March and 12 April 2016, Vietnam’s National Assembly will endorse the new leadership nominated by the VCP. Minister of Public Security Tran Dai Quang, who has overseen the ongoing crackdown on bloggers, activists, and human rights defenders, is slated to become the country’s new President.

“Without the repeal of the Vietnam’s numerous repressive laws that continue to be used to target government critics, it is extremely likely that the number of political prisoners will rise under a new hardline leadership. It is time for the international community to step up its pressure for genuine legislative and political reforms in Vietnam,” said VCHR President Vo Van Ai. Vietnam holds about 130 political prisoners - the largest number among Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states.

Amendments to the Criminal Code, adopted by the National Assembly on 27 November 2015, failed to repeal numerous clauses that are inconsistent with Vietnam’s obligations under international law. In addition to Article 258, other provisions that fail to comply with international standards include: (1) Article 79 (‘activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration’); Article 80 (‘spying’); Article 87 (‘undermining national solidarity, sowing divisions between religious and non-religious people’); and Article 88 (‘conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’). Vietnamese authorities have repeatedly used these provisions to suppress the right to freedom of opinion and expression and to detain government critics.

FIDH and VCHR have consistently denounced and called for the repeal of the above-referenced ‘national security’ legislation that is overly broad and totally inconsistent with Vietnam’s commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Press contacts FIDH: Arthur Manet (French, English, Spanish) - Tel: +33672284294 (Paris) FIDH: Audrey Couprie (French, English, Spanish) - Tel: +33648059157 (Paris) VCHR: Penelope Faulkner (Vietnamese, English, French) - Tel: +33611898681 (Paris)

Protest-march creating ripple in northeast India

Special Contribution
By Nava Thakuria

Protest in Guwahati

It was a usual protest demonstration, where thousands took part chanting slogans against anti-national elements while marching on the busy streets of Guwahati, the virtual capital of northeast India. But aftershocks of the protest march elongated for days in the trouble-torn region, where a section of media outlets even played the trick. In fact, few thousand citizens joined in the protest rally braving the morning sunshine on 27 February 2016 with the national flag in their hands, which was kicked off from Dighalipukhuri point and culminated at the same place after marching up to Chandmari locality of the pre-historic city.

The Guwahatians devotedly responded to the call of Patriotic People’s Front Assam (PPFA) for the protest march condemning the anti-national advocates that emerged from different higher educational institutions like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jadavpur University etc in the recent past. The protesters rubbished the section of JNU students for terming Afzal Guru, who was executed for his involvement in 2001 Indian Parliament attack, a martyr. The JNU students also showed the audacity to point our the execution of Guru on 9 February 2013 as a judicial killing and they even resolved to fight to break India into thousand parts until it’s destruction is complete.

Those anti-India JNU students organized a meeting on 9 February evening inside the JNU campus to commemorate the execution of Guru even though he was executed after an exhausted judicial process. Later they organized another commemorative meeting at Press Club of India next day, where too anti-India slogans were raised. Similar news also broke from Jadavpur University in West Bengal, where few students indulged in anti-national sloganeering and poster-planting.

The JNU controversy has already gripped the huge public space in India with international media attentions as the authority had arrested many student leaders under the sedition charge. Numerous public rallies were already organized in different parts of the country criticizing Narendra Modi government’s handling of JNU issues. Even both the houses of Indian Parliament debated over the matter, where the opposition law-makers criticized the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government at the Centre for its ‘aggressive actions against democratic exercises’. Earlier, in another development the Union HRD minister Smriti Irani initiated to raise the national flag in India’s 46 Central Universities regularly. The vice-chancellors of these universities had a meeting with the minister on 18 February and resolved in unanimous that the national tri-colour would be flown prominently and proudly on their campuses to signify a united India.

The PPFA, which is a forum of conscious individuals without any political party alliance, hailed the initiative arguing that it would help erasing the unwanted impression about the New Delhi based prestigious institute that the JNU had virtually turned into a hotbed for anti-India elements. Underlining the importance of elevating the tri-colour, the forum pointed out that it symbolizes the immense sacrifice made by millions of known & unknown freedom fighters to make India an independent nation and every responsible citizen should salute the national flag.

“It has been observed that separatist elements and a bunch of so-called intellectuals of the country have long been opposing the hoisting of tri-colour citing their grievances against the Union government. They must understand that the national flag does not belong to the government, rather it is owned by every Indian citizen,” said Rupam Barua of PPFA. The participants of Guwahati march chanted slogans like ‘Vande Mataram, Joi Asom, Anti-Nationals Go Back, Down Down Anti-Nationals, Punish JNU Anti-Nationals, Condemn Jadavpur Anti-Nationals, ‘RADICAL’ Get Out, China’s Bootlickers Get Out etc’.

The long march was led by a number of noted citizens, including eminent journalist Dhirendra Nath Chakrabarty, noted publisher Giripad Devchoudhury, retired bureaucrat Rohini Barua, award-winning film-maker Manju Bora, ex-army officer Ranjan Dutta, film-critic Utpal Datta, popular singer Babita Sarma, academician Jagadindra Raychoudhury, publisher Dhiraj Goswami, physician Alekhya Barua, environmentalist Soumyadeep Dutta, entrepreneur Ujjal Saikia etc. It was also joined by popular writer Namrata Dutta, photography director Jiban Dowka, councilor Sunita Bhiluwaria, social activists Kailash Sarma, Pankaj Jalan, Kishor Saini, lawyers Chinmoy Choudhury, Chinmoy Sarma Barua,Tapas Mishra, Bankim Sarma, Kumud Konwar with senior journalists Biman Chandra Hazarika, Pramod Kalita, Pradip Pareekh, DN Singh, Bipul Sarma, Azlina Khanam, Jesim Raja, Sewali Kalita and others.

The protest march received visible media coverage across the region expect few Assam based media outlets tried to term it as a congregate of rightist people (read sympathizers to BJP) only. A Guwahati based newspaper, owned by a Congress leader, reported that the protest march was sponsored by Hindu-centric ageneses, where as another Assamese daily, edited by a Left aligned intellectual, simply preferred to kill the news, as if it had never happened.

ASEAN: Obama must demand progress on human rights during Summit

Barack Obama at ASEAN Summit

PARIS, 13 February 2015: US President Barack Obama must demand progress on human rights during the upcoming Summit with Southeast Asian leaders, FIDH and its nine member organizations from Southeast Asia urged today. President Obama will meet with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states in Rancho Mirage, California, on 15-16 February 2016.

“The US foreign policy shift to focus on the Asia-Pacific is destined to fail if it does not make democratic reforms and respect for human rights in the region its core component. It is imperative that President Obama press for progress on human rights as a precondition for any talks on strengthening political, security, and economic ties with ASEAN governments,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

In his 20 January 2015 State of the Union Address, President Obama declared that the US defends free speech, advocates for political prisoners, and condemns the persecution of women, religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The US President must repeat this message during the Summit and ensure that ASEAN leaders make public commitments towards improving the human rights situation in their respective countries.

Hundreds of political prisoners remain incarcerated in appalling conditions in jails across Southeast Asia. Governments in the region continue to use repressive laws that do not comply with international standards to harass, arbitrarily detain, and imprison activists and human rights defenders. In many ASEAN member states the space for civil society and political dissent is either non-existent or rapidly shrinking. Violations of civil and political rights, including the right to freely choose their elected representatives, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to freedom of association, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly are categorically denied or increasingly curtailed. Across the region, ethnic and religious minorities continue to suffer persecution at the hands of state actors or with their complicity or acquiescence.

Even countries that seem to have made significant strides towards the respect of democratic principles, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, remain mired in serious human rights challenges, including impunity for serious past abuses, such as extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

Under the banner of the fight against terrorist networks, several governments in the region have already proposed or enacted laws that will allow for the encroachment on fundamental freedoms and the commission of further human rights violations. As a result, security cooperation between the US and ASEAN governments must be conducted within a rigorous regulatory framework that ensures the respect of international human rights standards.

FIDH and its Southeast Asian member organizations urge President Obama to put on hold any form of US military assistance to ASEAN governments whose security forces continue to commit human rights violations until clear benchmarks of democratization, respect for human rights, and accountability for abuses are met.

The conclusion of free trade and investment agreements with ASEAN Member States is also a matter of grave concern. The current situation in Cambodia illustrates that the granting of trade privileges in the presence of a weak legal framework, rampant corruption, and a seriously flawed judicial system can result in serious violations of economic, social, and cultural rights. In addition, the implementation of infrastructure and investment projects across the region has often led to unchecked exploitation of natural resources, forced evictions, displacement, loss of livelihood, and environmental degradation.

“The US would be shooting itself in the foot if it pursues security cooperation and free trade agreements without prior adoption of strong human rights safeguards. Our region is already in distress from the deteriorating human rights situation, and none of us, the US included, can afford for it to get any worse,” said Altsean-Burma Coordinator and FIDH Secretary-General Debbie Stothard.

Press contacts: FIDH: Mr. Andrea Giorgetta (English) - Tel: +66886117722 (Bangkok) FIDH: Mr. Arthur Manet (French, English, Spanish) - Tel: +33672284294 (Paris)

NFF Press Statement on the arrest of Pakistan Fisher Leader

Jan 21, 2016

Mr. Saeed Baloch

The National Fishworkers’ Forum (NFF) is given to understand that Mr. Saeed Baloch was arrested on 16 January by the Pakistan Rangers, who works under the command of the Pakistan Army.

He is apparently misjudged as one of the terrorist. We wish to state that Mr. Baloch is a Human Rights activist since the 1980'ies. He was associated with the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF),that works to protect the socioeconomic and political rights of the indigenous fisherfolk communities in the country, since its inception. Baloch is also one of the senior Human Rights activists of Pakistan. As the repeatedly elected General Secretary of PFF, Saeed Baloch has been outspoken in advocating for ecologically sustainable and economically equitable fisheries. His commitment to a fair society is also reflected in his repeated election as General Secretary of the Fishermen Cooperative Society Employees Union.

Global appreciation of Saeed Baloch’s commitment to human rights is illustrated by continued election to the Board of the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as frequent invitations to be a Pakistan delegate at regional and global assemblies of justice activists such as the Asian Peoples' Movement on Debt and Development and the World Social Forum.

According to Mr. Muhammad Ali Shah, the Chairperson of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum and the Co-chair of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples, in which National Fishworkers’ Forum is an active member and founder, it is not known under what charges the paramilitary force has detained Mr. Baloch. Approached by Mr. Ali Shah, a Rangers' spokesperson neither confirmed nor denied the arrest of Mr. Baloch. In a statement by the Awami Workers Party, deep concern is raised over the Pakistan Rangers' continued targeting of political and social activists and workers under the guise of anti-terror operations. Human Rights defenders can be detained for up to three months without charge under the wide powers granted to the Rangers under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

The National Fishworkers’ Forum is utterly unhappy about this stand of the Pakistan government. While we agree that is important to combat terrorism, it cannot become a pretext to arresting people who have disagreement with it. We condemn the arrest and criminalisation of Mr. Baloch and call upon the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Baloch.

M.Ilango, Ex.MLA, Narendra R Patil, Chairperson. General Secretary. National Fishworkers’ Forum.


Special Contribution
By Roland Watson(dictatorwatch)
Jan 1, 2016

Ethnic KIA troop

There is a new front in the military dictatorship of Burma’s propaganda war. Through a variety of forums, the Ethnic Armed Organizations that did not sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (because the dictatorship refused to stop its attacks against them and to allow all the resistance groups to participate), are now being pressured to join the “political dialogue” starting on January 12th. The EAOs should refuse the invitation to take part, since to do so would effectively mean their surrender.

For Burma’s generals, the NCA is old news. It will never be truly nationwide. They simply don’t care. (It will go down in history as a farce.) They have moved on to their dialogue, as the next stage of their program to ensure never-ending dominance. If the ethnic resistance can be pressured to attend, then they will have accepted this program - once again, they will have surrendered, just as much as if they had signed the NCA.

Hundreds of people will be at the meeting. Frankly, it doesn’t matter if there are thousands. The only participants of note are the turncoat ethnic leaders, from the KNU, SSA-S, and PNLO, and since they represent only a fraction of the resistance soldiers, even their inclusion is meaningless. The whole exercise is pointless.

The only thing that counts is what Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD do, for the peace process and for the overall establishment of a federal democracy, once they are finally allowed to form a new government (although they will have zero control over crucial ministries that are reserved for the military). Therefore, the only logical action for the ethnic groups now is to wait, and see what happens. As long as the Burma Army continues its aggression, they must resist; maintain their independence and preparedness; and work to increase their inter-group cooperation.

Interestingly, the Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), in an unsigned editorial on December 29th (Peace Process: Time for non-signatories to make up their mind), backed the regime’s propaganda by calling on the ethnic groups to both agree to the NCA, without their demands being met, and to observe the dialogue. The editorial even went so far as to make a threat, using second-hand hearsay from Suu Kyi: “One thing in the way, sources say, is that the non-signatories will continue to be unlawful organizations until they become signatories. She wants nothing to do with them until they are delisted.” SHAN is saying that it has sources connected to Suu Kyi, and who claim that she will not talk to the ethnic resistance groups until they capitulate to the military dictatorship.

In the face of this remarkable statement, one wonders:

Is it true? Does SHAN have a source that has presented Suu Kyi’s position accurately? This, by the way, would be surprising, since she went out of her way during the NCA negotiation to caution the EAOs about signing hastily.

Also, if it is not true, why would a SHAN editorialist say that it is? Why is SHAN trying to use Suu Kyi to threaten the ethnic resistance? SHAN does of course have the right to say whatever it wants. I’m not trying to censor its opinion. I just wonder where it came from. What, and whose, agenda lies behind this?

SHAN has been kind enough to post a number of my statements, and for which I am very grateful. I am curious, though, why they would publish this opinion unsigned, rather than with the author named (as Irrawaddy used to do with its many op-eds by dictatorship ally - and now well-paid MPC propagandist - Aung Naing Oo). Is this really the media outlet’s formal position on the peace process, that the EAOs should just give up?

SHAN also now seems to be siding with Yawd Serk and the SSA-S, who have given up, and which through their recent actions are asserting entitlement to additional territory. SSA-S territory for years has been limited to defined areas in Southern and Central Shan States. Its supporters are now arguing, in the face of its clashes with the TNLA, one of the groups that the Burman generals want to exclude, that it actually has a legitimate right to all of the State - even KIA areas of control in the north. Indeed, the TNLA has reported eleven battles with the SSA-S in the last month, and with the Burma Army fighting together with the SSA-S in several. A few commentators have even described the SSA-S, following its signing of the NCA, as a new regime Border Guard Force.

As part of this, SHAN appears to have turned its back on the other major Shan army, the SSA-N, which has been the victim of a new Burma Army offensive in recent weeks (not to mention the thousands of local villagers who have had to flee their homes). Shan State is a large and distinct land mass, occupied by many different ethnic groups and their associated resistance armies. These residents further, under the terms of the Panglong Agreement, have the legal power to demand independence and to form their own country. One wonders why SHAN, editorially at least, now seems to be backing one group to the exclusion of the interests of all the others, even if it means dooming the State’s residents to perpetual fear, as well as the denial of their right under Panglong, if they deem it necessary, to seek independence.

In any case, it would be a huge mistake for the EAOs to attend the political dialogue. Instead, they should wait and see what develops, on a number of issues that are critical not only to the ethnic nationalities but to the entire country:

Before the new Parliament is formed, will Suu Kyi as a sitting MP approve the amnesty bill for Thein Sein, and the reduction of voting power for the President in the NDSC? When the NLD has a parliamentary majority, will she push for the regime to end its offensives in the ethnic homelands, and to change the Constitution to implement a true Federal system, including by eliminating its veto?

More than anything, will she end her silence about the dictatorship’s decades of atrocities, from crimes against humanity against the ethnic peoples, to the arrest and torture of political prisoners? Burma’s military dictatorship is one of the very worst - certainly in the top ten - political dictatorships in the modern age. Its crimes are so brutal and so many that you could fill a library with their descriptions. (This is why she, as a representative of the country, was awarded the Peace Prize.) Will she ever change her position, her warm feelings for the Burma Army, and recognize it - publicly - for what it really is?

This is the most important question of all. If she will not end her denial and accept this truth, nothing that she and the NLD do in Parliament can possibly lead Burma to real freedom and democracy. Instead, she will accomplish the opposite: entrench the dictatorship and extend its impunity even more.


Special Contribution
By Roland Watson
Dec 9, 2015

Dictator Than Shwe becomes attention again

The National League for Democracy - that’s right - “Democracy” - has just won an election in Burma, and by a landslide. Real freedom and modern democratic governance therefore must be close at hand. So, what possible reason could I have for using this article’s title?

The six Burmans

In the last two weeks there have been a number of meetings, none of the details of which have been publicly released. All of these meetings have involved Aung San Suu Kyi, who can now safely be characterized as the country’s new “democratic dictator.” Prior to the election, many well-qualified individuals who wanted to run under the NLD banner were not selected, and some people were actually expelled from the Party. The reason: They did not toe her line or accept her absolute control. (She has also refused to develop a new generation of leaders.) She then ordered everyone in the country to vote for the Party, meaning her, and not the specific candidates. She announced that she would be above whomever is selected - whomever she selects - to be the new President. And, she has demanded that all NLD MPs commit to an oath of fealty, to vote on legislation as she decides. Through these and other steps Suu Kyi has cemented her intention to become the new ruler of Burma.

She is further a member of the Burman ethnic group. While the vast majority of Burmans are not racist, at least knowingly (some have unwittingly succumbed to decades of propaganda), the Burman-led military regime that has oppressed the country since 1962 (and which is responsible for the propaganda) most assuredly is. This follows a colonialist pattern of internal domination of other groups by Burman Kings dating back centuries. To be generous, one could say that Suu Kyi is still a question mark on the issue. However, her words and actions (or silence and inaction) regarding the Rohingya, and the country’s other ethnic nationalities, suggest that she is a racist as well. The idea that she would insert herself into the nation’s civil war - and peace negotiation, an area that she has studiously ignored, is therefore problematic at best. While the Rohingya people are hoping that she will finally act on their behalf, this is also wishful thinking. She no doubt considers them to be “Bengalis” - “kalars” - as well.

For the meetings, Suu Kyi met the dictator of Burma, Than Shwe; his puppets, Min Aung Hlaing, Thein Sein and Shwe Mann; and his grandson, Nay Shwe Thway Aung. It is clear that a grand bargain is being struck. Suu Kyi will leave the military and the police alone, and not seek to prosecute them for past and ongoing atrocities. (Of note: The worst of these crimes have been perpetrated against the non-Burman groups.) She will also protect their economic interests and those of their cronies, even though this represents the stolen wealth of the nation for the last fifty years. In return, she can be the “leader,” and fulfill her belief that she and she alone knows what is best for everyone, and without any input from anyone, or discussion. Through this, she can continue to satisfy her seemingly bottomless narcissism and megalomania.

(For the observation about narcissism, her sarong collection now matches Imelda Marcos’ shoes. This is relevant! She’s showing off a new silk sarong every day, in one of the poorest countries on earth. Could she please just have a little humility?) In summary, six Burmans are deciding the fate of one of the most culturally diverse nations on earth. What could possibly go wrong?

Two other notes: Suu Kyi considers herself, as Aung San’s daughter, to have essentially unlimited privilege, and which has been reinforced by her long and favored residence in England (one of the world’s most class conscious societies). As an analogy, think of the self-image of the children of U.S. Presidents, times ten. At her age she is also clearly undergoing the hardening of views that some elderly people experience, whereby they become increasingly autocratic. To summarize: An unprincipled and for that matter unskilled leader, with a background of extreme privilege as well as dictatorial tendencies, and a racist to boot, will be the new and unchallenged leader of Burma, to work hand-in-hand with a gang of war criminals.

Again, what could possibly go wrong? Actually, there’s a seventh Burman as well, the individual that Suu Kyi intends to install as President - her own puppet!

One country, two governments

In theory, what is being done in Burma is almost acceptable - another Asian Values version of democracy. (International diplomats and businesses certainly think that it is.) Suu Kyi will run a democratically elected Parliament, which will work alongside the military. She in turn will oversee the many ministries not constitutionally-granted to the military. (The military controls Defense, Home Affairs - this includes the police, and Border Affairs - meaning the ethnic nationality homelands and commercial development therein.) The idea seems to be that Parliament will focus on social services, while the military manages large development projects, external defense (Burma is subject to no such threat!), internal security, and its favorite cause - “non-disintegration of the Union.”

While this setup may seem reasonable to some, in reality, it is preposterous. All democratic societies subsume the military under the Executive. This is the only way a democracy can be conducted. Otherwise, the military has too much power, and is a threat to the nation. In this type of arrangement, one would expect the Parliament to challenge the military again and again, demanding that it end its abuses and accept a reduced role. But, this in turn could lead to a coup, with the generals attempting to reclaim unchallenged power.

Suu Kyi is apparently afraid of this possibility, and her fear lies at the heart of the “Six Burman” deal. She will not interfere when the police arrest students and other protestors (continuing her current practice). She will not object when the Burma Army launches new assaults against the ethnic nationalities (again, her current practice). She will not even complain, at least not strongly, about corruption and the military’s total control of the economy. (All her talk about the Rule of Law was just for show.) This is - she believes - the only course that she can follow if she wants to maintain her standing. To preserve the illusion of real leadership, she will kowtow to Than Shwe.

Three Rohingya individuals have been murdered in the last week, in separate incidents (a pattern that has been underway for years). They include two men, with one killed by the police and the other by Rakhine racists; and a woman, perpetrator unknown, who was also likely raped as her body was found naked. There was not a peep about this from Suu Kyi or the NLD. Do they track crimes against the Rohingya, or any other group for that matter? Do they even care?

The military cancer

A revealing way to think of the Burma Army is as a political cancer - a racist, political cancer. Just as real cancerous tumors are supplied by networks of blood vessels, so the military in Burma is a collection of cancerous tumors - its bases and outposts, connected by rivers and roads. And, just as a biological tumor kills the body, so the Tatmadaw has been killing Burma, and in innumerable ways, from the just illustrated direct murder of its citizens; through imposing poverty, which disproportionately kills children and the elderly; to the decimation of the natural environment.

Nonetheless, as bad as it has been since 1962, the military cancer in Burma can get much, much worse. Cancers need oxygen and nutrients to grow; the Tatmadaw - money. In the past, it mainly relied on the sale of natural resources, including oil and gas, timber, minerals and gems. But, after huge personal thefts by the top generals, and the pursuit of a never-ending civil war of aggression, this actually left little surplus. Burma is a “least-developed” state. What this means is that the tumor in the country is still limited and clearly defined. While it is true that every soldier, police officer and bureaucrat has sworn allegiance, the actual dictatorship, both political and economic, is quite small. Because of this, surgery to remove the tumor - a popular revolution - would be straight-forward. Were the people of Burma to rise up in numbers even a fraction of those who have just voted, they could cut the dictatorship off at its head and begin a real transition to democracy.

Than Shwe’s strategic goal is not only to maintain the status quo for his lifetime, or even for that of his grandson. He wants Burma to be a military dictatorship in perpetuity, like China. He will be the Burman King that established the new dynasty, and perhaps just someday his grandson will be King as well.

His genius in organizing this has been through cultivating his most public enemy, Suu Kyi, and turning her into an ally. Through careful management, mainly by Thein Sein and Shwe Mann, but also with the backing of the International Community, he has transformed Suu Kyi from a revered and legitimate pro-democracy leader, into a spokesperson for the regime.

Furthermore, the main real-world consequence of her willingness to overlook essentially everything, will be greatly increased commercial development in Burma - as has already begun since her surrender in 2011 (when the NLD re-registered as a political party). Moreover, almost all of this development will be owned by current regime figures and cronies. The economic foundation of the Burma dictatorship, and through this the military cancer, is about to expand exponentially. By the time Suu Kyi dies, or otherwise leaves the scene, such that new and real democrats can finally take over, economic dictatorship - feudalism - will be so entrenched in a new generation of princelings that the challenge of revolution will be a thousand times greater.

It’s also worth commenting on the basis of her well-recognized opposition to public protest. Were a popular revolution to succeed in Burma, her iconic status would degrade. The new democratic leaders would be selected from among the individuals who led the uprising.

Suu Kyi has said that the people of Burma will have to wait a very long time for real freedom and democracy. Through her own actions, hers and hers alone, she is guaranteeing that this becomes true. This is her legacy.

Popular responses?

With the deck so stacked this way - Suu Kyi, the generals and the International Community are all against them - what are the people of Burma to do? For the general public, the answer is obvious. The people need to continue to demonstrate for democracy and against any infringement of their rights, from the repression of students, to unacceptable working conditions, to land thefts, to environmental travesties. The regime will, of course, continue to make arrests, and the number of political prisoners will grow. Nonetheless, there is no other choice.

For the ethnic nationality resistance groups, they need to maintain their guns and not yield an inch of territory. They need to fight back against all Burma Army incursions, in particular those in support of environmental crimes (e.g., new dams and mines). Also, it is worth remembering that ethnic turncoat Mutu Say Poe will not control the KNU forever. A day will come when he is gone, and new leaders can resume the Karen Revolution, and re-establish unity with the other resistance groups.

Finally, the ethnic resistance may also need to reconsider two things: Their long-standing unwillingness to engage in offensive operations; and their opposition to separatism. For the second, the Panglong treaty clearly gives the ethnic nationality peoples of Burma this right, and frankly, life under the new Suu Kyi-Than Shwe regime may prove to be unbearable. (It is possible to create a new country out of Eastern and Northern Burma, and which would even have access to the sea - at Dawei. Remember, the age-old conflict in the Balkans ended when Yugoslavia was divided.) Even Suu Kyi would have a hard time opposing this, since Panglong was her father’s achievement.

The threat of separation - just to discuss publicly the possibility, e.g., at UNFC and EAO meetings - is the ethnic nationalities’ strongest bargaining card. For one thing, it would stop large developments in their tracks (including what has begun now at Dawei). No companies will invest in long-term projects in the face of this risk. Even more, though, the ethnic groups need to anticipate future threats, foremost that the Tatmadaw will use development proceeds to rearm, with U.S. and Israeli weapons, and launch a full-bore multi-front offensive, and with Suu Kyi’s backing.

In conclusion, since Suu Kyi has rolled over, and real Burman pro-democracy leaders have been imprisoned, the ethnic groups must continue to underpin the entire national resistance, by refusing to yield.

Vietnam’s amended Criminal Code reduces death penalty crimes, increases restrictions on freedom and rights

Vietnam’s National Assembly

PARIS, 27 November 2015 (Vietnam Committee) – The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) welcomes the abolition of the death penalty for seven crimes in the amended Criminal Code voted by Vietnam’s National Assembly today. However, VCHR is deeply disappointed that the long-promised reform of the Criminal Code has not only failed to bring legislation into line with international human rights law, but on the contrary has increased restrictions on fundamental freedoms and rights in Vietnam.

“The amended Criminal Code goes even further than the old one – if that is possible – in criminalizing the exercise of human rights”, said VCHR President Vo Van Ai. “Despite decades of pressure from the international community, ambigously-defined “national security” crimes are still in place, and they are now flanked by even vaguer provisions on “infringing or interfering on the rights of others”, which are grossly inconsistent with UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”. The death penalty is abolished for crimes of robbery (Article 133 in the old Code), manufacturing or trading in fake foods and medicines (Article 157), producing, trading in, or possessing narcotics (Articles 193 and 194), destroying national security works or facilities (Article 231), disobeying orders (Article 316) and surrendering to the enemy (Article 322). Death sentences for official corruption will be commuted to life imprisonment if the officials pay back at least 75% of their illegal gains. The death penalty is also abolished for people over 70 years old.

Capital punishment is maintained, however, for vaguely-worded national security crimes such as spying (Article 80 in the former Code) and subversion (“activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration”, formerly Article 79), which are frequently used to detain government critics. At its Universal Periodic Review at the UN in February 2014, Vietnam made firm commitments to bring Article 79 into line with the ICCPR on the recommendations of several countries, including Norway, Canada and Australia. In 2013, the State Prosecutor called for the death penalty under Article 79 against activist Pham Van Thu for his peaceful environmental activities. He was condemned to life in prison.

“Vietnam announced that reducing crimes eligible for the death penalty is aimed to demonstrate the State’s “humanitarian policy”, said Vo Van Ai. “In fact it reveals the State’s obsession with suppressing independent voices to maintain political control. As for exempting the elderly from the death penalty, this provision was enshrined in the 15th century Lê Code, more than 500 years ago!”

Crimes such as “circulating anti-Socialist propaganda” (formerly Article 88) and “abusing democratic freedoms and rights to encroach upon State interests” (former Article 258), which Vietnam also promised to amend, remain unchanged in the revised Criminal Code, except for their numbers. Certain provisions concerning freedom of expression, religion or belief, association and assembly incur harsher penalties.

Some members of the National Assembly opposed the change in the death penalty regarding corruption. They feared it would weaken the government’s fight to stamp out corruption, which has reached proportions of a “national catastrophe”. Some also said that corrupt officials would use this loophole in the law to “buy back their lives”. The amended Criminal Code will come into force on 1st July, 2016.

This flawed reform of the Criminal Code comes against a backdrop of restrictive human rights legislation under preparation in Vietnam. Today, 27 November, the National Assembly also debated the 5th draft of a “Law on Belief and Religion” – Vietnam’s very first law of this kind, which has been strongly criticized by all Vietnam’s religious communities. The draft gives the government extensive leeway to interfere in the internal affairs of religious communities and control their activities, in violation of Article 18 of the ICCPR. A new “Law on Associations” is also under way, which imposes excessive government controls on associative activity, as well as restrictive legislation on access to information. In addition, the amended Criminal Procedures Code contains several elements that are inconsistent with international human rights law.

Attack on KSS activists fighting against Adani Pench Power Project

A member of Kisan Sangharsh Samiti

Secretary of Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, Sajje Chandravanshi and four others were brutally attacked in village Chaunsara of district Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh on 14 November 2015. Villagers of the area have been resisting the construction of Adani – Pench Power Project for past many years due to forcible land acquisition, water diversion from Pench and environmental illegalities that the project proponents have deployed to construct the environmentally damaging 1,320 megawatt (2 x 665 MW) coal-fired power station. It is important to note that this is not the first time that KSS activists were attacked and a similar attack took place on 22 May 2010 where Adv. Aradhana Bhargav and Dr. Sunilam faced assault from company goons. Instead of bringing perpetrators to trial, police has harassed the villagers even a few months ago when the village meeting held in Sajje Ji’s house was forcibly stopped and the ‘pandal’ was dismantled. Police also picked up the innocent indigenous tent maker to further dampen the spirit of the people who are bravely fighting against the monstrous multi-national both in Supreme Court and in their villages.

Back in 2012, Medha Patkar and 21 KSS activists were arrested in a November night by police in Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh as part of a police clampdown on protests against the water diversion project of Pench Power Plant in the district.

The power station received environmental clearance in 2012, which was legally challenged in 2013 by villagers. Proceedings before the National Green Tribunal were stayed by the Supreme Court on 6 January 2014. In April 2014 it was reported that a barricade had been built on a public road between the residents of five villages including Dhanora and Chaunsara, and the Adani Pench Power Ltd (APPL). Another threat that looms is of displacement. The proposed dam on Pench river will affect about 31 villages and fully submerge about 6 villages (land to come under submergence - over 5,607 hectares). The dam will also provide uninterrupted water to the plant at the cost of irrigation and drinking water for local populations.

The petitioners including Medha Patkar, Aradhana Bhargav and Sajje Ji have stated that the Environmental Clearance was obtained by Adani Pench Power Ltd in October, 2012, through falsification, concealment and misrepresentation of facts and information. Further, the Ministry has overlooked the blatant violations of the EIA Notification, 2006 at nearly every stage of the Environmental Clearance process by the various respondents. Land for a thermal power plant was acquired almost 25 years ago by the then Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board (MPSEB), which was later illegally transferred to Adani Power Limited, however the project was not started and the physical possession remained with the farmers, who had been tilling the same till the time they were forcefully displaced by the company, claiming that there is no issue of rehabilitation involved. Construction activity of the project commenced as early as in March, 2010, prior to grant of environmental clearance and although the commencement of the construction was brought to the notice of the state and Central authorities, no action was taken against them.

We in the strongest words condemn this incident and demand that the culprits be brought to law. If the Madhya Pradesh government cannot protect its honest citizens who are fighting against evils like sand mining, and environmental degradation then it will become clear that jungle-raj is prevailing in the state while it is trying to woo foreign investors. Medha Patkar

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