From Global Voices

The new United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, has concluded a visit in the country and issued an initial reportabout Myanmar’s human rights situation:

The opening up of democratic space for people to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression and to freedom of assembly and association is widely acknowledged as one significant achievement in Myanmar’s continuing reform process. Yet, in recent months many of my interlocutors have seen the shrinking of that space for civil society and the media.

There are also continuing reports of the excessive use of force by the police and the authorities in breaking up protests.

Yanghee Lee also expressed concern about the “spread of hate speech and incitement to violence, discrimination and hostility in the media and on the Internet, which have fuelled and triggered further violence” against minority ethnic groups and Muslims.

South East Asia Travel Tips

These notes from responsibletravel dot com are about Myanmar/Burma but could well be applied most anywhere, especially the neighbors in South East Asia.

“Tourism must tread very carefully in Burma;’s 2 minute travel guide ( explains why:

It does not bode well for tourism that it values highly the places where it has had the least impact. Burma is essentially an untouched, tourism clean slate and care must be taken to ensure the industry sets out on the right, sensitive and responsible foot.

Burma still has a non-democratically elected government and human rights abuses continue. Tourists and tourism organisations should be aware and do all they can to ensure they are supporting the military junta as little as possible, but as all locally run guesthouses and restaurants etc pay taxes it is impossible not to fund the government in some way. Extra care therefore must be taken to ensure as much tourism money as possible ends up in local hands.

Bad tourism practises will take hold quickly if unchecked. Already Kayan women, famed for their elongated neck, are migrating to popular Inle Lake to earn a living from tourism, where they are photographed in a form of human zoo.

Even the most seasoned traveller will need to remind themselves that they are in a country unused to Western tourists, and the impact of an incorrectly calculated tip, a bare shoulder or refusal of food will be much greater than Burma’s more tourism-weary neighbours.

It may be depicted as a pristine wilderness but deforestation is a huge problem in Burma. Responsibly run tourism projects can offer a sustainable alternative to logging and poaching. It is important these are set up carefully and are well supported.

Read more:

Myanmar: Journos to Jail

From NYT

“Myanmar took a giant step away from democracy last week when a court sentenced five journalists to 10 years in prison with hard labor for reporting news that the government did not The journalists were charged with threatening national security. Their conviction followed reporting in the weekly news journal Unity in January on the military’s seizure of farmland for construction of a chemical weapons facility.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. State Department’s top human rights official on Wednesday accused Myanmar authorities of resorting to police state tactics after five journalists from a weekly magazine got 10 years of hard labor for a disputed story about a weapons factory.


Burma Burns

The Buddhist led attacks on Myanmar Muslims has expanded beyond the initial targets of Royhinga, coastal people with imputed and real connections to Bangladesh.  Last week, mobs went after Chinese Muslims in the 2nd largest city, Mandalay.

Two men died.  Died ugly.

 The body of the Muslim man was identifiable by his wife only by a distinctive blemish on one of his toes.

More deaths were prevented by the intervention of a Buddhist monk, urging the club-wielding young men to go home.

A Buddhist monk, Galonni Sayadaw, approached the roving bands of young Buddhist men and urged them to return to their homes. The monk also publicly exhorted the chief of police, who as in previous bouts of religious unrest did not immediately intervene, to disperse the crowds.

In an interesting insight, a few are claiming, this is not simply spontaneous violence, or even something directed by the hate mongering  monk, Wirathu and his 969 movement.

Tin Tin Kyaw (centre) cries near the body of her husband Soe Min, a 51-year-old man who was killed in the riot, at a mosque in Mandalay. Photo: Reuters

Tin Tin Kyaw (centre) cries near the body of her husband Soe Min, a 51-year-old man who was killed in the riot, at a mosque in Mandalay. Photo: Reuters

David Scott Mathieson, an analyst with Human Rights Watch in Myanmar, wrote after the Mandalay riots that it appeared that the “violence was not just an organic eruption of communal resentment” and noted that it may have been linked to a planned visit to Mandalay on Sunday by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader. Burmese analysts have speculated that the violence might be associated with efforts to slow her ascension in politics and ultimately derail her attempts to become president.

NY Times: Fuller

Mandalay Quiet but Far From Normal

Myanmar continues to wrestle with the new shape it will take as it comes out of the decades long military governance.  While moving forward with integration plans into the world economy, including massive development plans in Yangon, armed clashes continue between the army and several non Burmese ethnic groups, even as talks take place; fear of broken promises is great. High ranking world leaders have come calling, from President Obama in 2012 to Australia’s foreign minister in early July, carrying a message of concern.

The most worrisome problem is the rise of Buddhist firebrands. now morphing into armed militias such as the Arkan Army, and the spread of anti-Muslim violence from the Rakhine state, where thousands have fled into displaced persons camps  into other parts of Myanmar. A curfew was put in place earlier this week in Mandalay, the second largest city.

“MANDALAY —After four days of unrest between Buddhist and Muslim communities, calm had returned to Mandalay and surrounding areas on Saturday,where the streets were quiet and largely deserted. Residents said, however,that they lived in fear of another outbreak of inter-communal violence.

In Mandalay’s Muslim neighborhoods, located southeast of the old moat, shops were shuttered and armed security forces were deployed at access routes to the areas and at religious buildings. Hundreds of police officers in riot gear stood guard at Joon Mosque, one of the city’s biggest mosques.

Police at Joon Mosque in Mandalay on Saturday evening. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Police at Joon Mosque in Mandalay on Saturday evening. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

…Violence first broke out on Tuesday night after allegations circulated on Facebook that a Muslim tea shop owner had raped a Buddhist maid. Mandalay-based nationalist Buddhist monk Wirathu quickly fanned the tensions by spreading the accusations and calling for action against the shop owner.

During clashes between communities, a 36-year-old Buddhist man was killed and a 50-year-old Muslim man was beaten to death. Fourteen people were injured.

Unrest continued to simmer in subsequent days and on Thursday night authorities imposed a 9 pm to 5 am curfew for all six of Mandalay’s townships.

… On Friday, the curfew was extended to Pathein Gyi Township, a rural area north of Mandalay, where hundreds of villagers, angered after attending the funeral of a Buddhist victim,vandalized the Muslim section of a cemetery and burned down several small buildings.

Thomas Fuller continues reporting from the country:

Both critics and supporters of the government agree that changes over the past three years have made Myanmar profoundly more open and free than the cloistered, brutally repressive country that it was under military rule.

But whereas two years ago the government was tightly focused on writing a foreign investment law, releasing political prisoners and abolishing strict censorship, critics say religious politicking is both distracting leaders from reforms and poisoning some of the good will that President Thein Sein, a former general, had when he began the liberalization effort in 2011.

One of the highest-profile proposals of his administration this year is a series of divisive measures to “protect” Buddhism that have drawn outrage from interfaith groups. The proposed laws — pushed by a radical Buddhist movement blamed by many for instigating violence against Muslims — would restrict religious conversions and require women to obtain permission before marrying outside their religion [to counter what is labeled a “love-jihad,” a term previously used by right-wing Hindus in India]

Myanmar: Limping On

Interesting post about Myanmar in the China Law Blog:

As months go by we become more and more convinced that the biggest harm the military did to the society, the offense that will take the longest to remedy, was the wholesale destruction of the secondary education system that began in earnest in the mid-1990′s. Foreign companies coming into Myanmar are exasperated by the aggregately low levels of skill found in recent college graduates. The short term solution is to work with who you can get, and train the hell out of them, and hope to retain them.

As the writer says, the on-going Buddhist on Muslim violence in the west, and the Kachin rebellion in the North East, aren’t doing much to attract business either.

Intense fighting between the Burmese military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has reportedly killed at least four government soldiers this week, Kachin rebel sources say, with hostilities flaring on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Irawaddy

Across the country in the west, in the remote Chin state, the Burmese army has been accused of using rape as a weapon by a brave group of women.

Myanmar Stop Rape

The Myanmar government since 2009 has been accused of abusing human rights and using forced labor in the area.

To keep the pot stirred, the Government recently promulgated a proposed Religious Conversion bill, for public comment — which comment is strongly orchestrated by a group of Buddhist monks called the Organization for Protection of National Race and Religion. According to Human Rights Watch

it meant “any Burmese citizen who plans to change religion must seek a series of permissions from local representatives of government departments, including the Ministries of Religion, Education, Immigration and Population, and Women’s Affairs, and wait 90 days for permission to be granted.”

India apparently is unphased by the troubles, however.  The new government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is ramping up relations with Myanmar, with which it shares 1,643 km border.

I particularly liked the mention of a “Buddhist circuit”

The Buddhist circuit could also become an important link in the air connectivity, with services from Yangon to New Delhi and then on to Bodh Gaya in Bihar, Buddhism’s holiest site where Gautam Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment more than 2,500 years ago.


Perhaps with more visits to the Gautama’s birthplace the nationalist monks would find their way back into the heart of his teachings.

Beyond that

India is involved in important connectivity projects with Myanmar, including the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project, building and upgrading 71 bridges on the Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo road and construction of Kalewa-Yargyi section of the Trilateral Highway which envisages a seamless link between India, Myanmar and Thailand by 2016.

The India-Myanmar border trade is also picking up. Two border trade points are operational at present — at Moreh in Manipur and Tamu in Sagaing region in northwest Myanmar, and Zowkhatar (Mizoram) and Rhi in Chin state in Myanmar. A third border trade point is proposed to be opened at Avakhung in Phek district of Nagaland with Pansat/Somra in Myanmar.

The border trade between India and Myanmar touched $36.2 million in 2012-13. Bilateral trade stands at $1.9 billion.

Read more: 


Myanmar Sailing on the Tourist Dollar

“Myanmar has been rejuvenating from the impact of travel sanctions imposed by European countries three years ago and is emerging as a favored travel destination in Asia.

“According to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism of Myanmar, tourism has become a major source of the country’s fiscal income and the country is expected to receive three million travelers in 2014.

“Before 2011, only fewer than 800,000 tourists visited Myanmar every year on average.


“Chinese visitors have accounted for a large proportion in the total number of foreign visitors to Myanmar. In many scenic spots and souvenir markets, signboards written in Chinese are seen everywhere. In the most famous Aung San souvenir market in Rangon, the number of visitors may top 100,000 and most of them are Chinese


All this emphasized by the glowing report in The Wealth Scene.

And those pesky Royhinga, rioting Buddhists?  The Kachin rebellion?  Keep on moving, nothing to see….

Burma rakhine-fire-water_2245212k

The Never Endig Persecution of the Royhinga

Jane Perlez of the New York Times, who for so long was the Bureau Chief in Afghanistan, is now based out of Beijing — and covers most of South East Asia.  She has been bringing detailed stories of the persecution and flight of the Myanmar Royhinga to the front page of the times.  Today’s was especially harrowing.

More than 2,000 Rohingya are believed to be missing at sea, presumed drowned, since June 2012, when the violence against them first erupted in Rakhine, said Chris Lewa, coordinator of the Arakan Project, a human rights group specializing in the Rohingya. In all, about 80,000 Rohingya have left Myanmar by sea since then, Ms. Lewa said.

Run out of Myanmar by rabid Buddhist violence they try to get to Malasia, where their Islam faith is in the majority, but typically have to pass through Thailand to make the journey.

Burma ROHINGYAmap-artboard_1

Despite Thailand’s long history of absorbing refugees from conflicts in nearby countries like Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as members of other ethnic groups from Myanmar, the country has declined to grant the Rohingya temporary shelter or basic services. The government refuses to assess their requests for asylum, human rights groups say, instead subjecting them to detention so harsh that some die in custody. Arguments by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that Thailand should treat the Rohingya like other refugees have failed to convince the Thai government, the agency said.

Instead, the government has authorized what it calls “soft” deportation of the Rohingya: moving them out of detention cells, placing them in wooden boats at the southern port of Ranong, and sending them out into the Andaman Sea. There, they are picked up again by smugglers who, human rights groups charge, are often in league with Thai officials. Those who cannot pay ransom for passage to Malaysia are finally forced into indentured servitude on Thai plantations and fishing vessels, rights groups say.

NY Times: Perlez


Doctors Without Borders Partially Back in Burma

The news coming from Burma has not been good for months.  While foreign investment has picked up and a certain liberalization of life inside the country has taken place, terrible xenophobic violence, led by s few Buddhist monks,  has brought the deaths of many, homelessness and fear to tens of thousands.  A few days ago, the President, inexplicably, forced Médecins Sans Frontières out of the country.  Yesterday, the decision was reversed, partially.  They can’t go where they are most needed.

 BURMA is to allow Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to resume work – just days after announcing that the group was to be thrown out the country.

But the Nobel Peace Prize-winning group will not be allowed to resume work in Rakhine, a state plagued by bloody bouts of sectarian violence. MSF has expressed grave concern at the weekend about the fate of tens of thousands of vulnerable people in that state.

The group has been providing care there to both ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, a mostly stateless minority who live in apartheid-like conditions and who otherwise have little access to health care.

The Scotsman and The Burma Times

A Rohingya family have a meager meal in a camp for displaced Muslim families near Sittwe in May 2013. (Photo: Jpaing / The Irrawaddy)

A Rohingya family have a meager meal in a camp for displaced Muslim families near Sittwe in May 2013. (Photo: Jpaing / The Irrawaddy)

More Deaths of Muslims in Myanmar

RANGOON— Arakanese Buddhist villagers in the company of government security forces attacked a Rohingya Muslim village in southern Maungdaw Township in strife-torn Arakan State on Tuesday morning, leading to the deaths of possibly dozens of Rohingya women and children, a human rights group reports.