Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Malaysia Apologizes to Indonesia Over Flag Blunder at SEA Games

Posted: 20 Aug 2017 01:12 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR/JAKARTA — Malaysia has apologized to Indonesia over the upside down printing of the Indonesian flag in a souvenir guidebook handed out at the opening of the Southeast Asian Games.

The mistake, spotted at the opening of the games in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, on Saturday sparked an outcry in Indonesia and the hashtag #ShameonyouMalaysia was trending on social media.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo told reporters in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, the incident concerned "national pride," and had called for an apology.

Indonesian Youth and Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi also expressed dismay, posting pictures of the mistake on his Twitter account.

"It was a good opening ceremony but spoiled by this fatal negligence that was very painful," he said.

His Malaysian counterpart, Khairy Jamaluddin, tweeted an apology.

"There was no malice intended," Khairy said.

Khairy was expected to meet Indonesia's delegation to formally apologize on Sunday.

Indonesia's flag has two horizontal bands with red on the top and white underneath. Turning it upside down, makes it look like Poland's flag.

The Malaysian Organizing Committee also apologized saying it had been "an inadvertent error."

The flag blunder was the latest in a series of embarrassing incidents at the regional sports meet.

Last week, a bus driver ferrying the Myanmar women's football team was arrested on suspicion of stealing a watch and for not possessing a driver's license.

The post Malaysia Apologizes to Indonesia Over Flag Blunder at SEA Games appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Myanmar Retains Tough Clause in Communications Law Despite Calls for Repeal

Posted: 18 Aug 2017 11:13 PM PDT

YANGON — Myanmar's Parliament on Friday made minor changes to a controversial telecommunications law, amendments rights monitors say will do little to address concern the law is used to curb criticism of the authorities and reporting of corruption.

The recent arrest of several journalists has raised fears that free speech is under pressure in Myanmar, even under a government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who led efforts to end decades of military rule and won a landmark election in 2015.

Under the amendments approved on Friday, judges can release on bail those charged under the law. Also, only people directly affected by an alleged offence, or those with the permission of an affected person, can press charges under the law, first introduced in 2013.

The maximum prison sentence was also cut to two years from three.

But the law's most contentious clause, which broadly prohibits the use of the telecommunications network to "extort, defame, disturb or intimidate" remains in place.

"Freedom of expression is still being threatened as long as clause 66(d) exists," said activist Maung Saung Kha, who was jailed for six months for defamation under he law, referring to the contentious clause.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy holds majorities in both houses of parliament meaning the amended law is likely to be enacted soon.

Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, had called for the clause to be repealed. In a joint statement in June, they said the law had "increasingly been used to stifle criticism of the authorities."

"Many of today's members of parliament and local leaders from the NLD spent many months or years in prison for speaking out for human rights and democracy during the military regimes, so why is the party falling so far short of fixing the problem?" said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

But some members of party have defended the law as useful for curbing hate speech and false news as social media use has dramatically grown since the onset of reforms in 2011.

A senior party member, Han Tha Myint, said a majority of parliamentarians liked the protection against online criticism the law provided.

"I don't mean they’ll sue everybody who criticizes them, but they like this," said Han Tha Myint referring to clause 66 (d).

According to the advocacy group Research Team for Telecommunications Law, 17 journalists have been charged or arrested under the law since Suu Kyi's government took power last year.

The post Myanmar Retains Tough Clause in Communications Law Despite Calls for Repeal appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Can Myanmar’s Soccer Teams Win at SEA Games?

Posted: 18 Aug 2017 09:13 PM PDT

Kyaw Kha: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! This week, we'll discuss Myanmar's national male and female soccer teams competing in the 29th SEA [Southeast Asian] Games in Malaysia. I'm Irrawaddy reporter Kyaw Kha, and former soccer players of the national teams Ko Myo Hlaing Win and Ma Aye Aye Maw join me to discuss this.

Myanmar's men's team played against Singapore on Monday and Laos on Wednesday. Myanmar is not in the "group of death." Ko Myo Hlaing Win, what is your assessment of the prospects for the Myanmar men's team?

The Irrawaddy discusses the chances of Myanmar's soccer teams winning the 29th SEA Games in Malaysia.

Posted by The Irrawaddy – English Edition on Friday, August 18, 2017

Myo Hlaing Win: We reached the final in the last SEA Games. We were trounced by the reigning champion Thailand, and lost by five goals to nil. But this year, our team is composed of those who took part in previous [SEA] games and young players like Aung Thu and Than Paing of Myanmar's [Under 19] team, which qualified for the FIFA Under 20 World Cup two years ago. So it can be said we have the best squad this year. Luckily, our Myanmar team was drawn into the group of host Malaysia, along with Singapore, Laos and Brunei. Arguably, Myanmar is in the easiest group. Myanmar overpowered Singapore and did not concede a goal in its first match on Monday, which was important for Myanmar to advance to the next stage. So, there is potential for Myanmar to advance to the next stage as the group leader though Myanmar will meet the host Malaysia in the final match of the group. On Monday, Malaysia beat Brunei 2-1. It conceded a goal. So commentators have tipped Myanmar for the final.

KK: Commentators call another group the "group of death" and say Myanmar is in the "group of ease." The Myanmar women's soccer team played against Thailand on Monday. There are only five participating teams in women's soccer and they will play against each other in a round robin [tournament]. In the group are major rivals like Thailand and Vietnam and host Malaysia. So, is it a tightly contested tournament? Do you think Myanmar is a strong enough squad to challenge for the title?

Aye Aye Maw: Luckily, age is not limited for the women's soccer team unlike the men's team [which is an Under 22 team].

MHW: It is an open tournament.

AAM: It is open, meaning the team is a combination of experienced and young players and hopefully the experienced ones will lead the younger ones. People have long talked about the Myanmar women's team clinching the gold. We also want the gold and have therefore made preparations for a long time. Luckily, the women's team had the chance to play many friendlies before the SEA Games. But then…

KK: Myanmar has to play against Thailand, Vietnam and the host Malaysia. Do you think Myanmar will be able to overcome them?

MMA: Myanmar would inevitably meet them in all contests. It can be said that they are old friends or old rivals. Malaysia has also made good preparations in recent years, but I don't think they will be able to catch up with the rest this year. During our time, the Philippines managed to draw almost level with us. We just won by a goal in 1995. So, we can't underestimate the Philippines either.

MHW: They have developed skills.

AAM: Yes, they have. Again, they are very strong.

MHW: They are physically stronger.

AAM: Yes, they are. Though their soccer skills are not good as ours. But we also have a strong squad, and only Thailand and Vietnam are our major rivals, I'd say.

KK: What would be the major challenge for the Myanmar women's team in the round robin?

AAM: All the teams will wait for the other side to make a mistake in order to take advantage. You could say that our first match with Thailand is the final. But then, we can't underestimate Vietnam. Vietnam regained independence only after us, but they have good game strategies.

KK: Ko Myo Hlaing Win, you were an exciting striker who played in the starting line-up of the Myanmar national soccer team for more than a decade. What are the differences in the challenges of being a player now and then?

MHW: Mainly it is about facilities. We didn't have good facilities then. In our time, the SEA Games was the only major sports competition. We had had to wait for two years to play in each [biennial] SEA Games. We trained and played one or two friendly matches between the SEA games. Then, we had very limited facilities in terms of sports equipment, accommodation, and meals. The budget was very limited compared to now. In our time from 1993-95, not every household had a television [to watch the matches].

Now, people have got their eyes open. And I think players are making greater progress. Yes, they are because they are supported from all perspectives. Today, players have full facilities for training. There are balls for each player. In our time, there were only three to five balls for around 30 players. Now, if there are 30 players, there are 30 balls, and they also get adequate training suits—I mean the national teams.

As Ma Aye Aye Maw has said, preparations are made for more than one year before the SEA Games. A foreign coach is hired, and the team plays friendlies and hold joint training [sessions] abroad. They are accommodated at hotels and provided with wholesome meals. There are huge differences now and then in that regard though the strong morale is not different.

Soccer was professionalized then and it all depended on actions of the player for his success. In our time, we were also professional because we had had to dip into our pocket to eat and to go training. We had had to take the public bus—cling onto the crowded [Toyota] Hilux—to go to training. We had had to buy boots and wholesome food with our own money. Today, players have air-conditioned rooms and washing machines in their hostel, and there is a ferry bus to take them to the training ground. Plus there is buffet for them. They have very good facilities compared to our times.

KK: Ma Aye Aye Maw, do you think the Myanmar women's soccer team will be able to clinch the gold?

AAM: It depends on their morale. If Myanmar beats Thailand, there will be a big chance to win the title.

KK: Ko Myo Hlaing Win has shared his experiences. Ma Aye Aye Maw, what are the differences for Myanmar women players now and then? There has been a slogan in our country—"Myanmar Sports—the World to Conquer." Some have made fun of it. According to your experiences, what will be the requirements for Myanmar soccer to overcome the challenges and see the golden future?

AAM: As Ko Myo Hlaing Win has said, there are complete facilities for players now. The most important thing is the morale. They must have a fighting spirit in playing each game, with their eyes firmly fixed on the gold medal. Then they will be able to clinch victory.

KK: Ko Myo Hlaing Win, you were the striker for the Myanmar national team for over ten years. But after the emergence of professional soccer leagues, players only play for the national team for a period of time and then disappear. Why do you think this is? What are the differences between now and then? Some strikers and midfielders were tipped as potential driving forces of the national team. But some disappeared within two or three years. Why?

MHW: There was not much recreation and entertainment in our time compared to now. We could only sit at tea shops and listen to music played on cassette players. Today, there are a lot of amusements and players who cannot control themselves will deviate from their path. This is what I think. In my time and later, there were players as good as me. But they deviated from their path. In our time, because of the lack of facilities, my friends from outside Yangon whose skills were even better than mine went back to their native townships in consideration of their livelihoods. I could focus on soccer because I live in Yangon.

Today, we have good players too. But as Aye Aye Maw said, it depends on their fighting spirit. They have to instill themselves with that spirit. Like what is taught at the classrooms, they have to try to make themselves good. Only then will they be able to support others. Now, we have talented players like Aung Thu and he can pair with Kyaw Ko Ko in the national team. We can now rely on him even when Kyaw Ko Ko retires. He has also made his name as a good striker in the SEA Games. But then, we can't rely solely on him. Other teammates must have the necessary skills to assist him.

KK: Thank you for your contributions!

In the latest results from August 18, Myanmar (Under-22) beat Brunei (Under-22) 6-0.

The post Can Myanmar's Soccer Teams Win at SEA Games? appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

This Week in Parliament (August 14-18)

Posted: 18 Aug 2017 08:58 PM PDT

Monday (August 14)

In the Lower House, in response to a question by Dr. U Saw Naing of South Okkalapa Township, Deputy Minister for Education U Win Maw Tun replied that his ministry, in accordance with the national education strategy (2016-2021), will provide greater access to free compulsory primary education for children across the country depending on the funds available in the years to come.

The Lower House also approved the proposal of Tanai Township lawmaker U Lin Lin Oo, urging the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation and the Kachin State government to confront illegal gold and amber mining in the Kachin townships of Tanai and Hpakant.

During the discussion, military parliamentary representatives defended the army's planned operations targeted at gold and amber mines operated by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

In the Upper House, in response to a question by U Khin Maung Latt of Arakan State (3) about two missing villagers in Rathedaung Township, Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Maj-Gen Aung Soe, replied that the Tatmadaw, border police and local police force have stepped up clearance operations in the Mayu mountain range.

The Upper House approved a proposal by U Aung Thein of Bago (12) urging the Union government to take legal action against gambling centers operating disguised as amusement centers in major towns across Myanmar.

Tuesday (August 15)

There was no parliamentary session on Tuesday.

Wednesday (August 16)

In response to a question from Salingyi Township lawmaker U Win Thein Zaw, Deputy Defense Minister Maj-Gen Myint Nwe replied that his ministry had no plans to relocate the controversial sulfuric acid factory in the township. The factory supplies acid for the China-backed Letpadaung copper mines.

The Lower House approved a consideration of the proposal of Paung Township lawmaker Daw Mi Kon Chan to abolish community-based rural electrification committees, formed under previous governments to help villages generate electricity on a self-reliant basis, after she claimed that there have been many cases of committee members misappropriating funds raised for supplying electricity.

In the Upper House, lawmakers discussed the proposal of Arakan National Party MP U Khin Maung Latt which urged the Union government to identify and take action against militants active in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships under the 2014 Counter-Terrorism Law.

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been holding talks with military leaders about whether to label the militants in northern Rakhine State as "terrorists," according to government spokesperson U Zaw Htay.

The Upper House approved amendments to 1993 Narcotic and Psychotropic Substance Law. The amendments include replacement of jail sentence with 240 to 360 hours of community service.

Thursday (August 17)

There was no parliamentary session on Thursday.

Friday (August 18)

In the Lower House, Loikaw Township lawmaker Daw Khin Sithu asked if the government would find alternative sources of livelihoods for poppy growers as a national duty concerning drug elimination in the country. Deputy Home Affairs Minister Maj-Gen Aung Soe said that a pilot project to provide alternative sources of livelihoods for poppy growers is being implemented until 2020 in the Pa'O Self-Administered Zone. He added that social and economic development projects will be carried out in states as part of a national development plan to help poppy growers find other sources of income.

The Lower House approved consideration of a proposal from Daw Khin Saw Wai of Rathedaung Township which urged the Union government to implement better administrative and security measures in northern Rakhine State in response to killings in the area.

In the Upper House, lawmakers continued their debate on U Khin Maung Latt's proposal which urged the Union government to identify and take action against militants active in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships under the 2014 Counter-Terrorism Law.

The Upper House also approved the bill amending the Telecommunications Law, which allows for bail to be granted for the defendant.

The post This Week in Parliament (August 14-18) appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Breaking the Devil’s Silence: Sexual Violence in Myanmar

Posted: 18 Aug 2017 08:49 PM PDT

Reported rape cases have sky-rocketed in recent years in Myanmar, with the majority of rape survivors being under-aged girls. According to the national police records, there were approximately 1,100 reported rape cases in 2016, 670 of which involved victims who were underage girls.  These statistics make clear that we need to address sexual violence against girls in Myanmar society from multiple levels—legislation and policy work is critical, but so is changing norms around sex, sexuality, and women's rights.

There is no direct definition of the word "rape" in Myanmar language but it can be translated as "ma dain."  In Myanmar society, the word "ma dain" is a very nasty word and is commonly used as an excuse to restrict the public life of girls and women. The World Health Organization defines rape as "forced or coerced sex; the use of force, coercion or psychological intimidation by one person that requires another person to engage in a sex act against her or his will, whether or not the act is completed."

There are a wide range of topics to be taken into account if we want to address the current sexual violence against girls.  The following sections underscore that we need to consider Myanmar culture and context concerning women's rights and sexuality, evaluate current efforts, and find the gaps.

Victim Blaming Attitude

Myanmar is a deeply patriarchal and conservative country where families of rape survivors hesitate to seek help and justice because there is a risk to one's reputation that comes with sexual abuse. Many people still believe that part of the reason why rape occurs is due to the actions of the victim—that rape is the victim's fault. Even though many people acknowledge that the perpetrators are solely responsible for their actions, the label of "rape survivor" brings with it social stigma. The rape victim carries the scar for the rest of their life. Given the depth of this shame, many people believe that the recent spate of rape cases is only the tip of the ice-berg, given that many rape cases go unreported due to stigma around sexual violence.

Introducing Sex Education

Talking about sex in public is a social taboo in Myanmar society, and introducing sex education in school is a controversial issue. Myanmar parents feel it is unsuitable for children to know about sex from a very young age. Yet, many progressive thinkers believe that the conservative culture ignores the evil knocking at girls' doors.

A rape case in Ayeyarwaddy division where a 36-year-old teacher raped two of his students—14- and 15-year old girls—has signaled the need for sex education in the school. He has been given a 40-year sentence by the court. Although many people agree with this sentence, the case still begs the question of how often such justice is actually pursued. Two years ago, a well-known Myanmar actor was charged with a life sentence for killing a female employee. But the news, months later, that his life-sentence was reduced to a 10-year sentence underscores the impunity with which men harm women, and the way they perceive the laws in place to penalize such actions.

Attempts to Hold Perpetrators Accountable

It is the perpetrators who must be held accountable for their actions, and the perpetrators who must pay the price for their actions. Not our girls.

In 2013, and 2015, U Thein Nyunt, a Member of Parliament introduced the death penalty for those convicted of raping children under 16. His attempts twice ended in failure. In November 2016, 500 people assembled in Yangon demonstrating for "death penalty for the perpetrators," with the general public joining the campaign and expressing their anger towards the recent increase in rape cases.

Distrust Towards Current Judicial Practice 

The years under the military regime corrupted Myanmar's pillar of justice: the judiciary. The lack of an independent judiciary under military rule has bred a culture of impunity for many years. Rape survivors and their families express distrust towards judges and the wider system because they face long proceedings in court cases, and corruption in the judicial system.  Therefore, the system itself is discouraging victims and their families from seeking justice, as opposed to protecting them. A situational analysis on gender equality and women's rights in Myanmar highlighted this distrust towards the legal system, describing it as the root cause of unwillingness to report rape.

Child Law Reforms

The 1993 Child Law did not mention child rape. However, rapists of children and adults can incur a seven-to-10-year jail term under section 376 of the Penal Code.  In November 2016, the Myanmar government revised the law to increase the punishment from 10 years to a life-sentence, along with a monetary fine for rape of a minor. However, this revised law has not yet materialized on the ground. In the law, the punishment for rape ranges from 10 years imprisonment to a life sentence, but sentences are always shorter than the 10 year minimum, say lawyers and activists.  Nevertheless, the current 1993 law deals broadly with the care, education and protection of children. There needs to be a specific child law against sexual violence.

Extensive Research 

In 2015-16, a demographic and health survey took place across the states and regions, and it included questions on sexual violence. The study interviewed 632 girls aged 15-19 and found that 1 percent of that age group had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, with 0.7 percent responding that they had experienced sexual violence in the past 12 months. In 2014, a qualitative study by Gender Equality Network that included interviews with 40 women from Yangon, Mandalay and Mawlamyine showed the seriousness of the problem, as half of the sample said they were raped or sexually assaulted in the past.  While valuable, these two reports deal broadly with other research questions and therefore, a specific research study on sexual violence for the general population is critical at this stage to understand why this is suddenly on the rise.

More Work on Psychological Consequences

Consequences of sexual violence, such as unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases are substantial, yet, as important as it is to care for the physical consequences and unwanted pregnancies, the psychological well-being of survivors of sexual abuse is paramount. There has not been much work that focuses on long term psycho-social effects of such violence on survivors. A study by Gender Equality Network said that the extent to which victims deal with the consequences also has an impact on their sexual reputation. Yet, just as more research is needed on sexual violence, more work needs to carry out to find out what coping strategies victims depend on, and what services might be made available for them.

Improving laws and court proceedings is not enough to address the issue. We must also teach the younger generation to have respect for both sexes, and to reject unjust actions. This is a step towards creating a better society. Simply raising awareness is not enough. Society as a whole is responsible for changing the victim-blaming attitude and the double standards for women that are prevalent in Myanmar.

Aye Thiri Kyaw researches gender, women's rights, health, and violence against women. She is a co-author of "Behind the silence: violence against women and their resilience in Myanmar," and recently co-authored a journal article in Gender and Society. She studied Health Social Science at Mahidol University, Thailand.

This article originally appeared in Tea Circle, a forum hosted at Oxford University for emerging research and perspectives on Burma/Myanmar.

The post Breaking the Devil's Silence: Sexual Violence in Myanmar appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Analysis: Did Advisory Commission Remedy Rakhine State’s Conflict?

Posted: 18 Aug 2017 06:50 PM PDT

YANGON – The mandate of the nine-member Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, will expire at the end of August, after being established by the National League for Democracy (NLD) government one year ago.

Kofi Annan will come to Myanmar next week and is scheduled to conduct several meetings in Naypyitaw, including with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in preparation to publish the commission's final report, according to member Al-Haj U Aye Lwin.

The commission has been tasked with uncovering lasting solutions for conflict-torn Rakhine State and addressing deep wounds felt by Buddhist and Muslim communities in the region.

It is comprised of three members from the international community, including Mr. Annan, and six from Burma—two Buddhist Arakanese members, two Yangon-based Muslim members and two government representatives. A memorandum of understanding between the State Counselor's Office and the Kofi Annan Foundation was agreed upon regarding the work of the commission, but details of that arrangement were not made public.

The Commission's Burdens

Since its formation, the commission was subjected to several objections from political parties, mainly the Rakhine State-based Arakan National Party, as well as the Union Solidarity and Development Party. Protests against the commission, largely by members of the Arakanese public, called for its dissolution, claiming that "outsiders" were interfering in Myanmar's internal affairs.

In Oct. 2016, just over one month after the establishment of the commission, Muslim militants carried out coordinated attacks on three border outposts in northern Rakhine State's Maungdaw Township, looting firearms and leaving nine policemen dead.

The army responded by launching a months-long clearance operation in northern Rakhine State, hunting for suspects in Muslim villages throughout the township.

The mission forced nearly 70,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, and the UN estimates that around 1,000 were killed. International rights groups have accused soldiers of abuses ranging from arson to rape to extrajudicial killings and torture.

Myanmar authorities have rejected the allegations and blamed crimes on militants. During the clearance operations, they said in June that eight soldiers had been killed, along with 80 suspected militants. An additional 485 people were detained.

The October attacks targeted armed policemen but escalated the mistrust between the Muslim and Buddhist communities, especially in Rakhine State. This reporter visited several Muslim villages in northern Maungdaw Township last year, and saw that many had been emptied and abandoned, and others had been completely turned to ash.

Occasionally, women and children were present in the villages, but fled when encountering a stranger, even when shown a journalist's identification card.

The Buddhist Arakanese, the majority in the state but a minority in its northern region, said they were terrified of future attacks. Village administrative officials deployed lookouts at night, and avoided passing through Muslim villages alone as they traveled toward towns like Maungdaw.

This was the context presented to the Rakhine State Advisory Commission.

Government Shield

The Kofi Annan-led delegates paid visits to several Rakhine State townships in late November 2016, including some villages in Maungdaw, where rights abuses were reported during clearance operations.

After conducting meetings with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, army commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and several heads of Union ministries, Mr. Annan received questions from the press in Yangon's Shangri-la Hotel on Dec. 6, 2016.

Reporters asked whether he witnessed evidence of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the self-identifying Rohingya minority, as members of the international and Rohingya communities have accused Myanmar of perpetrating.

"Genocide is a very serious charge that requires legal review and judicial determination. It is not a charge that should be thrown around loosely," Mr. Annan said.

His response proved helpful to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in particular, who is confronted with the issue of Rohingya persecution whenever she travels abroad. In a rare interview with the BBC during an official visit to the UK in April 2017, journalist Fergal Keane raised questions concerning security forces' crackdown in Maungdaw.

She replied, "I don't think there is ethnic cleansing going on. I think ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what is happening," adding that she saw "a lot of hostility."

"It is Muslims killing Muslims as well, if they think they are co-operating with the authorities," the State Counselor said.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and chair of the Arakan State Advisory Commission Kofi Annan meet at the National Reconciliation and Peace Center in Rangoon on Sept. 5. / Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy

During an interview with The Irrawaddy in July, Myanmar President's Office spokesman U Zaw Htay admitted the advantage of appointing high-profile peace envoy Mr. Annan to the commission.

"Whenever there is an accusation from the international community, we say we are taking action in line with the recommendations of the Kofi Annan commission. The commission is serving as a shield for us," U Zaw Htay said.

Encouraging Developments

After seven months, the commission released its interim report in March 2017, recommending that the government lift restrictions on access for media and relief organizations in northern Rakhine State.

Mr. Annan acknowledged that the crisis facing the region had changed since Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had founded the advisory commission, but promised to continue the delegation's objective—to find "peace and development" for Rakhine State.

Three commission members went to neighboring Bangladesh and visited Cox's Bazar and Teknaf district, where thousands of displaced Rohingya were living in dire conditions.

The commission urged the government to form a joint committee with the Bangladeshi authorities to oversee the return of refugees and to prevent human trafficking.

The interim report also recommended the closure of all internally displaced people's (IDPs) camps in Rakhine State, and a specific timeframe for the completion of the citizenship verification process for eligible and stateless Muslims.

Moreover, the commission specifically urged the authorities to grant freedom of movement and provide access to education for citizens. Yet according to the commission, only 2,000 local Muslims—out of more than one million, regionally—have been granted recognition as citizens.

Authorities' Actions, Continued Challenges

Selected media houses have since been sent to the conflict areas twice under the supervision of government officials and border police. The Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led government has closed IDP camps in Ramree and Kyaukphyu townships in accordance with the recommendations.

However, the government’s implementation process has lacked transparency. Authorities moved nearly 130 ethnic Kaman Muslims from Ramree camp to Yangon by providing air tickets, cash assistance of 500,000 kyats for each family and an additional 100,000 kyat per family member, without arranging housing or employment.

In early April 2017, Myanmar's National Security Advisor U Than Tun said that the government planned to invest US$140 million in health and education facilities in northern Rakhine State and would also employ more Muslim staff members in these sectors.

He did not elaborate on the timeframe for implementation of the move, but said it would occur in line with the recommendations of the advisory commission.

Meanwhile, challenges in Rakhine State continue to multiply. On August 3, seven ethnic Mro farmers—a sub-group of the Buddhist Arakanese—were found dead of gunshot and machete wounds, suspected of being killed by Muslim militants. The army responded by deploying several hundred soldiers to the Mayu mountain range in search of insurgents along the border.

International organizations are asking the Myanmar government to collaborate with a fact-finding mission mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council, formed with three international experts to investigate allegations of rights abuses by security forces during clearance operations in Rakhine State. Thus far, the government has refused to allow the delegation in to the country.

The Final Report

Al-Haj U Aye Lwin, a Myanmar Muslim representative on the advisory commission, told The Irrawaddy that the government needs to invest in developing a greater harmony between the two communities in order to have peace and stability in Rakhine State.

To combat fears, stereotypes or misjudgments about different religious communities, the commission has also urged the government to educate the public on the basic tenets of Myanmar's various religions. U Aye Lwin added that the commission members found some people were unfamiliar with the teachings of their own religions.

Moreover, the commission encourages the simultaneous implementation of both peace and development initiatives, and decentralized resource sharing between the Union government and Rakhine State.

U Aye Lwin pointed out that one of the main challenges for the Arakanese community are the high numbers of young people leaving the state in search of job opportunities elsewhere, including countries abroad; implementing peace and development projects in the area could also serve to address internal migration issues.

Displaced Rohingya Muslims in Maungdaw Township's Kyee Kan Pyin village, northern Arakan State in November. / The Irrawaddy

Arakanese commission member Daw Saw Khin Tint said that during its tenure, the delegation has documented every incident they were able to in Rakhine State to create an overall picture of the context.

She acknowledged that a "lack of collaboration from the Rakhine [Arakanese] side is one of the weaknesses in our report."

The commission's final recommendations, U Aye Lwin said, promise to be "fair."

The post Analysis: Did Advisory Commission Remedy Rakhine State's Conflict? appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Tragedy and Hope of a Palace

Posted: 18 Aug 2017 06:54 AM PDT

HSIPAW, Shan State — The last time she saw Inge Eberhard, the wife of the last prince of Hsipaw, was in 1964 at Mingalardon Airport in Yangon, shortly before the Austrian woman and her two children left Myanmar out of fear for their safety. It was two years after the sudden disappearance of the prince during his detention by the army.

Sao Sarm Hpong was among the few people who bid farewell to the mother and children outside the airport before the trio was escorted by two Military Intelligence Service officers for questioning about their departure. A European-bound Pan Am Boeing 707 was waiting for them—the last passengers—on the runway.

"She looked really scared at the time," the now 73-year-old Shan woman recalled about that particular night on May 11. "Because authorities could have blocked their departure if they were suspicious," she added on a recent afternoon, while sitting in the Haw, a one-time palace where Prince Sao Kya Seng and Inge Eberhard, the princess, and their daughters lived 53 years ago, in Hsipaw, now a growing tourist destination in northern Shan State. They ruled the provincial town from 1954 to 1962 until the late Gen Ne Win staged a military coup in Myanmar.

Sao Sarm Hpong and her husband Sao Oo Kya, also known as Donald, the nephew of the prince, have been taking care of the residence for more than four decades.

Sao Sarm Hpong at the Haw. (Photo: Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

Widely known as the "Shan Palace" among international tourists, or "Hsipaw Haw" locally, the white two-story manor house with its tiled roof, large French windows, balconies, and terraces resembles an English country house.

The 93-year-old brick building is the most accessible to visitors out of the six haws (or palaces) of saophas (princes or rulers) in Shan State, the rest of which are either off limits, razed, or in a sorry state of disrepair.

In her 1994 memoir about her regal days, "Twilight Over Burma," Inge Eberhard reminisced of "well-kept gardens, lawns and exotic trees" that surrounded the manor.

But The Irrawaddy's recent visit saw the Haw was far from its former glory.

There are no more lawns and the five-acre compound is partially reclaimed by the forest. The tennis court where the saopha once played with state champions is in total ruin. The family swimming pool is dried up and neglected.

The Haw compound is partially reclaimed by the forest. (Photo: Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

The brick building itself is also weather beaten. Sao Sarm Hpong said the roof leaks when it rains. The guttering needs urgent repair.

"We have difficulties for the maintenance as we rely on visitors' donations only," she said.

People's Princely Couple

Sao Kya Seng was arrested by the army on March 3, 1962—a day after the coup. According to his wife's memoir, the prince as well as a member of Parliament was accused of financing Shan insurgents and plotting a secession of the Shan states from the Union of Myanmar. Then aged 38, he was reportedly killed by the army during his detention after repeatedly denying the accusations. Rather than admitting the execution, the army said in a letter to Inge Eberhard in August 1962 that the saopha "has never been taken into custody by the Defence Service."

Until today, Hsipaw's elders remember their prince and princess as people who were passionate about healthcare and economic development in the area.

Official portrait of Sao Kya Seng and Inge Eberhard as Saopha and Mahadevi of Hsipaw. (Photo: Scanned from "Twilight Over Burma")

"They wanted Hsipaw to be a role model of development for Shan State. What a loss!" said town native U Ye Aung, 73, who knew the couple, as his parents were close friends with the saopha and mahadevi (princess). His mother was in charge of Foundation School, a free nursery founded by the princess for local children.

As a boy in his early teens, he remembered his mother and the princess drove a Land Rover to nearby Shan and Palaung (Ta'ang) villages. Their mission, he said, was to encourage women to deliver their babies at the maternity home in Hsipaw in order to reduce maternal fatalities. She secured ambulances to use as mobile clinics for child delivery in rural areas.

Family portrait of the Prince and Princess of Hsipaw with their children in Hsipaw. (Photo: Scanned from "Twilight Over Burma")

The saopha had his philanthropic endeavors, too, implementing agricultural projects by giving all the family land to farmers and buying tractors to help sow experimental new crops such as coffee, pineapples, ginger and soybeans. As a trained mining engineer, he established The Tai Mining Co., to tap the region's unexplored mineral deposits.

U Ye Aung said he and his dad frequently delivered mineral samples found by farmers to the prince.

"He once said we would be able to pave the roads of Shan State with gold in the next ten years," he recalled.

The couple, he said, was under the watchful eyes of the townsfolk upon their arrival in 1954, especially the princess, as the prince took the hand of a European woman while there were eight beautiful potential brides waiting for his return to Hsipaw.

Sao Kya Seng and Inge Eberhard (Supplied)

"But to everyone's surprise, the mahadevi studied Shan language and culture, and behaved like a Shan woman within six months," he said with a laugh.

Even Inge Eberhard described her attempts in her book. When she dressed in a gold brocade sarong and white silk blouse with her knee-length hair tamed in a Shan knot, her impressed maid commented, "Mahadevi, you look more like a born Shan every day," adding, "If only you were a few inches shorter."

After the Good Old Days

When the princess and her daughters, Mayari and Kennari, left the Haw in 1973—after the 11-month virtual house arrest by the army and the prince's demise— the only people left in the building were their butler and his family.

"They didn't have enough money to maintain the building. When we arrived back here in around 1972, most of the furniture inside had been destroyed by termites and rats," said Sao Sarm Hpong.

Sao Sarm Hpong in front of the Haw. (Photo: Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

She remembered most of the townspeople stayed away from the Haw at the time, as they were afraid of government retribution.

"But they welcomed us when we went to the town," she said.

The first visitors, foreigners who were probably informed by "Twilight Over Burma," appeared at the gate of the Haw in 1996 when the then military regime opened the country to tourism with the slogan "Visit Myanmar Year."

When Myanmar re-opened to the world in 2012, she said, the 'Shan Palace' became a popular site on the map of international tourists who traveled around northern Shan State.

Despite a steady flow of visitors, Sao Sarm Hpong's family does not charge an entrance fee, as the Haw is not a museum.

"It's our residence. So we only accept donations," she said.

Visitors from home and abroad are confined to the building's current living room where she explains the history of the Haw, describes the prince and princess, and laments the saopha's tragic disappearance, in English, Shan and Burmese, under the gazes of Sao Kya Seng, Inge Eberhard and his forbearers, whose old pictures decorate the walls.

Sao Sarm Hpong explains the Haw's history to a group of international tourists. (Photo: Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

"[Inge Eberhard] is 85 years old now, unfit to travel to Myanmar. But she still wants confirmation from the army that they had killed her husband," she explained to visitors. She added that a film based on the princess's memoirs was banned from public screenings at a human rights film festival in Yangon by the authorities, stating they were afraid the movie could harm ethnic unity in the country.

Sao Sarm Hpong admitted that her family simply can't afford to renovate the building, despite wanting to do so, and they haven't had any correspondence with Inge Eberhard and her daughters since they left Myanmar.

Part of the gutter of the Haw in ruin. (Photo: Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

She said her family has been taking care of the Haw because of its historical value for the Shan people who grew up during the time of the military regime, as "they know nothing of our history."

"Yes, this is a historic building. But even if the government wants to take care of it, there may be complications, as we live here," she said. Her husband, the prince's nephew, was away on a trip at the time.

U Ye Aung said the Haw must be conserved due to its historical importance—not only to Hsipaw, but to the country. He urged the caretaker family to jump at any opportunities that would keep the residence intact.

"We have lost the saopha. It would be a shame for our town if we lose his Haw," he added.

The post The Tragedy and Hope of a Palace appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

NLD Ministers Corruption-Free, Says Commission

Posted: 18 Aug 2017 06:12 AM PDT

YANGON — Myanmar's anti-corruption commission is yet to find graft among the government's ministers since its formation one-and-a-half years ago, according to an official from the commission.

U Thin Maung, a member of the commission that was formed under the 2013 Anti-Corruption Law, said it has not uncovered or received reports of corruption among the National League for Democracy (NLD) ministers, a progression from the previous government, which was afflicted with alleged cases.

"I hope the situation continues like this," he said.

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in an interview with Channel News Asia when she visited Singapore last December that the fact that her ministers are not corrupt is what pleased her the most in her first nine months of government.

The country's de facto leader repeatedly spoke out publicly against corruption and called for the public to submit complaints against corrupt government officials, ensuring the confidentiality of all submissions.

Before she formed the government, she asked her lawmakers and ministerial nominees to avoid corruption.

"The NLD government has come up with two priorities since assuming power: peace and a corruption-free government," the commission member said.

He said the government announced directives for the public procurement system to all ministries soon after it took office in March 2016.

Previously, there was no such mandate, he added, citing the move as a government initiative against corruption.

In April, 2016, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi ordered all civil servants not to accept any gifts worth more than 25,000 kyats (US$21), an amount 10 times lower than the threshold set by the previous government.

U Thein Sein's government officially allowed civil servants to accept gifts that were valued at less than $US250. It also stated clean and good governance as a priority.

Two years after it took power, then telecommunication and information technology minister U Thein Tun was removed from his post after he became entangled in a corruption case.

In addition, former Magwe Region chief minister U Phone Maw Shwe was investigated for embezzlement after U Tun Tun, a Lower House lawmaker, raised a question in Parliament on missing regional development funds.

U Tun Tun urged other states and regions to dig into similar accusations of embezzlement, even if they are not able to take legal action because of the government's policy of "no retrospection," arguing that the government bodies could at least retrieve their public funds.

Myanmar has risen slightly in global transparency rankings in recent years. It ranked 137 out of 176 nations in a 2016 report from graft watchdog Transparency International while it was 147 out of 168 nations in 2015.

In 2014, it ranked 156, one mark better than previous year's 157.

Despite improvements in the index, the disappearance of corruption is not possible, U Thin Maung said.

"It will only depend on the amount, more or less. But we can reduce it," he added.

The post NLD Ministers Corruption-Free, Says Commission appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Art and Censorship

Posted: 18 Aug 2017 06:06 AM PDT

YANGON — Aung Min, a renowned doctor, scriptwriter and author, was busy interviewing artists for his book on Myanmar contemporary art at the height of Saffron Revolution in 2007 when people took to the streets across the country in response to the high price of food and fuel.

The Special Branch asked him to provide a complete list of names and addresses of those interviewed for the book. They warned him that if they found anything subversive or anti-military in the published work, they would arrest all those involved without asking any further questions.

He finished and got the permission for publication of the manuscript from the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department of the Ministry of Information in 2008, but then had difficulty finding high-quality paper for printing after cyclone Nargis swept Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta in May. He published the book in October 2008.

A book on Myanmar contemporary art was recently republished in English, almost nine years after the initial censored version was printed in Burmese.(Chan Son/ The Irrawaddy)

The book entitled "Myanmar Contemporary Art 1" features the biographies and pictures of the works of 70 Myanmar artists including Bagyi Aung Soe, Paw Oo Thet, Kin Maung Yin, Kin Maung (Bank) and Myo Thant Aung.

"The book focuses on prominent artists between 1960 and 1990 – from the beginning of Myanmar modern art to another era of art evolution," said the editor of the book Aung Myint.

Almost nine years after the publication of the Burmese version, the English version was launched on August 8. The book was translated by Maung Day and edited by Mrat Lunn Htwann and Nathalie Johnston.

The book has 11 chapters: Pre-Modernism, Sources of Inspiration for Modernist Myanmar Art, Early Days of Modernism, Early Modernists, Pinnacle of Modernism, Some Individual Contemporary Artists, Inya Gallery, Rectangular Lantern, Gangaw Village, Post Modernism, and Shwe Generation.

A book on Myanmar contemporary art was recently republished in English, almost nine years after the initial censored version was printed in Burmese.(Chan Son/ The Irrawaddy)

The English version of the book features 'Our Three Main National Causes' as well as four political objectives, four economic objectives and four social objectives—the rhetoric of the military regime of U Than Shwe— to remind people of the draconian pre-publication censorship under the regime.

All of the books, regardless of their subjects, had to bear Our Three National Causes and political, economic and social objectives on the front pages in the past.

This book did not escape censorship either. The book includes an appendix that lists the censored sections of the original manuscript.

U Win Pe, one of the second-generation modernists in Myanmar, was excluded from the book.

When asked about his exclusion, U Win Pe, said: "It was because I opposed the government. It would have been justified if they didn't like my work, but I was censored because they didn't like me."

MPP Ye Myit, one of the most influential contemporary artists in Myanmar, also had two of his paintings censored from the book, because the paintings included naked female figures in front of Bagan's temples.

A book on Myanmar contemporary art was recently republished in English, almost nine years after the initial censored version was printed in Burmese. (Chan Son/ The Irrawaddy)

"It upset me deeply that my work was censored. These two paintings can be published now, but it's a belated joy," said MPP Ye Myint.

The English version of "Myanmar Contemporary Art 1" is available for US$30 or 40,000 kyats at Myan/art Art Gallery on Bogalay Zay Street in Yangon.

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Daughter of Assassinated Lawyer Testifies

Posted: 18 Aug 2017 05:03 AM PDT

YANGON — Nearly five months into the trial process, Yangon's northern district court examined the daughter of late National League for Democracy legal adviser U Ko Ni, who was present at the scene when her father was murdered in January.

At the 20th hearing for the trial on Friday, U Ko Ni's eldest daughter Dr. Yin Nwe Khaing, 34, appeared in court with her family's lawyer, U Nay La, to present her eyewitness account of the murder. She was the 20th witness so far; a list of more than 80 witnesses has been submitted by the prosecuting lawyer.

It's been nearly seven months since prominent Muslim lawyer U Ko Ni was shot by gunman Kyi Lin outside Yangon International Airport on the afternoon of Jan. 29. He is survived by his wife and three adult children.

Police have detained four suspects in the murder: Kyi Lin, and alleged co-conspirators Zeya Phyo, Aung Win Zaw and Aung Win Tun.

An additional man, Aung Win Khaing, is suspected of being the main conspirator in the murder but remains at large. According to a police statement, he is the brother of the two detained suspects Aung Win Zaw and Aung Win Tun, and was last seen in Naypyidaw. Police testified to the court that there is no record that Aung Win Khaing has passed through the country's border gates since the assassination, but there are no new leads in locating the fugitive.

Dr. Yin Nwe Khaing told the media after the Friday court hearing that the length of time required for the trial process does not matter to her as long as the truth comes out.

"You can't demand an equal [loss] from the [perpetrator's] side in a murder," she said. "Our family will not get back the one who died. So the truth is the only thing we can expect out of this trial."

Details of who was involved in the conspiracy, and why they did it, must be uncovered, she said, describing it as crucial not only for the country but also for its judicial system.

Lawyer U Nay La told The Irrawaddy that authorities should put forward more effort in locating Aung Win Khaing, and that there have been flaws in the police investigation of the case.

"After two or three more hearings and examinations, the case will be more clear," U Nay La said. "I believed the fugitive will be arrested before the end of the murder trial," he added.

The next court hearing will be held at the northern district court on August 25. Shooter Kyi Lin and the three alleged co-perpetrators are being charged under Article 302 of Myanmar's Penal Code for murder.

Zeya Phyo, a former military intelligence officer, is also charged under Article 67 of the Telecommunications Law for the possession of restricted telecommunications equipment and Article 468 of the Penal Code for the forgery of national identity cards.

Two of the suspects—Kyi Lin and Aung Win Zaw—are also being charged under Article 19(d) and (f) of the country's 1878 Arms Act for possession and transportation of illegal arms, in addition to the murder charge.

The post Daughter of Assassinated Lawyer Testifies appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Detained Journalists Denied Second Bail Appeal in Unlawful Association Case

Posted: 18 Aug 2017 04:28 AM PDT

HSIPAW, Shan State — The second bail appeal for three detained journalists from The Irrawaddy and the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) was rejected by the Hsipaw Township Court judge, with national security being cited as the reason.

Lawi Weng of The Irrawaddy, and U Aye Nai and U Pyae Phone Aung from DVB, have been in custody at Hsipaw Prison in northern Shan State since they were arrested by the army on June 26 on their way back from covering a drug-burning ceremony hosted by the Ta'ang National Liberation Army, a Palaung ethnic armed group. The army accused them of unlawful association with an outlawed organization.

During their fourth trial, the township's judge U Kyaw Moe Thu said that apart from the national security issue, he was worried that granting bail could prolong the legal process, as the hearings have been going on for a month so far.

"I want to end this case as soon as possible. So far, only two witnesses from the plaintiff's side have appeared at court. For the purpose of a speedy hearing, the bail request is denied," he said during the hearing.

Myanmar Army officers Maj Myat Maw Aung and Aung Lin Htet had been summoned to give testimony at Friday's hearing.

Maj Myat Maw Aung presented a CD with data allegedly copied from the journalists' cameras and phones to be examined as evidence.

The journalists' lawyers objected, stating that the evidence was inadmissible and questioning its authenticity.

Aung Lin Htet did not give testimony due to time constraints.

The Hsipaw Township Court judge will decide at next Friday's hearing whether to accept the new evidence.

U Zeya Hlaing, a Myanmar Press Council member who showed up at the hearing in Hsipaw on Friday, told The Irrawaddy that he felt very bad to see his fellow journalists in handcuffs under a heavy security presence.

"Journalism is not a crime. Why has their bail been denied while some people prowling the city with weapons receive bail? These journalists didn't have weapons. Our legal system is questionable," he said.

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Govt Peace Team to Meet UWSA

Posted: 18 Aug 2017 02:25 AM PDT

YANGON — Government peace negotiators are planning to meet leaders of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) at its headquarters in northern Shan State, according to a UWSA official.

U Thein Zaw Oo, the assistant liaison officer at the USAW Lashio office, said he was told that U Thein Zaw Oo—the vice-chairperson of the government's Peace Commission—was going to lead a delegation to the headquarters, possibly in September, but the date has not yet been confirmed.

U Thein Zaw Oo was assigned under President U Thein Sein's government to persuade the UWSA, National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), and Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) to join the peace process.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) administration then entrusted him with the same task, placing him as the vice-chairperson of the Peace Commission.

"We don't know the details, agenda or date of the meeting yet," said spokesperson U Aung Soe of the Peace Commission.

Following a summit of ethnic armed groups at UWSA headquarters in Panghsang in Feb. 2017, the UWSA formed the Federal Political Negotiation Consultative Committee (FPNCC) to join the peace process outside of the national ceasefire agreement path.

Led by the UWSA, the FPNCC also comprises the NDAA, SSPP, Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA), and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).

The ethnic armed groups demand the government engages with them as a single entity, but the government has refused, preferring to deal with them as separate groups.

Brig-Gen Tar Bone Kyaw of the TNLA said: "I haven't heard about the meeting. We have only agreed to meet the government as a bloc. The FPNCC is yet to hold a meeting and make a decision on whether or not to meet the government separately."

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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Critics Cry Foul as Joshua Wong and Other Young Hong Kong Democracy Leaders get Jail

Posted: 17 Aug 2017 11:58 PM PDT

HONG KONG — A Hong Kong appeals court jailed three leaders of the Chinese-ruled city's democracy movement for six to eight months on Thursday, dealing a blow to the youth-led push for universal suffrage and prompting accusations of political interference.

Joshua Wong, 20, Alex Chow, 26, and Nathan Law, 24, were sentenced last year to non-jail terms including community service for unlawful assembly, but the Department of Justice in the former British colony applied for a review, seeking imprisonment.

Wong was jailed for six months, Chow for seven months and Law for eight months. Law had been the city's youngest ever democratically elected legislator before he was stripped last month of his seat by a government-led lawsuit.

The three appeared stern but calm as their sentences were delivered by a panel of three judges. A lawyer involved in the case, Jonathan Man, said they would appeal.

The jail terms disqualify them from running for the financial hub's legislature for the next five years.

The bespectacled Wong, who was 17 when he became the face of the student-led democracy movement, punched his fist in the air as he left the court room and shouted: "Hong Kong people don't give up."

Minutes earlier he Tweeted: "They can silence protests, remove us from the legislature and lock us up. But they will not win the hearts and minds of Hongkongers."

Chow waved at his parents as he left the court. His mother broke down in tears.

About 100 supporters later swarmed the prison vans taking the three away from court, shouting "shame on political prosecution" and waving yellow umbrellas, a symbol of the city's pro-democracy movement, a Reuters witness said. At least one person was taken away by police.

The three judges in Hong Kong's second highest court, the court of appeal, wrote in their judgment that the three could not say they were jailed for exercising freedom of assembly in a city where many democrats see a gradual erosion of freedoms promised in 1997 when Britain handed the territory back to China.

"In recent years, there's been an unhealthy trend in Hong Kong society. Some people use the pursuit of ideals…as an excuse to take illegal action," Judge Wally Yeung wrote.

"This case is a prime example of the aforementioned unhealthy trend."

Rubio Slams 'Shameful' Jail Terms

Hong Kong, which has been governed under a "one country, two systems" formula since 1997, allowing freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, was rocked by nearly three months of mostly peaceful street occupations in late 2014, demanding Beijing grant the city full democracy.

The so-called Umbrella Movement, which drew hundreds of thousands of protesters at its peak, was triggered by Wong and his colleagues climbing into a courtyard fronting the city's government headquarters.

They were later charged with participating in and inciting an unlawful assembly.

Under the "two systems" formula, Hong Kong enjoys a free judiciary, unlike on the mainland where the Communist Party controls the courts which rarely challenge its decisions.

US Senator and one-time presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, who heads the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said in a statement the "shameful" resentencing showed that "Hong Kong's cherished autonomy is precipitously eroding."

"Beijing's heavy hand is on display for all to see as they attempt to crush the next generation of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement and undermine the 'one country, two systems' arrangement," Rubio said. "Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Alex Chow, and other Umbrella Movement protesters are pro-democracy champions worthy of admiration, not criminals deserving jail time."

International human rights organizations also slammed the jail terms.

"From the initial choice to prosecute these young democrats through to today's hearing, these cases have been shot through by politics, not law," China director at Human Rights Watch, Sophie Richardson, said in a statement.

"That Hong Kong's courts increasingly appear to operate as mainland courts do is clear evidence that 'one country, two systems' is on the ropes–with ominous consequences for all."

Amnesty International added its voice.

"The relentless and vindictive pursuit of student leaders using vague charges smacks of political payback by the authorities," said Mabel Au, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong.

Britain said it was vital Hong Kong's young people had a voice in politics and it hoped the sentencing would not discourage legitimate protest in future.

"The UK remains a staunch supporter of the right to peaceful protest and we believe it is vital that Hong Kong's young people have a voice in politics. Hong Kong's way of life is underpinned by its rule of law," a spokeswoman for Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement.

The Hong Kong Department of Justice said in a statement it respected the court's decision.

Dissenting Views

A senior government source who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter said Hong Kong's top prosecutors had initially "not recommended pursuing" the case further after the non-jail terms were handed down.

But Hong Kong's Secretary of Justice, Rimsky Yuen, overruled them and insisted on re-opening Wong's case, a decision that ultimately led to their imprisonment, the source said.

In response to emailed questions from Reuters to Yuen seeking clarification, a spokesman for the Department of Justice said it "does not comment on internal discussions regarding individual cases."

"However, the DoJ [Department of Justice] reiterates that all decisions were made in accordance with the Prosecution Code, the applicable law and relevant evidence."

The DoJ said in an earlier statement there was "absolutely no basis to imply any political motive."

In recent months, dozens of protesters, mostly young people, have been jailed for their roles in various protests, including a violent demonstration that the government called a riot in early 2016.

Wong told Reuters on Wednesday that Hong Kong's democratic movement was facing its "darkest era" and that he'd lost confidence in the city's independent legal system, long considered one of the best in Asia.

Just before sentencing, Wong told over a hundred supporters who thronged into the court lobby, some weeping, that he had no regrets.

"I hope Hong Kong people won't give up," he said. "Victory is ours. When we are released next year I hope we can see a Hong Kong that is full of hope. I want to see Hong Kong people not giving up. This is my last wish before I go to jail."

The post Critics Cry Foul as Joshua Wong and Other Young Hong Kong Democracy Leaders get Jail appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Rights Groups Slam ‘Outrageous’ Indian Plan to Deport Rohingya

Posted: 17 Aug 2017 10:39 PM PDT

MUMBAI — Rights groups have condemned India's plan to deport some 40,000 Rohingya Muslims, saying India should abide by its legal obligations and protect the stateless refugees who face persecution in Myanmar.

Junior interior minister Kiren Rijiju told parliament last week the central government had directed state authorities to identify and deport all illegal immigrants including Rohingya, even those registered with the UN refugee agency.

"Indian authorities are well aware of the human rights violations Rohingya Muslims have had to face in Myanmar and it would be outrageous to abandon them to their fates," said Raghu Menon, advocacy manager at Amnesty International India.

"It shows blatant disregard for India's obligations under international law," he said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and classified as illegal immigrants, despite claiming centuries-old roots.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar, where they face atrocities, including murder, rape and arson attacks, with many taking refuge in Bangladesh, and some then crossing a porous border into Hindu-majority India.

Many have also headed to Southeast Asia, often on rickety boats run by people-smuggling gangs.

The Rohingya are generally vilified in India, and there has been a series of anti-Rohingya protests in the past few months.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has issued identity cards to about 16,500 Rohingya in India.

Rijiju, a high-profile minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government, said the UNHCR registration was irrelevant.

India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which spells out states' responsibilities towards refugees. Nor does it have domestic legislation to protect the almost 210,000 refugees it hosts.

But Asia's third largest economy is bound by customary international law not to forcibly return refugees to a place where they face danger, rights groups say.

"The government should put an end to any plans to deport the Rohingya, and instead register them so that they can get an education and health care and find work," Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said on Thursday.

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Bangladesh Ramps up Border Patrols to Deter Fresh Rohingya Inflow

Posted: 17 Aug 2017 10:34 PM PDT

COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh — Bangladesh has stepped up patrols on its border with Myanmar, following reports that about 1,000 Rohingya Muslims crossed into the country in the past two weeks, amid fresh tension in its neighbor's northwestern Rakhine state.

Security forces in Buddhist-majority Myanmar launched a massive crackdown in the state after Rohingya insurgents killed nine police in October, but the flow of refugees into Bangladesh had slowed until hundreds more soldiers were deployed recently.

"Security forces are patrolling the villages daily," said Rahim, a teacher from Dar Gyi Zar village in Myanmar who fled to Bangladesh last year, but remains in touch with family members.

"My mother is 73 and is panicking there, but she won't be able to flee," said Rahim, who uses one name, like many Rohingya.

"No one will be allowed to illegally cross into our country," Manuzurul Hasan Khan, a senior Bangladesh border guard official, told Reuters, adding that the two countries were jointly patrolling frontier areas.

There had been no major influx recently, he said, adding that the border was peaceful, with more joint patrols scheduled for this week.

However, Rahim and a Rohingya leader in Bangladesh put the total of new refugees at more than 1,000.

There had been a constant "slow movement of people across the border," a senior UN official in Bangladesh said.

About 1,000 households had crossed each month in April, May and June, estimated the official, who declined to be identified in the absence of authorization to talk to the media.

The figure rose to 1,300 households in July, the official said, adding that the border area was "definitely seeing more new arrivals" in August.

About 500 of the newly arrived Rohingya live near an unofficial refugee camp in Leda, near the Naf river separating Bangladesh from Myanmar, said Zayed, a Rohingya leader.

The rest have moved elsewhere in the border district of Cox's Bazar.

Before the latest inflow, about 75,000 Rohinhya had fled to Bangladesh since October, joining tens of thousands already there and straining resources.

Some families were packing up to leave, fearing another violent crackdown, a Rohingya resident of Maungdaw in Myanmar told Reuters.

"People here are feeling depressed and getting so scared, hearing that more troops are coming to do area clearance again," the resident said on Saturday, seeking anonymity for fear of repercussions.

"We have no one to protect us here."

The resident and a human rights monitor with sources in northern Rakhine said security forces had run intensive searches and arrested some Rohingya men.

Kyaw Swar Tun, an administrator in the Rakhine state capital of Sittwe, said security had been stepped up in the state's north, but denied that Muslims were fleeing across the border.

"I don't hear anything of Bengali people leaving or entering the country during these days," he said, using a derogatory term for the Rohingya to imply they are interlopers from Bangladesh.

The treatment of the roughly one million Rohingya in Myanmar has emerged as the country's most contentious human rights issue as it transitions from decades of harsh military rule.

Myanmar denies citizenship to the Rohingya and classifies them as illegal immigrants, though they claim roots there dating back centuries.

Myanmar security forces continue to harass Rohingya in Rakhine, said Noor Bashar, 26, who fled to Cox's Bazar last week.

"Many more are still waiting to enter Bangladesh but it's difficult, due to the increased patrolling," she told Reuters.

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Fish Farmer Hit With Defamation Lawsuit Over State Counselor Facebook Post

Posted: 17 Aug 2017 10:20 PM PDT

MANDALAY — A fish farmer in Yangon has been dealt a lawsuit under Myanmar's controversial telecoms law for posting on Facebook the suggestion that bachelors could propose to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Self-described political activist Daw Zar Zar Htoon filed the lawsuit under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law against U Min Swe, also known as Nga (Fish) Min Swe—a nod to his profession, and a means to differentiate him from politician and former political prisoner U Min Swe.

"His posts—not only this one—defamed our Mother Suu," said Mandalay resident Daw Zar Zar Htoon, who filed the lawsuit in a Pyigyitagon Township police station. "I have lots of evidence of his defamation."

Daw Zar Zar Htoon stressed that she was not associated with the State Counselor's National League for Democracy (NLD) but took action "as an ordinary citizen who does not want further slandering against the Lady we love and respect."

Police colonel Thein Lwin of the township confirmed the lawsuit and said the case was under investigation.

"We are now checking the evidence submitted by the plaintiff. If it is found to be enough to go under [Article] 66(d), we will inform the accused, accordingly with the law," he said.

U Min Swe is a well-known and outspoken local figure who has previously self-published leaflets against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, circulating them during the NLD election campaigns and party events.

The Irrawaddy was unable to reach him for comment on Thursday. A Facebook post on his profile on Thursday, however, stated that "every unmarried man is entitled to ask women of any age who have no husband to love and marry them."

"Anyone can sue me for saying this," he wrote in Burmese.

Responding to the lawsuit, he added that he would like to sue former US President Barack Obama for defaming Myanmar, as he hugged and kissed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi when he visited the country.

Earlier this month, the Upper House voted to amend Article 66(d) by allowing bail to be granted to the defendant and blocking third parties from prosecuting under the law unless the party has been granted legal power by the "defamed" individual.

The proposed modifications will also be put to the Lower House before a final decision is taken.

Critics have called for Article 66(d) to be scrapped, arguing that it has been used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle the press.

The article states that whoever uses a "telecommunication network to extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb inappropriately influence or intimidate," on conviction can be "punished with imprisonment for a term extending to a maximum of three years, and shall be liable to fine or both."

The post Fish Farmer Hit With Defamation Lawsuit Over State Counselor Facebook Post appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

The Empty Rhetoric of Unity

Posted: 17 Aug 2017 07:35 PM PDT

Two events indicating the prospect of peace and conflict were simultaneously taking place on Aug. 11, 2017.

One was a meeting between the Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN), the negotiating body of the ethnic alliance the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), and the government Peace Commission.

"The level of trust is now at zero," said DPN leader Khu Oo Reh, reflecting the spirit of the meeting.

The other was indiscriminate shelling by Light Infantry Battalions 381 and 384, under the command of Military Operation Command 3, in an episode of conflict with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kasung village, Mogaung Township, Kachin State.

More than 1,000 people were displaced and several were reportedly killed due to the shelling. This follows the displacement of more than 1,000 people in June from Tanai in western Kachin State, after the Myanmar Army dropped leaflets in the area announcing clearance operations.

A Tatmadaw representative said in Parliament on August 14 that it is the military's duty to enforce the "rule of law" in areas where the KIA is active and to bring local people into the fold of security provided by the military.

Active military hostility initiated by the Myanmar Army in Kasung must not be treated as "just another fight." Sources in Kachin State suspect this move to be an initial step taken by the army to formalize an agreement made with China: to allow for the reported construction of a highway bypassing Kachin's major cities, and merging into the route of the Ledo Road, which connected Kunming, in China's Yunnan Province, to the Indian border town of Ledo during World War II.

The KIA's Battalion 11, situated 3 miles north of Kasung, serves as a significant obstacle to the potential construction of such a motorway, which would pass through the village. The shelling could be interpreted as an attempt to clear the area in an early effort toward carrying out the plan to create such infrastructure.

The bombing of Kasung occurred around one month after Myanmar Army Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing's weeklong visit to India, where he had several top-level meetings with talks on both bilateral and military-to-military cooperation with his western neighbor.

Myanmar's military has learned to thrive in its strategic position between Asia's two giants, both seeking regional dominance. It was the British demarcation of borders that defined Myanmar's boundaries as a state, and the lines set out by a colonial power have also contributed to the fate of generations of non-Bamar ethnic groups: squeezed between India, China, and the Tatmadaw troops are communities who have been stripped of their security and basic right to a life with dignity, particularly for those living along these borders.

Synonymous With the Military

For many communities in the ethnic states, the first Bamar people they encountered were Tatmadaw troops entering their villages, bringing with them human rights violations, looting and the destruction of property.

A 100-year-old displaced woman from Kasung said during an interview, "I crawled, I ran, I was carried on my son's back across two rice fields, running away from 'Myen' [referring to Bamar people]."

Yet a translation of that interview then reads, "As the government troops were coming." For many, the terms "Myen"—the term for "Bamar" in the Kachin Jinghpaw dialect—has become synonymous with Myanmar Army troops.

Similarly, in Karen language, "Pa Yaw" refers to both Bamar people and the Myanmar Army. A member of the Karen community recalls: "Back in the village where I grew up, people would say 'Pa Yaw' were coming when the Myanmar Army was entering the village."

In Shan, the word "Marn" for the "Bamar" ethnicity is also used to describe Myanmar Army troops.

For people living in areas that receive little to no support or services from the central government, the only Bamar they have known are Myanmar Army troops. It has been their ethnic communities and respective ethnic armed organizations that have supplied basic infrastructure, health and education—not Naypyitaw or Yangon.

"The government is blocking the UN and other INGOs [international non-governmental organizations] from going to Kachin Independence Organization areas and quite clearly trying to destroy what has been built up. They are clearly determined to wipe out the infrastructure that has been built over the years," said a longtime journalist and a regular visitor to Kachin State.

No National Identity

Since the founding of the Union of Burma in 1948, sufficient attention and effort have not been invested in creating a unified ideology to bring together the diverse range of ethnic communities within the country's borders. No unified central ideology of nationhood was offered to the ethnic nationalities so that they might adopt the notion of a national identity.

As soon as the position of Commander-in-Chief was transferred from Smith Dun in February 1949 to Gen Ne Win, Burman officers filled the high commands, while non-Bamars were given new but lower ranks, described in "Burma in Revolt" by Bertil Lintner.

Fewer than 10 years after gaining independence, the political and economic prospects in Kachin State were falling drastically, and by 1951, "the Kachin State honeymoon was now over," wrote Mandy Sadan in "Being and Becoming Kachin." By the 1960s, less than 15 years after independence, more than a dozen ethnic nationalities had already armed themselves and saw such a struggle as the only way to call for political dialogue.

Despite the army's central rhetoric to the national causes being non-disintegration of national solidarity and of the Union, the brutality committed by its troops has forced unprecedented numbers of civilians to flee, and it has inflicted prior and ongoing human rights violations upon vulnerable communities, most recently in the village of Kasung. Yet the Tatmadaw continues to advance as a major economic and political player and as a strategic partner of both China and India, often at the cost of the safety and security of Myanmar's people.

Consecutive governments of a new independent Myanmar have failed to tackle the issue of creating a unified national identity since the colonial legacy. To avoid the fate of becoming another failed state, to which Myanmar is already on its way, the people need to look to each other to co-create a national identity. It must be envisioned not simply around the leadership of another individual, but based on shared values and mutual respect, and without coercion from any group to forfeit their unique identity.

Stella Naw is an advocate for equal rights and writes about peace and conflict in Myanmar.

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