How to start a riot out of Facebook: Yousuf Saeed


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AUGUST 13, 2012

Guest post by YOUSUF SAEED, http://kafila.org

I am utterly shocked and pained to read about the violent rally that many Muslims took out at Azad Maidan in Mumbai on 11 August 2012 in protest against the recent communal carnage in Assam and Burma. More than the accidental death of two men and 50 injured in yesterday’s protest, what alarmed me was the public anger targeted on the media for “not reporting about the violence against Muslims in Assam and Myanmar”. Several vans of TV channels and their equipment were smashed or burnt besides a number of police vehicles destroyed. Of course, the authorities are still probing as to who really began the violence in an otherwise peaceful rally (and we are open to the results of such a probe). But my worst fear came true with this assertion of one of the protesters in a newspaper report: “Why is the media not covering Burma and Assam? We learnt about the incidents from videos posted on the Internet.” This seems to be a very disturbing statement on various accounts. Of course, the media can sometimes be biased, and the Muslims do feel victimised by it all the time. But are the random videos and images posted on the Internet any less biased or misleading?

Some of you may have recently noticed a number of gory and blood-soaked images being forwarded and shared on various social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter that claim to show the dead bodies of “20,000 Muslims butchered in Burma in the hands of Buddhists” along with the assertion that the world’s media is silent about the plight of Muslims in Burma and so on. Most of those images are really disturbing, capable of making anyone’s blood boil. Some show mounds of rotting dead bodies and a few Buddhist monks standing near them. Some even looked digitally tempered with to enhance their anti-Muslim violence. But there was no sign of where these images were sourced from. A couple of them even had Jama’t-e Islami, Pakistan, stamped on them. But if, as the people posting them claim, the world’s media is silent about the Muslim carnage in Burma, how did these images and the disturbing news come from Burma in the first place? Where did they find them before posting? I asked this question to many friends sharing these images and they didn’t have a clue. They simply believed in what they saw. In fact, from the Internet these pictures were picked up by many Urdu newspapers from Mumbai, Hyderabad and Delhi and printed with inflammatory titles and headlines. Many new caricatures and info-graphics started appearing on Facebook ridiculing the “peaceful” image of Buddhists or the “silence” of Burmese leader Aung Suu Kyi on the carnage of Rohingya Muslims and so on.

Read more here

Immediate Release- Indian activists ask PMO to sincerely engage with Burma


8 May 2012

Indian civil societies urge the Prime Minister of India to sincerely engage with Burma

New Delhi: Today, Burma Centre Delhi submitted a memorandum on behalf of Indian civil society groups to the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh before his upcoming landmark visit to Burma.

The memorandum conveys important message to end atrocities targeting ethnic areas, to follow proper environmental standard on the ongoing developmental projects implemented by the two countries and to strengthen historical and bilateral ties.

A copy of memorandum submitted to the PM of India is below

MEMORANDUM

May 8, 2012

To

Dr. Manmohan Singh

Hon’ble Prime Minister of India

Respected Prime Minister,

We heartily welcome your proposed landmark visit to Burma from 10-12 May 2012 which is taking place at a time when the country is going through political reforms and not long after the country witnessed the thumping victory of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy in the April 1 Parliamentary by-elections. You are also aware that these political developments are welcomed by other international communities as is evident from the series of visits made by prominent dignitariesfrom governments around the world including US Secretary of State Hillary ClintonBritish Prime Minister David Cameron and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

This much-awaited political reform will enhance Burma’s engagement with other countries like EU, US and ASEAN. Thus, at this important turn of events in its immediate strategic neighbour, India should also take an opportunity and play a significant role by strengthening its historical relations and engage with pro-democracy groups led by Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy and other ethnic political parties.

As this landmark visit will strengthen bilateral ties between the two neighboring countries, it is pertinent for India to develop a fresh thinking in this new political scenario in Burma.Alongside its national interest, India must be sincerely committed to strengthen democracy and facilitate the process of national reconciliation in Burma.

We the Civil Society Groups and citizens of India would like to draw your kind attention before your upcoming landmark visit to Burma on the following crucial issues that urgently need your kind intervention and action.

1.       The issue of ethnic nationalities remains a serious concern and must be made a priority while engaging with President Thein Sein’s government in order to secure a durable political settlement. India should also press for an end to atrocities targeting ethnic areas particularly in Kachin state, restoration of the civil and democratic rights of the Rohingya, end of atrocities in Arakan and safe repatriation of the Rohingya refugees.

2.       The ongoing developmental joint ventures implemented by the two countries for which a standard Environmental Impact Assessment, implementation process such as public consultation should be conducted as envisaged in the project to ensure the desired vision is achieved. Project related documents should also be made public. That these developmental projects should not have undesired effect such as displacement of the communities in both the countries.

3.       Construction of Tamanthi Hydroelectric Power Project (THPP) on the Chindwin River in northwest Burma’s Sagaing Division is another serious concern. The water current due to construction of this proposed Dam is estimated to wipe out an area of approximately 1,400 sq km. (the size of Delhi) displacing over 45,000 people living nearby. Over 2,400 villagers have already been forcibly evicted in 2007 from the Dam site, with a mere compensation of US $ 5 (Rs 500 INR).

4.       The Kaladan Multi-Modal Project, developed by India in 2008 to improve connectivity between the two countries has raised several concerns in border areas of Burma and India. The project requires an estimated 196.75 hectares of forest land to be cleared. The development along the port and river will displace thousands of people from their homes and livelihood. While an environmental and Social Impact Assessments have not been conducted till date, the project implementation is already way behind its stipulated time frame of 2010. Communities specifically beneficiaries inhabiting border areas in Burma and India have no information about the proposed project.

We strongly urge the Honourable Prime Minister to take these matters into utmost importance while meeting with President Thein Sein.

We urged Hon’ble Prime Minister to ensure democratic process and people’s participation in the development process of the two countries, whereby developing strong ties and strengthening neighbourly relations.

We are confident that the visit of our Honorable Prime Minister to Burma will bring encouraging results and strengthen ties not only in trade and security but also enhance co-operation at the people-to-people level.

Sincerely,

Indian Civil Society Groups

Endorsed by:

1.       Burma Centre Delhi

2.       Grassroot Development Network

3.       Zo Indigenous Forum

4.       MANUSHI

5.       Vinish Gupta

6.       Campaign for Peace & Democracy (Manipur)

7.       Arun Khote

8.       Peoples Media Advocacy & Resources Center- PMARC

9.       Dalits Media Watch

10.   Anand Bala – Bangalore

11.   Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR)

12.   Vidya Bhushan Rawat

13.   Journalists’ Forum Assam, Guwahati

14.   CACIM

15.   Dr. Vandana Shiva, Navdanya/Research Foundation for Science Technology & Ecology

16.   Himalayan Peoples Forum

17.   Uttarakhand Parivartan Party (UKPP)

18.   Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, Editor, The Milli Gazette, New Delhi

19.    Mahtab Alam, Civil Rights Activist and Journalist

20.   Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Human rights lawyer and activist, Mumbai

21.   Amar Kanwar

22.   Anjuman Ara Begum, Guwahati

23.   Pradeep Esteves, Context India, Bangalore

24.   Dr. Subash Mohapatra, Journalist

25.   Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF)

26.   Jharkhand Alternative Development Forum

27.   Hiren Gandhi and Saroop Dhruv, DARSHAN, Ahmedabad

Contact:

Burma Centre Delhi

Vikaspuri, New Delhi – 110018

Tele:             +91-11-45660619

Email: office@burmacentredelhi.org

www.burmacentredelhi.org

Women ‘Invisible’ in Myanmar


Aung San Suu Kyi visits polling-stations in AprilAung San Suu Kyi visits polling-stations in April

Source: IPS: Roberto Tofani

While Aung San Suu Kyi enjoys iconic status in Myanmar (also known as Burma), women remain invisible in this country steeped in Buddhist tradition and emerging from decades of military rule.

“Her (Suu Kyi’s) image suggests that there is space for women,” Ma Thida, a surgeon who is also a director of the ‘Myanmar Independent’ weekly newspaper published from Yangon (also Rangoon), tells IPS. “She is a great example for all Burmese women.”

Ma Thida was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in 1993 on charges of “endangering public peace, having contact with illegal organisations and distributing unlawful literature.” She was released after five years in the notorious Insein prison.

“Today, the overall situation seems better compared to two or three years ago, but it’s far from ideal,” says Ma Thida, one of thousands of women who have contributed to bringing about changes towards democracy in Burma.

According to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, an independent non-profit founded by former political prisoners living in exile and based out of the border town of Mae Sot in Thailand, there are 18 females among the 473 political prisoners in Myanmar.

On paper, women suffer no discrimination with restrictions on civil liberties applying equally to all, regardless of gender.

Myanmar has ratified the international convention on elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), but the 2008 constitution does not quite conform to it.

For example, in appointing or assigning duties to civil services personnel the constitution prescribes that there be no discrimination “based on race, birth, religion, and sex”, but it also says that “nothing shall prevent appointment of men to the positions that are suitable for men only.”

Burmese activists shout anti-China slogans during a protest against the Myitsone dam in 2011. Photo: Ahmad Yusni/EPABurmese activists shout anti-China slogans during a protest against the Myitsone dam in 2011. Photo: Ahmad Yusni/EPA”At the moment we cannot still talk or discuss freely about gender discrimination or gender equality,” says a female rights activist who prefers not to be named because of her involvement in the campaign against the construction of the Myitsone dam on the Irrawaddy River.

The controversial hydroelectric project, developed jointly by Myanmar’s power ministry, the privately-owned Asia World Company of Burma and China Power Investment Corporation, was suspended by Myanmar authorities last year, following protests.

“That controversial decision to suspend construction, which was welcomed by environment groups, was the result of protests held mostly by women,” the activist said.

“When Burmese official media reported the decision to suspend construction the women seemed to have disappeared because they were asked to sit on the ground while the cameras focused on government officials,” she said. “The presence of women in our society is extensive but we are still invisible.”

The same paradox extends through Myanmar’s political life in which women have been struggling behind the lines for years and are happy to take a back seat when it comes to leadership roles.

“Sometimes it’s not so easy to raise these kinds of issues even within women’s groups as the majority of women think that their role is within the family and that their role in society cannot change,” says Mon Mon Myat, a writer and women’s rights activist.

“In a male-dominated, Theravada Buddhist society there are many cultural barriers that limit women’s behaviour and functioning,” Mon Mon Myat told IPS.

“Female journalists, for example, cannot take pictures or videos of the audience, because they are not allowed to go up to vantage positions because as women they cannot stay above men or Buddhist monks,” explained Mon Mon Myat.

That cultural barrier contrasts sharply with the images of Suu Kyi waving or talking to people from a balcony at her house or at a party office.

An exception

Suu Kyi, according to Mon Mon Myat, is an exception because she is the daughter of Gen. Aung San, a venerated national hero closely associated with Myanmar’s independence movement.

In fact, Suu Kyi takes care to prefix her father’s name to hers, although the custom in Myanmar is for women to use their own given names through life without taking on the name of father or husband.

“Though she is a woman, Suu Kyi is a symbol of peace and democracy in our country. That is why, we can see big crowds of monks and men strongly showing their support for her,” Mon Mon Myat said.

“The outlook of the country has to change if this country is going to be democratic, but for that there has to be more freedom in the media first,” says ‘Vic’, a 24-year-old writer who goes by that pen name.

Women activists and journalists who dared oppose the junta paid a heavy price with many of them systematically tortured, raped or killed by troops fighting a long war against ethnic militias in the Shan, Kachin and Karen states,

In 2002, the Shan Women’s Action Network denounced the systematic use of rape by the Burmese military in a report where some found the courage to speak out about their own experiences.

“It is still not possible to talk freely about rape cases committed by Burmese soldiers on ethnic women in remote areas,” said Mon Mon Myat.

In many cases, she said, women do not think of rape as gender discrimination but as a problem “of fate in a society that frowns on the weaker sex wearing inappropriate dress or going to inappropriate places.”

“In Myanmar, families may prefer to be silent about a rape, making it difficult for the victim to seek justice in the courts,” said Mon Mon Myat.

Women, inside and outside Myanmar, have been able to network through the Women’s League of Burma, an organisation of women drawn from 13 different ethnic groups that is “working for the advancement of the status of women towards a peaceful and just society.”

“Changing mindsets, especially among mid-level administrators and ordinary people is essential,” says Grace Swe Zin Htaik, a former actress who devotes herself to campaigning for health and gender issues. “It will take a long time before we achieve gender equality in Burma,” she told IPS.

Though poorly represented in legislative bodies and government positions, women like Mon Mon Myat draw hope for the future from the fact that females slightly outnumber males in Myanmar’s population, presently estimated at 55 million.

There is also the memory of better times before British colonial rule (1824–1948) when Myanmar followed a matriarchal system and women held rights to own property and hold high office.

AFSPA has to go: Human Rights Watch’s Kenneth Roth


Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth, who has headed several human rights investigations and missions around the world, was in Mumbai to address an Observer Research Foundation talk on ‘Human Rights in the Changing World Today.’Yogesh Pawar caught him on the sidelines of his talk. Excerpts from an interview:

Some say that by voting for a US-backed resolution urging Sri Lanka to probe rights abuses in the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), India has only ended up pushing the island nation further into China’s arms?

Short term geo-strategic gains can’t be weighed against the long term right thing to do. We were quite confident India would come on board given the huge domestic sentiment in favour of such a move. In the last stages of the war, the Sri Lankan army indiscriminately shelled the Tigers trapped on a beach. Along with them, 40,000 civilians were also killed. These are substantial war crimes. Surely India wouldn’t have wanted to align itself with this brutality.

India has also been in a bind with other neighbours like Myanmar (Burma) as it has been unsure how much geo-strategic depth it can sacrifice for human rights concerns.

And to what avail? Today Chinese FDI in Myanmar is over 40% and India’s is a mere 2%. India realised the importance of engaging with the army since rebel groups in the North East were using Myanmar as a base. Having said that, creating pressure for a functional democracy, however, continues to remain important.

I would say current accelerated changes are being driven by the junta’s fears of an Arab Spring contagion. Mere gestures like releasing Aung San Suu Kyi will not help. The army just wants to change its clothes for civilian ones, leverage how Suu Kyi has reached the parliament and then demand for international sanctions to be dropped. India has a big role to play in the days to come if we want the change to be more than cosmetic.

How is that?

Already the junta has been unhappy about being under so much Chinese influence that Myanmar had almost become a Chinese province. The cancellation of the $3.6 billion China-funded Myitsonedam contract in September last year was the first sign of this change. India can use this opportunity to work with its neighbour and prevail upon it to accelerate the democratic process.

But many feel India’s own track record on human rights is not very good…

It is true that there are huge concerns in Kashmir, the North East, Central India and Gujarat. We continue to work closely with the Indian government on all these issues. This should not, however, take away from India’s role in the global human rights movement. We have seen India taking strong human rights positions in South Africa, in Myanmar, and now Sri Lanka and Syria, as well as for Tibetans. As a growing power it has emerged as a significant voice on the global stage.

You mention Kashmir and the North East. There has been a lot of criticism of the role of the armed forces in both these regions.

At Human Rights Watch we believe in working with both the government and those on the other side. There are human rights excesses from both sides which evoke concern. Having said that, there can be no two ways about the fact that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) has to go. We continue in our efforts to persuade India and hope it sees our point.

What about the situation in Pakistan?

There is a lot to be concerned about in Pakistan which seems to be going through a state of flux. The honour killings and the blatant misuse of the anti-blasphemy laws against minorities is of grave concern and we want the government there to urgently address this.

There is a feeling in the sub-continent that the West has double standards on human rights. It raises this bogey as and when it suits its own interests.

It is a charge that is hurled at us often. Particularly by dictators who want to deflect attention from their own wanton disregard for human rights. It is very convenient to turn this into a North-South ‘us and them’ debate.

We have been, for example, very vocal in our opposition to the US’ policy of extraordinary rendition. We have got the European Union to back us on this opposition to picking up foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism to detention and interrogation in countries where federal and international legal safeguards do not apply.

But the West seems to have no problems doing business with China despite its human rights track record…

This is exactly why so many dictators cite China’s model of development. Despite its magnificent rise as an economic superpower, there are huge problems with the way China has grown. There is a dark underside to the Chinese miracle. History has proven again and again that such model cannot be sustainable. In comparison, India represents a more accountable way of governance.As a vibrant democracy, India has demonstrably shown that its concern for human rights is not a western import.

What is HRW’s assessment of the current situation in Syria?

It is disastrous. Syrian forces are using military means against an opposition that is itself increasingly armed. A lot of the violence from the Syrian security forces is still directed at peaceful demonstrators. And much of the deaths are of peaceful protesters who want democracy.

Russia and China block most efforts by the international community, from the prosecution of the Assad regime by the ICC to a condemnation by the UN Security Council to the peacekeeping plan proposed by the Arab League. In light of the ongoing violence in Syria what would you say to Moscow and Beijing?

I find that those vetoes, which were really led by Russia and China followed up represent a callous indifference to the lives of Syrians. It is like playing global politics at their expense. Clearly Russia is concerned that the Assad regime is its last remaining friend in the Middle East and North Africa apart from being a major purchaser of Russian arms. Russia seems to look at the fight for democracy in the region through the lens of the Cold War. We hope Russia is widely condemned for this. This is not the way a permanent member of the UN Security Council should act.

DNA Article here

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