Myanmar exiles pen open letter to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

From Mizzima:

A number of Myanmar exiles have signed an open letter to Aung San Suu Kyi asking her to re-evaluate her position as ‘Burmese society is sleep-walking into the abyss of racial hatred and religious bigotry’ The following is the letter in full.

‘As your fellow countrymen, with deep roots in our troubled birthplace, we are writing to you to share our sadness and concern about your personal legacy as the nation’s leader, the plight of our people, and the future of Myanmar as a nation.

Some of our family members and parents were contemporaries and colleagues of your late father, General Aung San. They made contributions to the country’s welfare as he did.

When you delivered your first speech in 1988, declaring that “as my father’s daughter I could no longer remain silent when the public remains subject to decades of oppression”, we were deeply moved and inspired by your determination and courage.

Like millions of Burmese we transferred to you, the love, respect and trust which your martyred father earned from our parents and generations of Burmese.

In your long years of captivity as a Prisoner of Conscience, we stood by you and did everything in our power, individually and collectively, to secure your freedom and build an international movement in support of your leadership.

We did indeed respond to your famous call, “use your liberty to promote ours”. Irrespective of our ethnic and religious backgrounds – including Rohingyas, other Muslims, Hindus and Christians, we all rallied to your call to end the oppression of the majority by an elite minority in the Tatmadaw.

We rejoiced when you were released, and waited to see how you would rally the nation to our common cause – democracy. But you acknowledged none of your able supporters and fellow dissidents, exiled or formerly jailed, much less consulted with them. Many would have assisted you in any way they could with years of invaluable global experience in many fields. You showed no interest in soliciting any intellectual or professional support.

Worse still, we were shocked by your statement that you were a politician – meaning political expediency might guide your decision-making, as if universal human rights and politics were mutually exclusive.

Then the make-up of your government caused us concern. None of the well-respected experienced senior NLD leaders were included. No one of outstanding ability and experience was drafted into your cabinet. Most were inexperienced NLD newcomers and the only ones with any real capacity or experience were ex-military, functionaries of the very regime that had incarcerated you, oppressed the nation for the last fifty years, and whitewashed the crimes of our former tormentors and jailers.

Where are we headed? Has our democratic transition in Myanmar turned full circle? Are we back under an autocratic regime albeit one that was democratically elected? You need to encourage a free press, allow dissent in the ranks, debate policy differences, and build up the next generation of leaders from all ethnic backgrounds and religions, besides building trust with the generals. We know it is not easy. But they are the building blocks of any reformist agenda. We are not expecting you to do it alone. It can only be done with a strong team.

Given the memory of your father and the supreme leadership position that you now hold in the country, we are appealing to you to draw a firm line based on democratic principles and human compassion. Burmese society is sleep-walking into the abyss of racial hatred and religious bigotry. The violence against the Rohingya must end. Whatever the crimes of the militants, it is wrong to kill innocent villagers – men, women, and children, in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States, especially in Rakhine. You have a moral obligation to act.

We also urge you to allow the United Nations and human rights organizations full access to determine what went wrong. Humanitarian aid should also be made available to all those in need irrespective of whether or not they are citizens of Myanmar.

We, the undersigned are making this statement with sadness and regret. But we are compelled by the credible reports of the catastrophic turn of events in Norther Rakhine. You can still heal the wounds and lead the reconciliation process. We would like you to take the initiative as the elected leader of Myanmar. It is not too late to do the right thing by your father’s legacy.

We wish you well. May you walk in peace.

Sincerely,

1. Ko Aung, UK
2. Tun Aung, USA
3. Kin Oung, Australia
4. Bilal Raschid, USA
5. U Kyaw Win, USA
6. Harn Yawnghwe, Canada
7. Maung Zarni, UK’
8. Moethee Zun, USA”

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More ‘blasphemy’ in Myanmar

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As reported in the Myanmar Times:

A Spanish tourist visiting Bagan with his wife over the weekend found his trip interrupted when police discovered a Buddha tattoo on his leg.

The tourist and his wife were escorted to Yangon on July 10, according to Mandalay Region police.

Shin Sandavaya from the Tharmakay monastery reported the case to the police station in Bagan after he spotted a Buddha image on the leg of visitor outside Kantotpalin Pagoda.

Religious authorities from the Nyaung-U office and immigration officers interviewed the 46-year-old tourist and confirmed that he has a Buddha tattoo on his calf that was inked in Spain. The two tourists were sent to Yangon the same day, and the embassy contacted, according to Mandalay police.

“They arrived in Yangon [yesterday] morning at 5am leaving Bagan by bus. The tourist police took them to the Spanish embassy around 5:30am,” said an officer from the Mingaladon township station.

AFP quoted a police officer saying that the man will be deported to Bangkok. The Myanmar Times was unable to independently confirm deportation plans.

 

 

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New Zealand man found guilty of insulting religion in Myanmar

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As reported by the BBC Phil Blackwood,Tun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin have been given two-and-a-half years hard labour for ‘insulting religion’ in Burma. The idea of blasphemy in Buddhism is highlighted by this case as the three were sentenced today:

A New Zealander and two Burmese men have been found guilty of insulting religion in Myanmar over a poster promoting a drinks event depicting Buddha with headphones.

Philip Blackwood, who managed the VGastro Bar in Yangon, was arrested in December along with bar owner Tun Thurein and colleague Htut Ko Ko Lwin.

They have each been sentenced to two and a half years in jail.

Burmese law makes it illegal to insult or damage any religion.

The poster, which was posted on Facebook and showed Buddha surrounded by psychedelic colours, sparked an angry response online.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has seen growing Buddhist nationalism in recent years.

All three men had denied insulting religion during their trial. Tun Thurein had also told the court that Blackwood alone was responsible for the posting. Blackwood had said sorry online and repeated his apology in court.

He told the BBC’s Jonah Fisher in Yangon before he entered court on Tuesday: “Hopefully a bit of justice is going to happen.”

But the judge, Ye Lwin, said that though Blackwood apologised, he had “intentionally plotted to insult religious belief” when he uploaded the poster on Facebook, reported AFP news agency.

Buddhist nationalism has been on the rise in recent years, with extremist monks such as Wirathu growing in popularity and increasing clashes with Muslim minorities, particularly in Rakhine state.

Some excellent reporting can also be found in the Deocratic Voice of Burma:’Buddha Bar trio sentenced to 2.5 years with hard labour‘.

Ban Ki Moon Comments on Buddhist Extremism

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Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, has commented upon Buddhist extremism in Sri Lanka and Burma. He stated that Buddhist groups in these countries are:

Being swept up by a rising tide of extremist sentiment against other groups…This betrays the peaceful teachings of the founder, Lord Buddha.

In commenting on the situation in Burma and conflict between the Buddhist majority and Muslim communities he argued that it threatens the transition to democracy:

The country’s leaders must speak out against divisive incitement…They must promote interfaith harmony. And they must stand against impunity for provocations and violence.

These are some of the strongest statements by a world leader about the situation in the two Buddhist countries.

He was speaking at 6th United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) forum in Bali, Indonesia.

The speech in full is the following:

Thank you for your strong commitment and participation in this very important initiative of the United Nations.

I am honoured to address this Sixth Global Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations under the leadership of President Yudhoyono and I thank President and the Government and people of Indonesia for their hospitality warm, welcome and the excellent success of this meeting.

This country, Indonesia, is home to a quarter of a billion people representing a thousand separate ethnic groups living wisely, harmoniously, side-by-side resolving all differences of opinion through dialogue. Therefore it is most fitting that this Alliance of Civilizations is taking place in this country, Indonesia.

I am inspired by Indonesia’s motto, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika,” or “Unity in Diversity.” This is the main theme of the Alliance of Civilizations.

Our differences should not divide us – they should forge our collective prosperity and strength.

The United Nations was born from tragic experience and lessons we learned from the Second World War: that countries must join forces for peace. And we have learned that this is true not just for governments – but for all of our society.

Unity in diversity is more than a slogan – it is a way of life and it is the way to peace.

I see many disasters in today’s world.

The natural calamities are heart-breaking.

What is most saddening in many ways, these man-made tragedies are even worse.

Too many of our world’s worst crises are driven by those who exploit fear for power.

Too many societies are fracturing along cultural, religious or ethnic lines.

Wars begin in people’s minds – and the way to peace is also through people’s hearts.

The Alliance of Civilizations was created to reach the hearts and minds of people and build bridges to peace.

I applaud High Representative Ambassador Al-Nasser for working with many grassroots groups around the world.

Under his leadership, the Alliance is making a difference on the ground.

It is helping Pakistani university students take the lead in healing sectarian divisions.

It is supporting theatre by Kenyan citizens to prevent young people from joining terrorist movements.

It is encouraging Muslim-Christian volunteerism in Mindanao.

In Israel-Palestine, the Alliance works to join families from both sides who have lost loved ones in the conflict.  By having a dialogue with each other, they challenge their leaders to do the same.

We are all here to help the Alliance of Civilizations expand its valuable work of addressing the sources of conflict and planting new seeds of peace.  I welcome its commitment to promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue. These are essential tools to preventing and resolving conflicts.  I count on your support for efforts by the Alliance and by the entire United Nations system.

We have much work ahead of us across a landscape of tension.  Far too often, identities define boundaries that lead to fighting.

Intercommunal violence in the Central African Republic has displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Nearly half the country’s population – two and a half million people – need help to survive.

The newest member of the UN, South Sudan, gained independence with great hope. I myself participated in the independence ceremony. But a power struggle degenerated into ethnic violence that has killed thousands of civilians and [left] many millions of displaced people.

In Myanmar, polarization is threatening the democratic transition. The country’s leaders must speak out against divisive incitement. They must promote interfaith harmony. And they must stand against impunity for provocations and violence.

It is critical to resolve the issue of status and citizenship of the minority Muslim community in Rakhine State, commonly known as the Rohingyas.

I am alarmed by the rising level of attacks in Sri Lanka against religious minorities. The Government and faith leaders must respond and ensure the safety and security of all communities.

In both Myanmar and Sri Lanka, I am concerned that Buddhist communities are being swept up by a rising tide of extremist sentiment against other groups.

This betrays the peaceful teachings of the founder, Lord Buddha.

Calls to violence in the name of religions violate their true principles.

All major faiths value peace and tolerance.

The Quran clearly states that there should be no compulsion in the religion.

That is why I am especially outraged by the reports from Iraq of brutal killing of civilians by ISIL. Whole communities that had lived for generations in Northern Iraq are being forced to flee or face death just for their religious beliefs. We cannot allow communities to be threatened by atrocity crimes because of who they are, because of what they believe.

I welcome the recent open-ended ceasefire in the Middle East following 50 days of profound human suffering and widespread destruction. Any violations would be utterly irresponsible. Civilians on both sides – Palestinians and Israelis – need this chance to resume their lives without fear. A sustainable ceasefire is also essential to facilitate humanitarian relief and early recovery efforts for the suffering people in Gaza.

I remain hopeful that the extended ceasefire will open the way for a political process, which is the only way to achieve lasting peace. The parties must live up to their responsibilities to secure peace through mutual respect as well as an end to economic strangulation of Gaza and the nearly half century of occupation.  More suffering, siege conditions and military action will only hurt innocent civilians, empower extremists on all sides, and undermine the safety of our world.

In all cases and all regions, our response must aim at extremists as well as those who enable them with weapons and other forms of support.

Dangerous, divisive leaders are not only found in conflict zones.

In Europe, North America and elsewhere, we see cynical political exploitations of religious differences – and rising Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of hate speech.

In decades past, it might take weeks or months to get reports on atrocities. Today – because of the advancing state of professional media and citizen journalists – they are aired in real-time.

Our challenge is to act on the information we receive. My Rights Up Front initiative aims to mobilize the United Nations quickly in response to abuses.

The UN works around the clock and around the world to usher in a more peaceful future.

Our human rights experts document violations.

Our disarmament teams destroy deadly weapons.

Our peacekeepers patrol demilitarized zones.

I thank the United Nations staff for their dedication in dealing with the consequences of conflicts.

They know from experience that it is better to prevent problems than to fix them.

It is not enough to identify crimes, silence guns and separate warring parties. We must work to strengthen prevention and build the foundations of lasting peace.

Earlier this month at the United Nations, I had the opportunity of meeting a brave young girl, Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan. She was a very brave young teenager who survived a terrorist attack simply because she wanted to study. Now she has become a global champion of education.  

We met with some 500 young people at the United Nations in the General Assembly Hall together with the General Assembly President to mark 500 days until the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals. It was quite meaningful event marking the MDG deadline 500 days before.

Malala Yousafzai stressed that everyone is equal – and that everyone can be a peacemaker or human rights defender.

As she said: “We are all the same and everyone can make a difference.”

Let us make and renew our resolve to strengthen the Alliance of Civilization so it can do its job of resisting the forces of dehumanization and brutality – and strengthening the power of our common humanity. And let us work together on the basis of our principles of the United Nations Charter and the Alliance of Civilizations with this power. Let us work together to make this world better where everybody can live with human dignity.

Thank you very much.