BY Andrea Sobolewski

While most public attention has been focused upon the gruesome civil war currently taking place in Sudan, we must not forget the several other countries struggling with human rights violations. The country of Burma (currently known as Myanmar) is a Buddhist nation located in Southeast Asia to the west of Thailand. Its diverse ethnic population has resulted in an extensive history of ethnic conflicts. In the past twenty years, Burma has been fighting a bloody battle between the current military regime and the civilian population.

Up until 1988, Burma had been under the control of a military-dominated regime led by the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) for 26 years. Like other military governments, there was no freedom of speech or elections, and protests were settled through force. During the 1980s, the economy severely deteriorated, and on Aug. 8, 1988, hundreds of thousands of protestors marched nationwide to demand the BSPP’s replacement by an elected civilian government. However, soldiers tried to settle the protests by firing into crowds and killing thousands.

That September, the army finally responded to the calls for democracy and announced a coup by the State Peace and Development Council. The government’s next move was to open fire with machine guns on demonstrators, killing at least 5,000 people and arresting thousands more. Amnesty International estimates that approximately 1,500 people are still living in harsh prisons as a result of these incidences.

While the State Peace and Development Council claimed that it would hold peaceful elections, the leader of the most popular opposition party, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (National League for Democracy) was placed under house arrest and many other NLD officials were imprisoned. A free vote took place on Aug. 27, 1990, which resulted in the NLD winning over 80 percent of the parliamentary seats. The State Peace and Development Council responded to their harsh defeat by simply changing the rules of the election. Repression continued and several more NLD officials were arrested. During this time, the state media made reports almost daily of the ‘resignations” of hundreds of NLD members when, in reality, most of them were put under house arrest or detained.

Burma has an estimated military of 500,000 personnel. Given that the country only contains 50 million people, it is one of the largest militaries in Asia for a country with no external enemies. Campaigns across the world have forced a large amount of countries to withdraw from Burma, and the U. S. places a ban on most Burmese imports. Torture in Burma has ‘become an institution,” according to Amnesty International. There is an increasing list of human rights violations including rape, murder, torture, detention without reason and forced labor. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country to Thailand or elsewhere, but the majority remain internally displaced. Despite the fact that Burma has signed several human rights treaties in the past, basic fundamental freedoms are suppressed. The government monopolizes broadcast and other media, religious repression is common and labor unions are not allowed.

Currently, the State Peace and Development Council stated that it is developing a new constitution for democracy. The constitution draft protects against military dominance of any future government and has already been rejected by the Democratic opposition. No plan or schedule has not been provided that indicates democratic reforms, but the constitution principles that have been displayed so far seem to advocate for an authoritarian government with heavy military entrenchment. In 1995, after six years of house arrest during which she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was released. Since then, she has been in and out of house arrest, asking us to ‘use our liberty to help save theirs.”

There are many things that we can do to increase awareness and stop the violence in Burma. The U.S. Campaign for Burma is one of the foremost advocates for Burma human rights awareness. They are urging the public to join or start a local chapter and educate. The U.S. Campaign for Burma Web site has several suggestions specifically for students to complete on and off campus. In the mean time, keep your eyes and ears open to Burma events that may be taking place near you.

Written on behalf of Amnesty International.

Sobolewski is a member of
the class of 2011.

URMSD Spectrum hosts drag benefit show

Performers interacted with the students running off the flimsy stage avoiding near-death with heels catching on the stairs of the stage.

Confessions from a Workday enjoyer

Workday is my sport and I am winning so goddamn hard.

Drag Charity Show: out and proud on campus

The event to aimed to bring visibility to ongoing LGBTQ+ youth issues throughout the Rochester area.