While the world focused on the Burmese parliamentary by-elections held last Sunday, in which the Nobel Peace Prize winner and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi finally won a seat, most international media and governments overlooked continuing atrocities committed by the Burmese army.
“Why is Canada turning a blind eye to the ethnic cleansing currently underway in Burma? Is this yet another example of the Harper Conservative’s new foreign policy to downplay human rights violations in order to enhance potential trade and mining investments?” asked Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada and Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands.
“There are an estimated 75,000 refugees from the Kachin and Shan states. With these regions in turmoil and little visible progress in the Karen region, what are the chances for real democracy?” she asked. In addition, the bordering regions of the Kachin state are suffering increased environmental degradation as companies illegally step up mining activities.
On the positive side, more than 6,000 prisoners have been released this year and the decision to suspend the construction of the Myitsone dam in Kachin state is to be commended. Also, a U.S. envoy noted that there has been progress in many ethnic minority areas over the last several months and weeks, with a series of peace deals between the government and some guerrilla groups.
However, individuals caught in the cross-fire between government and rebel troops in the Shan and Kachin region have been tortured and killed. They are being forced to flee for their lives and are now hiding in conditions of terrible deprivation in the jungle. To make matters worse, Burmese authorities have denied them access to international humanitarian aid. The plight of the Kachin is worse than it has been in two decades. It appears that President Sein’s government is not only failing to protect their rights, but is actively violating them.
The European Union has been criticized for tabling a draft of this year’s UN General Assembly Resolution on Burma which fails to take any action to stop war crimes and crimes against humanity in the country.
The Green Party urges Canada, both directly and through the United Nations, to press for an immediate end to hostilities and to allow UN and other officials to help the wounded and displaced. In addition, an international mechanism should be created to investigate human rights abuses and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should be allowed to monitor progress.
Looking towards the future, on March 5, Karen People Worldwide called for genuine peace and a Federal Union of Burma.
Joe Foster, Human Rights Critic for the Green Party, stated, “We commend the Karen community for their positive attitude in spite of the extensive suffering they have experienced at the hand of the Burmese armed forces. There can be no real progress, either socially or economically, until the Government of Burma reigns in its armed forces and guarantees the protection of the human rights of all ethnic Burmese people.”