June 2015 Report on Burma & North Korea

AMNESTY REPORT JUNE 2015

Letterwriting:

  • We signed 28 letters last month and 33 this evening [June 8th]
  • Great news, we wrote letters in July, August and December last year as well as signing 30 cards in Green Park as our anti torture campaign on behalf of Nigerian Moses Akatugba who was to be executed for stealing mobile phones which he admitted under torture he has written to us following his release:  “I am overwhelmed. I thank Amnesty International and their activists for the great support that made me a conqueror in this situation. Amnesty International members and activist are my heroes……”
  • We have also heard from Dr. Tun Aung for whom we campaigned for two years: “I am indebted to Amnesty International for all efforts to campaign for my release. After I was released I found out about all the campaigning Amnesty International and its members did for me. I greatly appreciated it. I found out how many people sent letters and cards and appeals. I can’t believe it, it’s amazing. I think I was released early because everyone was campaigning for me. There was a lot of international pressure on my case…..”
  • I am also pleased to report that we wrote for Willie Manning in December and he has become the 153rd death row prisoner to be exonerated in the US since 1973.
  • In the UAE the Qatari national we wrote on behalf of last Oct YAA al Mullah has been released and deported but the others have been sentenced and we will be writing again tonight.

Burma:

  • Better late than never (excuse my cynicism) it has only taken three years for the media to catch up and report on the plight of the Rohingya from Burma, those being trafficked and dying at sea, the appalling conditions of the camps with torture cages, the mass graves on the Malaysia/Thai border.
  • It has been suggested by some MPs that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon should take a personal lead in negotiating humanitarian access and address the issues of status and citizenship of the Rohingya.
  • Both the Dalai Lama and Archibishop Tutu have rebuked ASSK for her stand (or lack of) in this matter and for protecting the Buddhist vote in the run-up to the election. However, later in May the NLD performed an apparent U turn after international pressure and called for the country’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority to be granted citizenship

North Korea

  • South Korean Kang Gun tried to raise awareness in China of the human rights abuses in NK. No one knows where he is. Please sign the Petition that he should be released unless charged with an internationally recognised criminal offence.
  • It is thought that Defence Minister Hyon Yong Chol has been executed for “sleeping during military events and failing to follow orders.”

Wendy Hughes
Burma & NK Co-Ordinator

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May 2015 Report on Burma & North Korea

AMNESTY REPORT MAY 2015

Letterwriting: 

  • We signed 18 letters last month as part of the Individuals at Risk program and will be signing 28 at the next meeting

Burma:

  • The London-based Burma Campaign has reported that two union leaders have been arrested under the repressive law which bans protest without Government permission, for calling for a rise of $1 a day for garment workers in Rangoon who earn 43 cents an hour currently. If you feel strongly about this, do sign their Petition on their website please. This is not an AI campaign but we are also writing a letter about imprisoned activists this month as part of our ongoing letters campaign. If you would like the latest from Burma Link (the small NGO I worked for this winter) do have a look here
  • We raised the issue of the Unity Five (4 journalists and their chief executive) in April 2014 and again in Aug, Sept and Oct. All five have been sentenced to 7 years hard labour for “disclosing State secrets” for publishing an article about the alleged secret chemical weapons factory in central Burma. Increased media freedom was one of the key reforms highlighted by the international community as evidence of Burma’s transition to democracy but over the past year the situation for Burma’s journalists has deteriorated and they are facing increased harassment and restriction. If you feel strongly about this please inundate Burma’s Minister of Information’s Facebook page with Free the Unity 5 (this is actually a Burma Campaign request but as you can see it is also an AI campaign with the fact that at their request we have written 4 times already.)

North Korea

  • Reported in The Korea Herald (presumably a SK publication) this month that 1 in 6 NK children under the age of 5 have chronic malnutrition
  • Eritrea and NK have been named as the most censored countries in the world by (CPJ) Committee to Protect Journalists and incidentally Burma is in the top 10 also
  • Reported in the Independent that the US Ambassador to SK could face a “bigger mishap” than the knife attack on his face last month if he doesn’t stop insulting NK
  • Reported at the end of April that 15 senior officials (including 4 members of the State orchestra) have been executed.

Wendy Hughes
Burma & N.Korea Co-Ordinator

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April 2015 Report on Burma & North Korea

AMNESTY REPORT APRIL 2015

Letterwriting:  

  • We signed 26 letters last month and 18 have been sent through to be signed this month
  • GREAT NEWS:  Saudi Arabia’s Raif Badawi’s wife has sent huge thanks to all those who wrote in (we did at least 3 times) as the 1000 lashes he was sentenced to have stopped
  • Huge thanks have also come through from Claudia Medina Tamariz, who was tortured in Mexico, who has had all charges dropped. We not only wrote for her but she was 1 of 5 cases for whom we had 150 cards signed in Green Park in December
  • Dr. Amermal-Shawa was enforced disappeared in UAE and we wrote for him in Feb and he was released after 135 days but tortured and deported to Turkey.   LETS KEEP WRITING!

Death Penalty:

  • Reported 19th March Cecil Clayton (74) was executed in the US.  He had been brain damaged for about 24 years before he shot and killed a policeman, and before his accident he had not been a criminal.  We are writing a few letters this month on the Death Penalty in other countries but it seems barbaric that the US could kill someone suffering from severe mental illness, dementia and multiple brain injuries.

Burma:

  • Reported 10th March that students protesting about the education curriculum (marches that started in January) had 100 arrested and 100 injured
  • I have mentioned it before but a New Zealand and two Burmese colleagues have now been sentenced to 2.5 years’ prison with hard labour for creating an advertisement showing the Buddha as a disc jockey.  The increasing lack of freedom of religion is worrying, as is the growing influence of rhetoric by hard-line Buddhist nationalist groups.

North Korea:

  • Syria’s President Assad has said his country and that of North Korea are under scrutiny because of their “real independence” …there is seldom humour in Human Rights matters!
  • Two children of defectors have been sentenced to hard labour
  • Reported 4th April in retaliation for the annual series of joint exercises between South Korea and the US, North Korea test-fired four missiles into the sea off its west coast…perhaps a show of force with the impending visit to Seoul of the US Defence Secretary.

Wendy Hughes
Burma & NKorea Co-ordinator

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Bath Amnesty rocks Widcombe!

On the night of Saturday 21st March, Bath Amnesty held a fundraising gig at Widcombe School that went down an absolute storm with our local community.

Dancefloor action!

Dancefloor action!

We had an extraordinary number of keen attendees (so much so that we were at risk of running out of seating!) and raised a phenomenal £588.36 to continue our fight for Human Rights.

The night saw performances from the Widcome Choir, Walcot State Choir (both led by the wonderful Su Hart), comedy from Fitz, Joey Cannon and Philip Cooper and a dancefloor-filling set from local rhythm & blues band Big Ten Inch.

Widcombe Choir

Widcombe Choir

Walcot State Choir

Walcot State Choir

Comedian Joey Cannon

Comedian Joey Cannon

Comedian Fitz

Comedian ‘Fitz’

Comedian Philip Cooper

Comedian Philip Cooper

There was a fantastic atmosphere and spirit of generosity throughout the night, with hundreds of raffle tickets and refreshments being sold, plenty of social media engagement on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, and a whole lot of dancing and fun!

We were excited to be able to show off all this local talent to several of Bath’s prospective parliamentary candidates as well, so thanks go to Steve Bradley, Dominic Tristram, Loraine Morgan-Brinkhurst and Ben Howlett for their support too.

Big Ten Inch

Big Ten Inch

Big Ten Inch

Big Ten Inch

Big Ten Inch

Big Ten Inch

Similarly, thanks must go to the generous local donors who provided our brilliant raffle prizes, which proved incredibly popular on the night! The Theatre Royal Bath, Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, Prior Park Garden Centre, Duchess Beauty, The White Company, Komedia Bath, Topping & Company Booksellers, The Little Theatre Cinema, the Fudge Kitchen, Colonna & Hunter, Nando’s Bath and the lovely Bath Short Story Award Team.

The gig was a roaring success and we look forward to putting on our next one, but in the meantime thank you Bath for coming together to stand for human rights and to support the work of Amnesty International!

Amnesty volunteers Wendy, Sally and Annie

Amnesty volunteers Wendy, Sally and Annie

(Photos kindly taken and provided by Kerrianne Gauld)

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March 2015 Report on Burma & North Korea

Letterwriting:  We signed 24 letters (there was a typo in the last report) last month and will be signing 26 letters at our AGM on March 10th.  While I was away on the Thai/Burma border, a packet addressed to Amnesty Bath could not be delivered (even though I have a large letterflap) and was eventually sent back and the PO tells me that it was to Russia so the mind boggles wondering what they were sending us!

Burma:  There is little I can add following my report and timelines from the Border.  Further to my mentioning the drug problem please see the full article on www.burmlink.org/systematic-widespread-drug-epidemic-destroying-ethnic-communities-northern-burma and also further to my mentioning the draft laws on religion and marriage there has been a joint statement by Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists calling upon the Burmese Government to reject or revise these draft laws.

North KoreaA 60-year-old Reverend of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, Hyeon Soo Lim, was on a regular humanitarian mission to NK at the end of January when he disappeared, and CNN has now confirmed that he is being held there.

NK has praised the man who slashed the face of the US Ambassador to Seoul. NK has said that the attack “is just punishment” for the US military exercises with S. Korea. The attacker is a pro-NK activist who calls for unification and who has been convicted of attacking another ambassador previously.

It was reported in The Times on 27th Feb that a NK shipping company that was once caught trying to smuggle two MIG 21 jets under a mountain of Cuban sugar has renamed 13 of its 14 vessels to try to hide its illicit activities. A UN security council report claims that the Ocean Maritime Management Co, blacklisted by the UN last year, also transferred some ships to new owners to deepen the disguise and continue breaking sanctions.  It accuses the nation of defying security council resolutions “by persisting with its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes”.

Wendy Hughes
Burma & N. Korea Co-Ordinator
9th March, 2015

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Burma: Return to the Borderline

Our Burma & N. Korea co-ordinator Wendy has recently returned from several weeks on the Thai/Burma border and she has been kind enough to write up the following report on the situation in Burma and her experiences out there (as well as a helpful timeline at the end):

WAITING FOR NEARLY 70 YEARS:  the Panglong Agreement was signed by General Aung San (Aung San Suu Kyi’s (ASSK) father) in February, 1947 and was aimed to establish a Federal Union based on the principles of equality and self-determination for ethnic nationality groups, but shortly afterwards he and other key figures were assassinated.  A new Constitution came into being in September, 1947 and full independence from Britain in 1948 but the territorial issue, particularly for the Karen State (the largest ethnic group) was never resolved (their territory has never been owned by Burma). In 1984 the Burmese Army attacked the Karen and 10,000 fled to the Thai border. Burma’s Tiananmen moment was on 8/8/1988 when 3000+ died (more than actual Tiananmen or the Twin Towers) and 10,000 students fled and joined up with the ethnic groups on the border.   It was at this time that the ethnic issue became also a democracy issue. Up to that time the Burmese government claimed that the Karen were a bunch of insurgents and of course the whole subject came to World attention and never more so than when ASSK won the General election of 1990 for the National League for Democracy (NLD) while under house arrest at the time and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, collected in 2013.

I BECAME INVOLVED in 1990, when a Karen lady (whose son and daughter had been in the ’88 riots) arranged for a boat across the lake and up the river for me to take supplies of hammocks and boxes of sardines for the 3rd year medical students in Krain Camp outside Sangkhlaburi. In 1995 I travelled around Burma and met one of the NLD MPs who was running a guest house near Inla Lake where he showed me a video of himself being released from prison as white as a sheet and half his body weight.  Myself and other backpackers also marched up and down ASSK’s house in Rangoon but of course were soon moved on.   I am on the FCO list for briefings on Burma from our Government and here I meet the UK’s Burmese community and, through them, I got some work with the Karen Educational Department (KED) in Mae Sot in 2012.

In 2013 Angelique (from Bath Amnesty) and I had interviews with the Mae Tao Clinic, The Border Consortium who feed the refugees, the Aid Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) and inside Mae La Refugee Camp (follow links to see these posts from 2013) and we also met with Ariana who with others was just setting up Burma Link. I returned last year to visit my friend who is working as a psycho social worker in the small Ban Don Yang remote refugee camp outside Sanghklaburi and where I found out that all the 3rd year medical students I met in 1990 did in fact get out to Western countries within 3 years through the Red Cross and ARC.

WHY ARE TOURISTS VISITING NOW when it has always been available?  If it is for ethical reasons that things have become better, may I enlighten them of the current situation: There are currently 120,000 refugees over 10 (9 plus 1 which the UN does not recognise for some reason) camps on the Thai side of the border and they have come because of armed conflict, human rights abuses at the hands of armed groups, land confiscation for military purposes, land grab for development projects, fear of landmines and forced labour. There are 400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the Burma side of the border. There is a massive drug issue both in the camps (which causes domestic abuse) as well as throughout the ethnic areas which is very under-reported. In Shan Sate alone, it is said that it would be unheard of not to have at least one family member be a drug addict on either opium or heroin. It is also said that half the youth in Kachin Sate use heroin and 90% of those in the mining areas are on heroin. Suicide and depression is becoming another problem with long-term refugees….hence my friend’s job. It is said that drug production and use increases in conflict areas when the usual crops of rice, corn and tea are either razed or bought compelling the owners to move into the mountains where only the growth of poppies is possible (Afghanistan another case in point).

SINCE MAY 2012 there has been ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya muslims, with 280 dead and 140,000 displaced persons and 200,000 people from Burma living in refugee-like situations in Bangladesh. Even when these people try to leave to get to another Muslim country such as Malaysia or Indonesia, thousands are trafficked by the Thais and treated like slaves so much so and despite the new Thai Military Government’s assurance to address the problem, vigilantes have taken on the job of trying to stop this abuse (reported Bangkok Post). In both the Shan and Kachin States in the NE, the Burmese Army continues to launch attacks on ethnic civilians, killing and torturing innocent villagers, burning and destroying their crops. At least 100,000 Shan, Kachin, Paulang and Lahu have been displaced. In total, then, it is estimated that 2 to 3 million have fled Burma since the 1980s. This past December a 56 year old female peaceful protester for the Letpadaung Copper Mine (50% Military 50% Chinese), where 4 villages have been destroyed with 26 more to go with inadequate compensation, was shot and killed.  Two female teachers of 19 and 20 were raped and killed in January by Burmese Military Battalion 88, Infantry 503 in N Shan State. This month (February 2015) the Burmese Government declared a state of emergency in the Kokang region, killing 100 people and driving tens of thousands over the border into China as reported in The Times and front page of the International New York Times on 19th Feb. There has been increased curtailment of free speech with Bath Amnesty writing protest letters on a monthly basis. E.g. 2 journalists are in prison for 10 years with hard labour for revealing that Burma has a chemical weapons factory, 15 activists in Michaingkan have been imprisoned for peacefully protesting about land confiscation without compensation. Htin Lin Oo has been imprisoned for making a speech at a literary event saying that Buddhism should not be used to promote discrimination and prejudice which was “insulting” to religion…presumably this was with regard to the Rohingya situation. There are currently 82 political prisoners (Burma Campaign says 161) with more than 200 in prison awaiting trial. A new law is about to be passed whereby a Buddhist woman cannot marry outside her faith which of course discriminates against both Muslims and Christians (Karen people are in the main Christian) and limits women’s freedom to choose. If as a tourist you speak to the locals, they are almost certainly to be the majority Burmans and they may refer to changes for THEM but possibly know nothing about the ethnic situation as their media is controlled by the military as the ruling party.

According to International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) Burma is the only state in the world to have scattered mines every year since 1997 and although 162 nations have, they have not signed the Mine Ban Treaty.  It must be said, however, that some ethnics also plant their own mines in order to keep out the military, but do advise their own villagers where they are.  When I mention ethnic minorities in Burma it should be pointed out that they collectively represent about 32% of the population so I think they should have a voice in matters. The Burma Study Centre in Chiang Mai in Thailand did a small survey of some of the just less than 1,800,000 legal migrants but actual figures could be over 3 million. Responding to the question: Has the situation in Burma improved since 2010 elections? 74.9% said it had improved only slightly or not at all.  To the same question in your village: 55.5% said not at all. Although 84% of those surveyed plan to return to live in Burma, many fear that it would not be safe for them to do so at this time.  Asked:  do you think there will be a nationwide ceasefire? 77.7% said strongly doubtful.

It is not all doom and gloom, and although in the NE and NW as outlined above, things are not so good, in Karen State things have improved with a recent ceasefire (there were still attacks only this last September/October 3 km from where I was) and some villages are being rebuilt. Children are getting an education in the camps and also in Mae Sot by volunteer teachers in some 60 schools, which is most inspiring.

THE FOUNDER & EDITOR OF THE IRRAWADDY  news organisation and winner of numerous international journalism awards and author of 2 books, Aung Zaw, who was imprisoned for his involvement in the 1988 pro-democracy protests, says: “I think the 2010 election was a joke…something happened in 2010 because the Western world was expecting something…The West in return also promised something which was “If you open up, if you change, even if you cheat in the elections, if you take off the uniforms and wear the civilian clothes, we will still come with aid and we will recognise you” and that is exactly what happened…even though we know the election was fixed, the West was happy that at least they had made some concessions like the Myitsone Dam building being suspended (there are 8 more dams) and the release of ASSK, release of some political prisoners (but counted in the numbers were criminals and those who were genuine political prisoners were often rearrested after the figures were published). He goes on to say, “It would be very interesting if the international community and the Western governments who want to believe and romanticise the changes in the country actually had the interest and capacity to listen to the common people in Burma”. This brings me to Burma Link for which I volunteered this winter and which used to be called “Silenced” because they consider this very attitude of the Western world has indeed SILENCED the ethnic minorities. I couldn’t agree more. Their “Agents of Change” workshops aim to create a network of empowered young leaders who can act as role models in their communities and help their community voices to be heard. This supports their overall goal of sharing the voices and stories of Burma’s ethnic nationalities and displaced people.

WHY? to all the above: because all Burma’s natural resources like hydro, teak, copper, gems, gold, poppies etc. are in the eastern fringe throughout the ethnic areas!

Wendy Hughes, Mae Sot on the Borderline, February 2015

BURMA TIMELINE

1824                Burmese try to invade India
1886                Britain conquered entire country starting in 1824 as a result of invasion
1937                Administered as a province of British India until 1937 then separate, self- governing colony
1942 – 44        Burma Independence Army (under Aung San) and Arakan Army fought with Japanese against Britain but in 1945 switched to Allied side
1947                 Panglong Agreement signed
1948                 Independence from Britain and known as Union of Burma as a democracy
1961 – 71        U Thant became the first non-westerner to be Secretary General of UN (with Aung San Suu Kyi as one of the Burmese working under him)
1961                General Ne Win led a coup d’etat that toppled civilian government and military have ruled under various titles ever since (Ne Win for 26 years)
1962, 74, 75, 76, 77 student protests violently suppressed
1988                Widespread pro-democracy demonstrations throughout the country with casualties said to be 3000+ (more than Twin Towers and Tiananmen)
1989                Socialist Republic of Union of Burma becomes Union of Myanmar and, although recognised by UN, not by UK, Canada, US
1990                Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD (National League for Democracy) win first free elections in 30 years, which were annulled. Aung San Suu Kyi held under house arrest or prison off and on from 1989 to 2010.  My visit to Krain Camp
1991                Aung San Suu Kyi wins the Nobel Peace Prize.  Refugees 250,000
1995                I visit Burma, campaign outside ASSK’s house and meet NLD MP
1997                Burma admitted to ASEAN
2007               Saffron Revolution by Monks, students and general population
2008               Cyclone Nargis leaves 138,000 as casualties or missing. New, and still current Constitution point No. 359 permits enslavement
2010                November sham elections in which the military put on civilian clothes and continue to rule. 13 November Aung San Suu Kyi released from house arrest.
2012                I go to Mae Sot and work for the Karen Education Department (KED)
2013                Angelique and I visited Mae Sot and Mae La Refugee Camp, The Border Consortium, the Aid Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), Mae Tao Clinic (donation from friends and Bath Amnesty members)
2014                I go to Sangklaburi to revisit Karen lady who helped visit the students in 1990 and also to visit my Australian friend working in Ban Don Yang refugee camp for Australian Volunteers International (AVI)
2015                I volunteer for Burma Link and take donations from Bath Amnesty members and friends for them and above organisations.

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February 2015 Report on Burma & North Korea

Letterwriting:  we signed 16 letters last month and will be signing 2 at the next meeting, many thanks to those attending.  Wonderful news is that Dr Tun Aung, the Rohinyga community worker about whom we have been writing for two and half years was freed on 19th January.  Let’s keep writing the letters….

Burma:  the British whistleblower Andy Hall, who raised the issue of the treatment of Burmese workers in a factory in Bangkok has had his sentence lessened.  Embassy staff attend his hearings and the issue has also been raised in the British Parliament.

I have visited the AAPP (Aid Association for Political Prisoners) and advised that currently there are 82  (Burma Campaign says 161) political prisoners in prison and that more than 200 are in prison awaiting trial and we are getting more and more letters from Amnesty about others all the time.   In December a young girl called KHIN WIN was shot dead while peacefully protesting about land takeover with regard to the Letpadaung Copper Mine project and about which we will be signing a letter and there are two other cases about Burma for letter signing too.   On 20th January AI issued a statement about two Kachin girls aged 19 and 20 who were raped and murdered allegedly by Burmese Military Battalion 88, Infantry503 who were in the village that night in N. Shan state and on the same day an attempted rape by members of Battalion 77 also in N. Shan state despite Burma having been the 150th signatory in June 2014 of the Declaration of Commitment to end sexual violence in conflict.  I think it would be fair to say that our Government’s engagement with the Burma military is not working.

In the meantime, I have had a letter from our Foreign Minister Hugo Swire on 8th January giving the usual platitudes that while some of us feel the reforms in Burma have stalled and in some cases reversed, he assures us that our government has raised with the Burmese government not only the appalling situation and human rights abuses with the Rohingya but the recent intimidation, detention and sentencing of reporters and political activists and the ongoing conflict in ethic areas.   Some of us would say, that is not enough.

With regard to my time here on the Thai/Burma border and because it is a private trip, I thought I would report to you about it separately and on return, but all the donations specified in my last report were duly paid over, with all their grateful thanks.

North Korea:  While the NK website I received everyday said that there would be a meeting between NK and SK on 19th January, I have heard nothing further about it and believe a condition of rather a lot of aid has been placed on such talks.  However during the past 9 years the UN has already paid out $US98.9million in humanitarian assistance – so much for taking a stand against the regime’s shocking human rights record.

NK has a 300mile border with China and as there have been some murders recently by NK of Chinese, the Chinese gov have placed more militia on that border which will of course make it more difficult to escape NK on that popular route out.

AI’s UK director Kate Allan has announced that AI are putting out The Other Interview:  “we should all be worried when blackmail, threats and the hacking of private data are being used to censor and silence”.  Unlike the comedy, it illustrates the shocking treatment of escapees. See the trailer here.

A bit of good news: because of recent reforms which allow agricultural farms to keep one-third of their harvest, grain production has increased.

Wendy Hughes,

Burma & N.Korea Co-Ordinator

9th February 2015

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