Bath Group Report November 2014

Letterwriting: great news that individuals at risk in both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have been released recently.   I received a reply to the letter we wrote to the Afghani Embassy about the 10 year old raped girl Brishna. The Ambassador says that legislation was passed in 2001 to protect females from honour killing as well as programmes raising awareness about the immorality and legal consquences of such actions.. At least we got a reaction.   We signed 30 letters last month. Reported in the press this month from the Committee to Protect Journalists based in New York about nearly 400 journalists having been killed in the last decade with no one being convicted in 90% of the cases. This Committee says 100 were killed in Iraq in the last decade and with their record not being much better in Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, Brazil, Somalia, Syria and Russia with 20 “missing” in Syria.

Burma: reported in the media a meeting on 31October between Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein about the possibility of her standing for the elections next year. However, she was not very positive about this development stating that it was probably in order to give the impression of flexibility before a visit this month by President Obama for a regional summit.   In that connection ASSK has said that there has been no meaningful political reforms in Burma in the last two years and accusing the US of being overly optimistic over their attitude towards the Generals.   They have failed to curb abuses by the majority Buddhists against the Rohingya muslims in the NW of the country and at least 16 journalists have been arrested over the last year in a renewed crackdown on the media.   At the 10th Asia Europe Meeting in Milan on 16October the President said that the EU should stop submitting annual reports on human rights in Burma even though the UN Special Rapporteur for Burma, Yanghee Lee, released a report on the “possible signs of backsliding” with regard to the above two points.

North Korea: as usual good and bad news: reported today 2 Americans released from prison after an “earnest apology” from the US authorised by Obama. Reported on 4Nov they are developing their own version of Britain’s Trident: a submarine with the potential to launch nuclear-armed ballistic missiles while S. Korea says the capability could take a year.   Reported on 6Nov: that they had begun operating a new nuclear plant, enabling it to double its potential output of uranium nuclear warhead according to S. Korea. This was detected by heat emissions by infrared cameras on US spy satellites.   Reported 29Oct: trying to prevent Kim Jong Un and others being prosecuted for crimes against humanity, they may allow an unprecedented visit by a UN human rights investigator as part of a concerted attempt to stall efforts to refer its leadership to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.   Reported 31Oct: Experience North Korea had a stand at the World Travel Market in London …..as the article says while 20million people are starving, 20,000 political prisoners languish in its gulags and that it has a rogue nuclear weapons programme……why not see the “unspoilt scenery”!! Reported 30Oct: that 50 people were executed, including ruling party cadres, for crimes such as watching imported soap operas, bribery and “philandering”

Wendy Hughes, Burma & N. Korea Co-Ordinator, Bath Amnesty 10 November 2014

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Myanmar: Ensure independent and impartial investigation into death of journalist

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
PUBLIC STATEMENT

Index: ASA 16/028/2014
30 October 2014

The Myanmar authorities must ensure a comprehensive, independent, impartial and effective investigation into the death of journalist Aung Kyaw Naing, aka Par Gyi, who was reportedly killed while in the custody of the Myanmar Army in Mon State, Eastern Myanmar, earlier this month. Failure to adequately – and transparently – investigate such serious allegations and hold perpetrators to account would further entrench impunity in the country, and have a chilling effect on other journalists.

According to credible sources, Aung Kyaw Naing, 48, a freelance journalist, was detained by the police on 30 September 2014 in Kyaikmayaw Township, Mon State and later transferred to Myanmar Army’s Light Infantry Battalion 208. At the time of his arrest Aung Kyaw Naing was reporting on recent fighting between the Myanmar Army and armed Karen groups, which erupted in September.

His fate remained unknown for about three weeks, when on 24 October the Secretary of the Interim Myanmar Press Council said he received a statement from the Myanmar Army informing him that Aung Kyaw Naing had been shot dead on 4 October while trying to seize a gun and escape military custody. In the statement the Army alleged that Aung Kyaw Naing was a “communications captain” for the Klohtoobaw Karen Organization, an armed group operating in and around Karen State. The Klohtoobaw Karen Organization later denied links to Aung Kyaw Naing. According to the Army statement Aung Kyaw Naing’s body was buried in Shwe War Chong village in Mon State.

Ma Than Dar – Aung Kyaw Naing’s wife and a renowned human rights activist – had travelled to Mon State on 19 October where she met with local police and the military and unsuccessfully tried to obtain information about her husband’s whereabouts. However she was reportedly told in private by a police officer from the Kyaikmayaw Township police station that he had seen Aung Kyaw Naing in military custody and that it appeared Aung Kyaw Naing had been beaten. Amnesty International has also received reports that eyewitnesses claimed to have seen a man being tortured by military soldiers around the same time and in the same place Aung Kyaw Naing is believed to have been detained.

Kyaikmayaw police have reportedly opened an investigation into Aung Kyaw Naing’s death, following Ma Than Dar’s filing of a complaint. Amnesty International calls on the Myanmar authorities to ensure that the investigation is independent and impartial. Aung Kyaw Naing’s family should be kept informed of the status of the investigation, and the results should be made public. All those found responsible for Aung Kyaw Naing’s death – including those with command responsibility – must be brought to justice before an independent, civilian court, in trials which meet international standards of fairness and which do not impose the death penalty. His family should receive effective remedies, including adequate reparations.

Human rights activists in Myanmar have reacted strongly to the news of Aung Kyaw Naing’s death, and on 26 October staged a peaceful protest in front of Yangon’s City Hall calling on the authorities to conduct an investigation. The next day, Kyauktada Township police informed the media that prominent human rights activist Moe Thway, who was present at the protest, had been charged with protesting without authorization under Article 18 of Myanmar’s Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law. Amnesty International believes that Moe Thway has been charged solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and calls on the Myanmar authorities to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against him.

Myanmar, as a UN member state, is legally bound under the UN Charter to promote respect for, and observance of, human rights. Furthermore, Myanmar is bound by rules of customary international law, which among other things, prohibit extrajudicial executions and torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (ill-treatment) in all circumstances.

However, Amnesty International continues to receive reports of human rights violations by members of the Myanmar Army. These include allegations of unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearance and rape and other crimes of sexual violence. Independent and impartial investigations into such allegations are rare and suspected perpetrators are rarely held to account, contributing to a culture of impunity in the country.

Amnesty International urges the Myanmar authorities to take immediate steps to guarantee human rights protections and to ensure victims and their families have access to an effective remedy. As a first step, the organization calls on Myanmar authorities to ratify at the earliest opportunity the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), and incorporate their provisions into domestic law and fully and effectively implement them in policy and practice.

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Monthly Report including Burma talk

AMNESTY REPORT OCTOBER 2014

Letterwriting: we wrote 22 letters in September and 30 this month.   This campaign was specifically mentioned by our speaker on the Burma evening as not only being successful in some cases but in giving people hope and that some prisoners receive better treatment by the authorities …….an inspiration I hope you will agree to continue. You will have received my email with regard to our street collection’s wonderful total of £734.28 much of which will be used for this campaign.

Forthcoming events: please put in your new diary, the Amnesty Regional Conference will be held in Bristol on Saturday 21February, details later.

In celebration of the 800 years of the Magna Carta in 2015 it is being proposed that each regional group takes on one of the tenets of Declaration of Human Rights and convey it in a tapestry.   It should be 1ft x 1ft and all of them will be stitched together and displayed in Salisbury Cathedral in March (as one of the three places with an original copy of the Magna Carta)…….is anyone talented?? Someone will co-ordinate this so that we do not all take on the same article.

Burma: You will also have heard about our wonderful Burma Talk evening last Monday when Ko Aung came to speak to us together with Robert Gordon, ex Ambassador and Chairman of Prospect Burma.   Ko Aung had been a political prisoner and if anyone who could not make it would like me to email his story (7pages) to them please let me know wendyhug8@gmail.com He is now a human rights lawyer in London.   Prospect Burma which was started with Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel peace prize money, provides grants to educate Burmese refugees and I am so hopeful that my friend who works in one of the camps on the Thai/Burma border will be able to secure one or two for those there.   The speakers were wonderfully complementary to each other and I hope had the desired affect of keeping the subject of human rights in Burma in the forefront.   Three or four letters mentioned above were for some of those prisoners.     We also had the Abbey Petition there to be signed and which will be in the Gethsemane Chapel of the Abbey in advent which starts 1st December and reads: “We the undersigned support AI in calling upon the EU to press the authorities in Burma further in upholding the now overdue commitment by the President to release ALL political prisoners.   We also join AI in urging them to repeal any laws which contravene international human rights standards and laws” so I hope you will find time to sign it either at our November meeting or in the Abbey in December.   I attach an AI Statement which is much on the same lines. I have a contact at the Aid Association of Political Prisoners in Mae Sot on the Thai/Burma border and they confirm at least 75 political prisoners and with 130 awaiting trial.   On 7 Oct, 3015 prisoners were released but only 2 or 3 were political according to them.

North Korea: Much speculation about Kim Jong Un in the press this month, firstly that he had gout and then that foreign doctors had treated him for a leg injury…..but the precise nature of this injury remains unclear. Always conflicting reports about everything as a NK senior aide made an unprecedented visit to the South at the closing ceremony of the Asian Games and then a few days later threatening remarks were made……

 

Wendy Hughes

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Talk by Burmese ex-prisoner of conscience Ko Aung

Manvers Street Baptist Church on 13 October at 7.30pm.

Ko will be talking about his terrifying, horrific torture and imprisonment by the authorities in Burma and his more recent work as a solicitor and a lecturer in human rights law:

I am an activist, not a victim. I want to restore dignity, justice, freedom, equality and peace to Burma. That’s why we have been fighting for democracy; we give our lives to achieve it. So many people have died for it.
 

Ko will describe the struggle for peace and justice in Burma – a struggle which is far from won despite the publicised concessions such as the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Ko is now working hard to educate other refugees and activists in the hope that it will contribute to a renewed Burmese society.

After Ko’s talk he will be joined on a panel by:

> Robert Gordon, CMG, OBE and Ambassador to Burma 1995-99 and currently Chairman of Prospect of Burma and President of the Britain Burma Society
> Steve Bradley, future Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for Bath

Please join us to hear this inspiring speaker discuss activism in Burma and in exile in the U.K.

Suggested donation of £5 to suppport Amnesty International.

For further information please contact Mark or Wendy at Bath Amnesty on info@bathamnesty.co.uk

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Bath Amnesty gives appeal money to Mao Tao clinic

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Mao Tao clinic is situated in the town of Mae Sot on the Thai – Burma border. It provides health services to displaced Burmese, ethnic people and refugees. Mao Tao clinic provides life saving treatment for both short term illnesses and chronic diseases like HIV/AIDS.

Thanks to your generosity we were able to give a donation to the clinic and continue to help the displaced people of Burma. Thank you!

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“Nothing about us, without us”

“The fear is palpable”

Chris Clifford, Field Co-ordinator for Thai-Burma Border Consortium

Despite the declining standards in food and education, and the lack of freedom the refugees have to lead fulfilled lives, they remain grateful for the refugee camps. The camps, for all their pitfalls, offer the refugees the one thing we all crave as human beings – safety and security for the people we love. The refugees all share painful memories of the Burmese Military- the “Tatmadaw” – of rape, murder and degradation of their culture. In the refugee camps, their loved ones and their culture, are safe from the Tatmadaw. But for how long?

Since Aung San Suu Syi’s release and government reforms, there have been rumours that the camps will close down in the next few years and the refugees will be repatriated back to Burma. This fills many refugees with nothing short of terror at going back “inside” as they call it. With daily reports emerging about the Tatmadaw’s continued attack on ethnic minorities, people are understandably still very afraid.

The UN, which are supposed to be coordinating the repatriation have cut out the refugees from talks on their return “home”. Indeed, it appears that the only talks they have conducted are with the Burmese government. The ethnic minorities have only heard rumours and have not been consulted in the process. As history has taught us, repatriating refugees without their knowledge or consent has led to disastrous consequences…

Please watch this short documentary by the Burmese Partnership “Nothing about us, without us”. It tells of the refugees fears and the UN’s lack of coordination, knowledge and empathy about the needs of the refugees throughout the Thai – Burma border.

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Mae La refugee camp

Mae La is the largest of 9 refugee camps situated on the Burma-Thai border. The camps are funded by the UN, Western governments and various NGOs. Mae La is home to around 50,000 registered and unregistered Burmese refugees- a large majority belonging to the Karen tribe. The Karen are one of Burma’s many ethnic minorities who are largely from the resource rich states situated in the East of Burma. Since Burma’s independence from the British in 1948, the Karen have fallen victim to Burma’s repressive and brutal dictatorship. Thousands of villages in the Karen state have been razed to the ground, land has been confiscated and mass rape, torture and murder have been the Burmese Military’s trusty and effective tools. Many who didn’t die- fled for their lives and have become displaced- “a stateless people.” 150,000 of which are today living in the refugee camps.

We arrive at the camp at 9am and our Burmese guide is a friendly guy called “Saw Cool”. A digital whizz who used his skills to document protests against the Junta in Rangoon. He decided to leave after it was clear he was being followed by the Military Intelligence Agency. Saw Cool used to teach Computer Science in the “Leadership and Management Training College” (LMTC), one of the many schools and colleges which have been established on the camp over the years. He now works in the Karen Education Department which is situated in Mae Sot. He’s still very close to the kids at the camp and this is clear as he shows us around.

As part of our tour, Saw Cool takes us to the college’s library and this is where we meet one of his students, the charismatic “Chiang.”

Chiang

Chiang and Angelique in Mae La refugee camp

Chiang is sitting in the library with some friends cutting out some words in the Karen language on a piece of paper. We ask what he is doing and he tells us it is part of a display for Karen National Day. Saw Cool says “This is Chiang, he speaks excellent English.” Chiang looks up with a mischievous smile and says, “oh no Saw, you flatter me!” His English is of course – excellent.

Chiang decides to join our tour around the camp and tells me about his worries for his school.

“I don’t want to talk about my past. I want to talk about the future of my school. Since 2011 we have had huge funding cuts. The salary for our teachers is very low. It’s difficult for them to live on what they earn.”

Chiang is Karen and fled to the camp in 2008. He has used the past 5 years to educate himself and improve his English. However difficult his past must have been, Chiang has chosen to focus the future of his school. He’s clearly a guy that doesn’t look back, only forwards.

The cuts in funding combined with high commodity prices have created a scaling down on rations. The rations consist of rice, fish paste, oil and salt. The most basic of Asian diets which isn’t meeting nutritional needs.

“Since the political changes in the last few years, a lot of the money is being focused in Burma instead of the camps. We feel forgotten,”  he says.

The LMTC’s Arts and Science classroom is a giant room without a partition. There are chairs but no desks.  Of course, when we meet the students they are incredibly polite, friendly, giggly and just like Chiang, so grateful for the opportunity to learn.

Saw Cool is using his digital skills to create lessons for the students so they won’t need a teacher and can learn from the computer alone. Knowing what I know as a former teacher myself, no digital lesson can replace the presence and skills of a dedicated teacher in a classroom. It is hard to look into the faces of these bright and eager faces of Chiang and his fellow students and know that they don’t have enough teachers and resources to guide and develop their skills and talent.

Students at Mae La refugee camp

Students at Mae La refugee camp

After saying goodbye to Chiang and Saw Cool, we paid a visit to the Karen Education Department and gave them a donation. Thanks to the generous donars from Bath, we were able to give the Karen Education Department money to keep their vital work alive. Thank you again to everyone who donated to our appeal.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can help the students at Mae La Refugee camp, please email us at info@bathamnesty.org or visit the Karen Education Department website http://www.kareneducation.org/index.php/what-we-do.

Wendy giving donation to Karen Education Department

Wendy giving donation to Karen Education Department

Thank you.

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