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Dublin - Event Notice
Wednesday November 21 2007
Burma Information Evening
rights, freedoms and repression |
Tuesday November 13, 2007 16:42 by Grace Walsh - Voluntary Service International teenage at vsi dot ie
Film screening and discussion
A special information evening and discussion is taking place on Wednesday 21st of November at 7.30pm in Seomra Spraoi on recent and past events in Burma. The event is organised jointly by Voluntary Service International and Burma Action Ireland and will higlight the need to maintain focus on Burma and current events there.
€3 entrance will be collected at the door and divided between Seomra Spraoi, VSI and Burma Action Ireland.
Burma, also known as Myanmar, is a country of over 50 million people in an area the size of France. There are eight major and a number of minor ethnic nationalities speaking over 100 dialects. Of these, Burman is the largest group, numbering 60% of the population, followed by Shan, Karen, Arakan, Mon, Chin, Kachin and Karenni. For much of its history, Burma was a collection of independent kingdoms.
By the 19th Century, the British took advantage of political instability in Burma to colonize the country and later annex it to India as their empire pushed eastward through S.E. Asia. British rule continued into the 20th century but by the 1930’s, Burmese activists drew inspiration from the experiences of post-imperial independence movements throughout the world. By 1937, having gained a small measure of liberty under British rule, the Burmese had grown aware of Ireland’s own experience of struggle and according to historian Dr Peter Carey, looked upon Ireland as ‘an example of what could be done’. The Burmese established a nationwide book club with the intent of building a body of national and international works of assistance to the burgeoning independence movement. Of the 101 titles compiled, 21 were on Michael Collins, two on Eamon de Valera, and one each on James Connolly and Arthur Griffiths. The Burmese push for full independence gathered momentum during World War II. Under General Aung San (1915-1947), the Burmese first sided with the Japanese to remove the British, then when the imperial intentions of the Japanese became clear, switched to the British on assurances of post-war independence.
The 1947 signing of the progressive Panglong Agreement, by Burma’s majority Burman and other major ethnic groups, was followed by strife in which independence hero General Aung San and six members of his cabinet were assassinated. Nevertheless the agreement gave rise the following year to full independence and a new constitution based on principles of equality, voluntary participation and democracy.
A functioning but fragile democracy took root for 14 years (1948 -1962) until internal strife was exploited in a military coup, led by General Ne Win (1911-2002), and ushered in four decades of repression and international isolation.
Since 1962 therefore, Burma has been ruled by a military dictatorship. By July 1988, growing unrest had forced the resignation of General Ne Win, architect of the 1962 coup, but one of the most critical events in Burmese history was to come on the 8 August 1988. A date forever known to the Burmese people as 8.8.88, saw hundreds of students, workers, teachers, farmers and monks demonstrating on the streets of all major towns and cities, demanding democracy. The military leadership acted with the utmost severity to restore its control - firing into demonstrators and killing many hundreds. Thousands fled the country. The new regime leadership renamed itself the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). It ordered the uprising be crushed, renamed Burma as Myanmar and diffused further unrest with the promise of free elections.
In May 1990, elections were permitted and the National League for Democracy party (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, (daughter of General Aung San), won 82% of parliamentary seats. Forbidden from forming a government, the NLD leadership was subsequently harassed, imprisoned or forced into exile. Aung San Suu Kyi was detained under house arrest from 1989 to 1996 and only released in the face of considerable international pressure. Today she is once again in detention at her house in Rangoon, having been re-arrested following a regime-inspired attack on her convoy of NLD vehicles in May 2003. Daw Suu Kyi is forbidden from receiving visits from colleagues and her mail and telephone continue to be censored and monitored.
Daw Suu Kyi is recognised internationally as a woman of courage and integrity. She has spent ten of the last 16 years in detention for her non-violent opposition and has been honoured with more than 60 international awards including the Nobel Peace Prize and the Freedom of both Dublin and Galway cities.
To this day, the regime in Burma, which has been renamed the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), continues to conduct violent repression against political opponents and Burma’s many ethnic peoples. Among its documented human rights abuses are forced labour, conscription of child soldiers, arbitrary arrest, systematic use of rape and torture and extrajudicial executions. It is infamous for its strategy of intimidatory attacks on civilians, the use of sexual violence, the destruction of village communities and the wide-scale displacement of peoples, including internal displacement and refugees who flee over the borders into Thailand, India and Bangladesh.