Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2017The Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2017, a bill focused on promoting democracy and human rights in Burma, was recently introduced in the United States Senate.

While Burma has taken steps towards becoming a full democracy, the country operates under a constitution in need of reform. Drafted in a convention boycotted by the National League for Democracy, Burma’s constitution fails to fully recognize the rights of ethnic minorities and guarantees the military’s nominees one-fourth of the seats in parliament. Due to the rule that more than three-fourths of parliament must agree in order to amend the constitution, this means that no changes can be made to the constitution without the support of the military.

The Rohingya

The military’s involvement in government is especially concerning for Burma’s large population of various ethnic groups, particularly the Rohingya, who they are engaged in a violent civil war with. In the past two months, over 600,000 Rohingya people have been displaced from their homes. In what is essentially an ethnic cleansing, the military is persecuting the Rohingya by burning down their homes, raping women and young girls and torturing and killing prisoners and civilians.

Many civilians have become refugees but most do not have access to basic care. Over 95 percent are drinking contaminated water and many are starving before they even cross the border. Refugee camps are growing quickly and so are the rates of malnutrition and disease, particularly in children.

The Bill’s Goal 

The goal of the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2017 is to end the suffering of the people of Burma and establish a democracy that will respect their human rights. If this act is passed, $104 million will be used to assist the victims of Burma’s military and to help those who are displaced to return home.

The act also states that the U.S. government will demand accountability for all who have committed crimes against humanity and lays out a plan for economic restoration as well as assures its intentions to place economic sanctions, visa bans and trade restrictions where necessary.

This act would greatly benefit the refugees who are currently starving and the aid groups who are stretched too thin to help. It would also prevent future genocide and help put an end to the ethnic cleansing and persecution of the Rohingya people.

– Jenae Atwell

Photo: Flickr

Ethnic Cleansing in BurmaOn September 12, 2017, Arizona Senator John McCain spoke out against the treatment of the Rohingya population of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The Rohingya people are mostly Muslim-practicing individuals, and according to the United Nations, they are under attack. Specifically, the U.N. stated that the situation, which is characterized by a series of “cruel military operations,” is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Thus, the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar must not be ignored.

In his address, Senator McCain withdrew his support of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (NDAA), which sought to expand a military relationship between the United States and Myanmar. Specifically, Senator McCain criticized leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her lack of interference throughout the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. He stated, “I can no longer support expanding military-to-military cooperation given the worsening humanitarian crisis […] against the Rohingya people.”

According to Joshua Kurlantzick, the Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia on the Council on Foreign Relations, Suu Kyi, who is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient for her work with democracy and human rights, “has never demonstrated much sympathy” to the Rohingya people.

Furthermore, Suu Kyi has remained mostly silent throughout the humanitarian crisis; she has claimed that the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar was burdened by an “iceberg of misinformation,” which has further enabled the country’s continuous Buddhist nationalist movement.

The Rohingya people, which are a minority group within Myanmar’s largely Buddhist population, are not recognized as an official ethnic group by the country’s government. The attacks against the Rohingya people escalated on August 25, 2017, when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) targeted multiple police and military officials.

Approximately 370,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar in order to find safety and solace in Bangladesh. Additionally, tens of thousands of Rohingya remain displaced throughout Myanmar. However, the Myanmar government has suspended all foreign aid to the Rakhine State, which has left all of the Rohingya people without necessities such as food or health services.

Human Rights Watch has called upon the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to place pressure on the Myanmar government in order to allow access to foreign aid for the Rohingya people.

Suu Kyi’s silence has been demonstrated to have a significantly negative impact on the attacks against the Rohingya people, but she can help stabilize the situation by allowing foreign aid to reach the displaced Rohingya people.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is an organization that has provided approximately 580,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh with food, which is incredibly important for pregnant women and young children. The nutritious food provided by WFP has slightly lessened the risk of disease outbreaks among the Rohingya refugees, by helping to strengthen the immune system and health outcomes. They are seeking further financial resources to continue their work in tackling the crisis.

The Rohingya still remained displaced throughout Bangladesh with no shelter; however, WFP’s food delivery is a great first step to helping the refugees obtain better lives.

Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr

Rohingya MuslimsAs a minority group, Rohingya Muslims have been subjected to violence throughout the entirety of their existence. In what is being called “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide”, more than 400 Rohingya Muslims were killed in Burma in the month of August 2017.

The extreme violence that they have been facing in Burma has caused almost 90,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in search of safety. The violence was reportedly set off by a group of Rohingya insurgents who attacked police posts in the Burma state of Rakhine on August 25, 2017.

Rohingya militants are being blamed by Burmese officials for burning homes and killing civilians. However, rights monitors and Rohingya Muslims argue that the Burmese Army is using this claim to force them out of Burma.

Rohingya Muslims living in Burma do not receive full citizenship rights, and they often need to seek official permission to marry or travel outside of their villages.

The violence has prompted responses from various world leaders, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who brought the matter before the United Nations General Assembly this month. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also endorsed this call.

Zarif denounced the “global silence on continuing violence against Rohingya Muslims” saying that “international action [is] crucial to prevent further ethnic cleansing—UN must rally” in a post he made on Twitter.

Additionally, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif has been encouraging Burma to investigate the alleged atrocities against the Muslims of Rohingya.

According to a United Nations spokeswoman, the Rohingya Muslims are “probably the most friendless people in the world” as they have struggled to find safety or permanent civilization in any area of the world.

While the people are facing violence, rape and injustice carried out by the Burmese army, their attempts to flee Burma are often met with more violence and brutality by human traffickers and coast guards of other nations.

This month, former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan filed a report that urged the Burmese government to restore citizenship rights, which were stripped in 1982, to the Rohingya.

Although conditions seem nearly hopeless for Rohingya Muslims living in Burma, world leaders are working together to support this minority group. Help for them is on the way, although it is in question whether it will arrive on time.

Kassidy Tarala

Photo: Flickr

Diseases in Burma
Burma, or the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, is a sovereign state in Southeast Asia. It is a coastal region bordered by India and Bangladesh to the west, Thailand and Laos to the east and China to the north and northeast. Currently, Burma’s population consists of approximately 53,897,000 people.

Between 1962 and 2011 Burma was under the control of an oppressive military junta who suppressed almost all dissent of their rule. With the ouster of the junta group in 2010, the country has since seen a gradual liberalization, but the effects of the allocation of state funding to mostly the military has taken its toll on the healthcare in Burma.

Due to almost 50 years of neglect by the junta and foreign sanctions restricting outside help, the health care system in Burma has suffered heavily. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that Burma ranked last out of 190 countries according to their “overall health system performance” in a study conducted in 2013.

Burma has taken significant steps to improve their health care system, but problems persist. The lack of funding during the junta regime cut off access to the majority of public health care facilities, making some of the most common diseases in Burma hazardous or even deadly.

Hepatitis A and E

Both hepatitis A and E are viral diseases that interfere with the functioning of the liver. Hepatitis is spread through the consumption of food or water contaminated with fecal matter in areas with poor sanitation. Infected individuals generally exhibit symptoms of fever, jaundice, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

There was a 15 percent increase in the mortality rate of Hepatitis E between the years 1990-2013 in Burma. This is due in part to lack of educational materials and TV/radio broadcasting materials regarding the endemic nature of hepatitis in the country.

Typhoid fever

Another of the diseases in Burma caused by food or water contaminated by fecal matter or sewage. Triggered by the bacteria Salmonella typhi, symptoms include a high fever, headache, abdominal pain and either constipation or diarrhea. Typhoid fever is atypical to developing countries and is generally rare in industrialized areas. Mortality rates can reach as high as 20 percent of people infected.

The bacteria that causes typhoid fever is present in many Southeast Asian countries such as Burma in areas where there is poor water and sewage sanitation. Floods in these areas can also quickly spread the bacteria. Burma has suffered from heavy flooding since 2015.


A diarrheal disease caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholera. An average of five to ten percent of those infected will have severe symptoms characterized by severe watery diarrhea, vomiting and leg cramps. Rapid loss of bodily fluids leads to dehydration and shock and can lead to death within hours without treatment.

The last major cholera outbreak occurred in late 2014 in the Yangon region of Burma. Over 200 patients tested positive for cholera and 41 were admitted to the hospitals for treatment. Township health officer Dr. Aye Aye Moe attributed the outbreak to poor sanitation, overcrowding and lack of clean drinking water. Authorities responded by chlorinating the water, providing information on food safety and improving sanitation through better waste management in the region.

Japanese Encephalitis

The leading cause of vaccine-preventable encephalitis in Asia, Japanese encephalitis is generally contracted through mosquitos. Most cases are mild but a small percentage of those infected develop severe encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) with symptoms such as a headache, high fever, disorientation, coma, tremors and convulsions. There is no universal treatment and care is generally specific to the individual.

The last major outbreak of Japanese Encephalitis in Burma occurred in 2014 affecting 41 people. Dr. Soe Tun Aung, the medical superintendent at Sittway General Hospital, said that steps that were taken to prevent the outbreak of the spread included spraying insecticide and repairing drains to prevent stagnant water in which mosquitos breed. Dr. Soe Tun Aung blamed an unhealthy environment along with a lack of awareness about the risks associated with mosquito bites as contributing factors associated with the outbreak.


A mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite. Individuals who contract malaria suffer from symptoms such as fever, chills and flu-like illness. Malaria is one of the most deadly diseases in Burma. The country accounted for close to half of all malaria deaths in the Southeast Asia in 2000. Burma has had issues with drug resistant strains of the disease and prevalence of the disease outside of city epicenters is very high.

Though there is still much to do, the government has made significant strides in allocating funding from the military to both medical goods and services to help fight diseases in Burma. This additional spending will not only improve the healthcare in Burma but will also create opportunities for multinational companies in healthcare consumer products, pharmaceuticals and medical services the ability to provide their services to the country.

The Burmese state, as well as the National Health Policy and the Ministry of Health have taken on the responsibility of raising the health status of the population. These important steps have the potential to improve overall healthcare and, through the liberalization of the country, allow outside organizations the ability to step in and provide support.

Drew Hazzard

Photo: Flickr

Collective Effort to Provide Assistance: Reducing Hunger in Burma
Burma, also referred to as Myanmar, is the second largest country located in Southeast Asia bordering the countries of Bangladesh and Thailand as well as the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Burma is reducing hunger showing a valiant effort by the government and nonprofits.

From 1962 to 2011, Burma was considered a pariah state due decades of oppressive rule from a military junta.

When the new civilian government came into power in 2011, the country found itself with remnants of human rights abuses, such as hunger, from the former military junta. However, government reforms and nonprofit organizations are underway in order to combat hunger in Burma.

According to the 2014 Human Development Report, Burma ranks 150 out of 187 countries in terms of being severely underdeveloped.

As a result, malnutrition rates in the country continue to rank among the highest in the world. With undernutrition being linked to the 35 percent of stunted children and the 8 percent of acutely malnourished children.

In addition, erratic conflicts of communal violence increase, prevent and limit food security for those who suffer from hunger in Burma. Communal violence in Burma is often between Muslims and Buddhists fighting over sexual assault accusations and other local disagreements.

Nevertheless, Hunger in Burma is slowly being tackled in part due to efforts from Burma’s government and non-profit organizations.

The government of Burma has initiated a commitment to decreasing the amount of hunger within the country. In 2013, Burma joined the SUN Movement in order to establish a National Plan of Action in Food and Nutrition. Additionally, the National Nutrition Centre in the Department of Health is collaborating with the Myanmar Nutrition Technical Network in the hopes of reducing hunger as a solution to poverty alleviation.

The Action Against Hunger campaign has reported that in just 2015, the organization has helped roughly 111,787 people in Burma. This figure includes providing 50,271 people with nutritional support, 39,081 people with access to safe water and sanitation and 22,435 people with increased economic self-sufficiency.

In addition, the World Food Programme states that they are aiding in combating hunger in Burma through providing food assistance for the 128,000 displaced people in Rakhine State, the 5,000 in Shan and the 39,000 in Kachin.

Shannon Warren

Photo: Flickr

Democratization in Burma, now Myanmar, seems to have opened up a can of worms. Freeing political prisoners, allowing freedom of speech, granting access to social media and tolerating freedom of assembly has allowed many Burmese people to express what had long be suppressed, albeit incompetently at times – a deep-seated hatred for the Rohingya Muslim minority.

The Rohingya make up five percent of Buddhist-majority Myanmar and have been discriminated against for centuries. They are denied citizenship and many basic rights because they are not seen as Burmese, even though their families were brought over from what was then Bengal many generations ago. But while the military junta was in power, it jailed anyone who incited violence against the Rohingya in the interest of keeping peace.

In 2011, the regime finally started opening up and passed a series of political, economic and social reforms. Among other developments, Myanmar freed opposing politician Aung San Suu Kyi after placing her under house arrest for fifteen years. It also gave general amnesty to hundreds of political prisoners, one of which was a monk named Ashin Wirathu.

Wirathu had been jailed for twenty-five years for inciting anti-Muslim hatred. Now free to resume his activities, Wirathu helped instigate a wave of resentment toward the Rohingya that cumulated in the deadly 2012 Rakhine State riots and the 2013 nationwide anti-Muslim riots. He now heads the fanatic 969 movement, which has a large following among the Buddhist population.

The movement calls on all Buddhists to refuse to do business with the Rohingya and demarcate their homes and businesses using the “969” sticker. They are already pervasive on many shop windows, cars and motorbikes across Myanmar. The economic boycott against Muslims is only one of the four propositions of 969; the others are to restrict marriage between Buddhists and Muslims, forbid religious conversions and prohibit polygamy.

The general intent of these laws, according to Wirathu, is to prevent a much-feared Muslim “population explosion.” He calls Muslims “African carp” that “breed quickly and eat their own kind.” The Rohingya, he claims, are a threat to Buddhism and the Burmese national identity.

The movement has already succeeded in getting a “population control” bill signed into law. The bill gives the government the power to stop mothers from having another child for 36 months. Human rights groups are certain that this law will only victimize Rohingya women.

These racist attitudes are not marginal, according to Richard Horsey, a political analyst from Yangon. In fact, these extremist views are mainstream. Matt Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, said that people often get together in community meetings similar to American town hall meetings to discuss how to get rid of the “Bengali problem.” In Karen State, host to Myanmar’s capital Hpa-an, fliers exhort people to stop Muslims from leasing homes and farms, and some threaten Buddhists who act as their middlemen.

Facebook, which had long been suppressed under the junta regime, is now also being used as a means to spread hatred. Users encourage their friends and family members to support the 969 movement. Groups such as the “Kalar Beheading Gang” (“Kalar” is a highly derogatory word given to Muslims) have popped up.

Attacking the Rohingya has therefore become good politics in Myanmar, Jonathan Head, the BBC correspondent for Southeast Asia, asserts, and rhetoric is heating up as elections approach in November. Fear mongering has allowed new and rising politicians to curry favor with the Buddhist majority. Aung San Suu Kyi, once seen as the symbol of human rights in the country, and now head of the National League for Democracy Party, has been conspicuously silent.

The Rohingya were also recently stripped of their right to vote. Just before the end of military rule in 2008, the junta had allowed them to vote and even put up candidates for election. But in 2013, when the government said it would maintain the Rohingya’s right to vote in a constitutional referendum, Buddhists staged massive protests. Hoping to appease the population, the government made the Rohingya turn in their identity cards.

Many international organizations have said that the recent events amount to genocide. More than 170,000 Rohingya live in internally displaced persons camps throughout the country after their houses and villages were burned to the ground in riots. They are circled by hostile Buddhist populations that do not allow them to leave the camp. The camps rarely have medical facilities and the Rohingya often have to sell their meager food rations to obtain medicines for their children. Jonathan Head calls the conditions “ghetto-like.” The government has actively refused to count casualty rates.

During a recent international conference in Norway that aimed to address the Rohingya crisis, George Soros, a business magnate turned philanthropist, said that “In 1944, as a Jew in Budapest, I, too, was a Rohingya…Much like the Jewish ghettos set up by the Nazis in eastern Europe during World War II, Aung Mingalar has become the involuntary home of thousands of families who once had access to healthcare, education and employment. Now they are forced to remain segregated in a state of abject deprivation. The parallels to the Nazi genocide are alarming.”

More than 150,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar in overstuffed and rickety boats within the last three and a half years of democratic reforms. Smugglers promise to take them to Malaysia or Indonesia, Muslim majority countries. Jonathan Head voiced concern over the appalling conditions of the boats, which he said “were akin to the 18th century slave trade.” People cannot stand or sit properly, and are beaten if they try to stretch their legs. They are given a cup of rice, a single chili and two cups of water a day until the food runs out, as it often does.

Many boats never reach their destination and are instead handed over to traffickers, usually in Thailand, where people are then held ransom for up to $2,000. This often means that relatives in Myanmar have to sell their remaining land and homes to get them out. If they cannot, the traffickers simply leave them to starve. Recently, mass graves were uncovered in Thailand and Malaysia.

Myanmar refuses to admit responsibility for the crisis. Major Zaw Htay, director of the President’s Office, said that the country would “not accept allegations by some that Myanmar is the source of the problem.”

 — Radhika Singh

Sources: Bangkok Post 1, Bangkok Post 2, Foreign Correspondants Club of Thailand, Bangkok Post 3, Al Jazeera, Asia Nikkei, Global Post 1, The Guardian, Global Post 2, BBC
Photo: Flickr

Burma Discrimination
Discrimination affects global poverty by breeding an environment of inequality that limits one’s access to fundamental rights and basic needs.

Discrimination against people or groups based on race, religion, ethnicity or other factors can foster segregation, which impoverishes the particular population who cannot obtain access to fundamental needs for basic living.

The groups discriminated against include minorities, indigenous people and migrants. Discrimination against these groups and poverty are connected in more ways than one. Being discriminated based on race or gender has a direct impact on one’s economic opportunity and makes it increasingly difficult to navigate familial, social and economic institutions. Additionally, one’s low economic status can be a target for discrimination causing a cyclical pattern between discrimination and poverty.

The link between discrimination and poverty is largely based on inequality in opportunity. In Burma, for example, widespread discrimination against minority groups such as Muslim minority groups has influenced the way in which that specific group lives. The marginalized minority group has been denied rights to citizenship, which restricts their access to employment, education, opportunity and fundamental living in general. Government forces also play an important role in the group’s limited access to equality, partly due to unfair, violent and sometimes abusive treatments of the group solely based on religion and ethnicity. The discrimination observed in Burma has pushed the minority group into poverty due to restricted social and economic rights.

Furthermore, discrimination hinders one’s ability to partake in government policies, especially policies centered on the development of strategies for poverty reduction. Limited justice then becomes more than an issue of inequality, but also an issue of poverty.

Discrimination can be a result of poverty and also an obstacle for ending global poverty. According to Human Rights Watch, two thirds of those living in poverty in low income nations reside in households led by an ethnic minority group specific to that country.

Lack of basic access to education due to discrimination, for example, serves as an important contributor and obstacle standing in the way of alleviating global poverty. According to Social Watch, a report revealed that among those who are illiterate, a vast majority belong to ethnic, religious or racial minority groups. Additionally, due to economic and social inequalities, minority groups are more likely to become exposed to health issues such as infectious disease.

The link between discrimination and poverty suggests that in order to completely eradicate global poverty, inequalities due to discrimination need to be addressed. Protecting minority groups from discrimination can help alleviate the number of people who fall or get trapped into poverty solely because of race, gender, ethnicity, religion or any other characteristic. Amending laws that pose a threat to minority groups as well as enacting laws that fight discriminatory policies can be a means of reducing discrimination, which will ultimately alleviate poverty.

– Nada Sewidan

Photo: Burma Times

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Social Watch

free press
The freedom of the press in Burma has recently come under siege from its government. On July 10, four journalists and their bosses were handed ten-year sentences with hard labour for violating the State Secrets Act by reporting on a government chemical weapons facility.

Not only is the law archaic — dating back to the when Burma was still a British colony — but the verdict also contradicts the much more recent Press Law which guarantees that journalists won’t receive prison sentences for their work.

Their imprisonment has garnered international and local condemnation. Amnesty International responded to the situation saying that the verdict represented “a very dark day for freedom of expression” in Burma. The statement went on to say that the organization “considers all five men to be prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.”

Likewise, local opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi spoke out against the journalists’ imprisonment. She recognized that national security should be an important concern for Burma, “but in a democratic system, security should be in balance with freedom.”

This suggests that even if the journalists were guilty of trespassing onto a Burmese military facility, the sentence would still be disproportionate to the crime. However, the reporters have publicly denied the allegations in court, bringing into question whether they even committed the crime. Given Myanmar’s track record with the press, it would not be out of the question for the Burmese government to lash out at journalists for being critical, even if no crimes were committed.

For instance, several days after the ten-year verdict was given, a group of several dozen journalists were prevented from covering a public event for wearing shirts that read “Stop Killing Press.”

The reporters were escorted away from the Myanmar Peace Center where the event was being held. From there, the journalists held a spontaneous silent protest. The demonstration was peaceful and unobtrusive, yet a group of nearly 50 journalists were arrested and await trial for participating in the protest.

The arrests were particularly concerning since fewer than 50 people were involved in the demonstration. This means that journalists who simply covered the protest or were loosely connected to it are also facing the prospect of jail time.

While their potential prison time is not particularly hefty — six months being the maximum — the mere fact that they were arrested and face criminal charges for a peaceful protest is an appalling transgression against the freedom of the press in Burma.

According to their lawyer, “They didn’t shout slogans. They held no placards. They just stood on the pavement like any other people. I see no point in taking action against them.” Some of the participants put black tape over their mouths, but other than that, no action was taken during the protest.

But now, given the dire condition of press in Burma, more drastic action may become necessary. While local journalists and human rights watchdogs are sure to clash with the Burmese government over these arbitrary arrests, we may soon see more international actors playing a larger role to ensure that Burma finally enjoys the free press that has eluded the country for so long.

Sam Hillestad

Sources: The Irrawaddy, The Irrawaddy
Photo: CJFE

On June 7, GAP Inc. announced its partnership with USAID to invest in the growth of Burma. The signing ceremony was joined by U.S. Ambassador to Burma, Derek J. Mitchell, and USAID/Burma Mission Director, Chris Milligan.

GAP outlined plans to produce at two factories in Rangoon. By doing so, it will become the first American store to compete in the Burma market. USAID will support GAP Inc. in laying the groundwork for providing growth and economic opportunities.

The partnership is anticipated to provide economic opportunities for women in Burma.

GAP Inc. is in a good position to supply many jobs and opportunities for Burma. They will apply practices such as audits by a reliable non-government organization and make sure that human rights and labor standards are maintained in the factories. This is consistent with GAP Inc.’s attempts to better global working conditions.

GAP Inc. will provide its women’s advancement program, P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement), in the factories in Burma by the end of 2014.

Established in 2007, P.A.C.E., an award-winning program, pursues encouraging female garment workers by providing “life skills education and technical training to help them become more successful both personally and professionally.” GAP Inc. will also collaborate with Indiana University and Hewlett-Packard to cultivate their P.A.C.E. program.

GAP Inc. will disclose any information about its practices in Burma as a part of their pledge to be transparent.

“This is a historic moment for Burma and we are committed to working with the U.S. government and local government alongside local and international NGOs, to help create the economic opportunities that the citizens of Burma so richly deserve. By entering Burma, we hope to help accelerate economic and social growth in the country, and build on our track record of improving working conditions and building local capacity in garment factories around the world,” said Wilma Wallace, Vice President, Global Responsibility, Business and Human Rights, GAP Inc.

– Colleen Moore

Sources: Retail Business Review, The Wall Street Transcript
Photo: Asia Foundation

In accordance with the Myanmar army’s Joint Active Plan with the United Nations to release all those soldiers who were recruited as children, 96 former child soldiers were released on Saturday. This is the largest release since the plan was signed in June 2012, bringing the total up to 272.

A blemish on this achievement comes in the form of Ye Myat Oo’s arrest and detainment for deserting his unit. He was recruited at age 17 and is therefore under the protection of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Burmese government. A letter stating his protection from all charges and mistreatment was sent from the ILO to the Army base where he was awaiting trial, but on January 7, he was sentenced to one year in prison.

The ILO and Burmese government are now involved in his case. Since Ye Myat Oo should have been released from duty after the plan was signed, the ILO sees his desertion as irrelevant. The Army officers and police who arrested him for leaving the Irrawaddy Division disagree.

As is demonstrated in this case, the plan is hindered by the discrepancy between Government and the Armed Forces in charge of recruitment and regulation. There are still no programs in place to verify the presence of child soldiers in the Border Guard Forces, and though members of the UN are attempting to locate and release underage soldiers they are not being granted admittance to many highly-suspect locations. The factors which prompted Ye Myat Oo to enlist when he was underaged–loss of his family and fear of starvation–are still causes that prompt may children to pick up a gun.

On the topic of the action plan last May, Human Rights Watch representative Jo Becker said, “the Burmese military has failed to meet even the basic indicators of progress.” The past few months have shown an increased effort to make good the promises of the signed plan, but with no record for the number of child soldiers currently serving, the military is reliant on those in the field to make reports, and on its recruiters to stop taking children.

Lydia Caswell

Sources: Child Soldiers International, The Irrawaddy, Thomson Reuters Foundation