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peace_in_myanmar_threatened
In recent years, Myanmar has achieved a relative state of peace. The first civilian administration in 50 years has been marked by an array of golf courses, updated infrastructure, overall poverty reduction, and ethnic diversity.

Nearly twelve ethnic groups inhabit Myanmar, each with its own militia. Contrary to the suggestion of added security, the atmosphere is tense with potential violence between the various groups and drug operations in the region.

Opium production in the region has experienced an annual increase with a 26% increase between 2012 and 2013 alone. But eradication has proven impossible as each ethnic group maintains its own agenda and interest. While flare-ups between groups has decreased in the region, violence continues to erupt sporadically.

In addition, the illegal industry continues to gain profit as poor rural citizens lack means of legal financial gain. The majority of inhabitants on the country’s borders live on farms, earning income through opium cultivation. Government assistance in education and healthcare are lacking, inciting organizations like UNICEF to establish programs in the region.

Since declaring independence in 1948, Myanmar has benefited from UNICEF sponsored programs involving healthcare, nutrition, sanitation, education, and other child centered programs. The past five decades have seen increased enrollment in primary schools, longer life expediency from HIV infected women and children, an increase in literacy rates and a decrease in media censorship.

Despite the continued aid, the majority of its inhabitants continue to live in poverty in the new democratic state. Nearly 70% of rural inhabitants live in poverty while an estimated 26% of city dwellers struggle financially. Only 26% of the 59.1 million inhabitants have access to electricity, leaving many to rely on firewood.

But hope is not lost. The government hopes to reach a cease fire agreement between ethnic groups. Officials hope that peace will bring long term stability to the region and cooperation to all groups involved. With the participation of all parties, the administration aims to reach a general consensus on the future of the country and its people.

– Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: New York TimesUNICEFUNDP
Photo: Girl Serves World

myanmar_task_force
The first EU-Myanmar Task Force opened in Rangoon, Myanmar on Thursday, November 14. Since a new government came to power in 2011 ending five decades of authoritarian rule, Myanmar has taken steps toward serious economic and political reform. The Southeast Asian country’s development as well as the termination of economic sanctions by the European Union has sparked interest in European business investors.

The task force met with opening remarks at the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Rangoon and continued on Friday in Naypyidaw, the country’s capital. On Thursday, at Myanmar’s President’s Office, Minister Soe Thane touted progress made by the current government and expressed a vision of a democratic country with sustainable economic growth.

Leader of the National Democracy League (NDL) Aung San Suu Kyi also made opening statements, cautioning European business investors to keep Myanmar’s developing political atmosphere in mind. Suu Kyi said that her intentions were not to dissuade investment in the economy, only that “critical issues” such as amendments to the Constitution must be addressed, especially as the country prepares for a national election in 2015. The current Constitution was established in 2008 under the former military regime.

However, Suu Kyi also commented on the importance of investment in Burmese businesses in order to continue strengthening the economy and for the country’s economic development. Addressing corporate social responsibility (CSR), Suu Kyi said, “…it’s not just CSR it’s not just social responsibility. It’s political responsibility, legal responsibility. It’s responsibility in a very broad sense of the word. So if you want to make responsible investments in Burma, you must be aware of the political situation in Burma, the peace situation, the social situation, the human rights situation.” In 2012 Suu Kyi visited the Swiss parliament to collect her Nobel Peace Prize, which she was awarded in 1991 while under house arrest.

According to a report released to the public for the first time by the Lower House’s planning and finance development committee, the unemployment rate in Myanmar is approximately 37% and close to fifteen million people live in dire poverty. The goal of the EU-Myanmar Task Force is to increase business investment interest in the country’s growing economy and renew citizens’ confidence in the government in the wake of nearly fifty years of dictatorship.

Daren Gottlieb
Sources: Irriwaddy, Eleven

Myanmar HIV AIDS prevention Global Fund
Along both the rural countryside and urban zones of Myanmar, HIV/AIDS ravages many people who are unable to access proper treatment. Fortunately, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria will disburse a US$160 million funding package to Myanmar to specifically combat HIV/AIDS. The Global Fund, an organization working towards the eradication of the three major pandemics of our generation-AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria-will be distributing US$160 million over the course of 2013-2016, according to the Myanmar’s Ministry of Health.

Previously one of the most isolated and oppressive states in the world, Myanmar now has begun reform efforts and started to open up to Western influences. When it was uncooperative with the international community, it received limited funds and relied heavily on organizations like Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to carry out health care treatment and other assumed government functions.

Despite continuing to rely on MSF, Myanmar has been receiving incremental increases in funds, most notably from 2009 onward. A correlation between recent reform efforts and funding as total disbursements can be seen in the jump from over US$10 million in 2009 to more than $47 million in 2010. This increase has risen steadily up to nearly $161 million in the following three years, growing over 16 times its budget from just four years prior. The sudden jump in funding for Myanmar’s HIV victims comes from the Global Fund’s pull-out in 2005 after government restrictions and its resumption in 2010 following an easement on restrictions.

This influx of HIV/AIDS funding in Myanmar is more than welcome as only 43 percent of the population that needs treatment received it in 2012. To truly understand how low this is, Myanmar’s regional neighbor, Cambodia, has properly provided antiretroviral therapy (ART) for over 94 percent of its citizens eligible for the treatment. The most effective response, ART, is provided by MSF and other healthcare organizations and consists of a minimum of three antiretroviral medications that will suppress and stop the spread and progression of the HIV virus.

While some claim this funding will help Myanmar treat all of its citizens affected by the virus, the head of MSF’s mission in Myanmar, Peter Paul de Groote views it through a more realistic lens. According to de Groote, despite Global Fund’s money improving financial capabilities, “the overall availability and capacity for enrollment needs to improve – by looking into better treatment models and implementing increased, decentralized care and treatment.”

– Michael Carney

Sources: Al Jazeera, The Global Fund, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)
Photo: Cody Romano

Stateless People UNHCR International Aid Global Development Refugee
What do you do when no nation recognizes you as a citizen? For 12 million people around the world, statelessness is a daily reality. Born without citizenship, they are often doomed to a lifetime of joblessness and homelessness,with deportation a constant threat.

Without official papers verifying citizenship, the stateless cannot be hired by any employer. They also cannot qualify to rent or own a house or other property. Forget opening a bank account, renting a car, getting a drivers license, traveling long distance via airplane, or getting married. Public services that most people would consider to be basic human rights–such as education and healthcare–are not permitted for non-citizens.

As undocumented people, they live in legal limbo and are subject to harassment by the police for being “illegal immigrants.” Yet deportation is not possible, since they have no country to claim them. They “often end up in detention, in destitution or being bounced around like a ping pong ball from one country to another,” says Mark Manly, head of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Similar to undocumented immigrants, stateless people  suffer persecution and isolation, which often leads to “depression with strong feelings of helplessness, frustration and exclusion,” according to Manly.Without any avenues to citizenship and no country to return to, stateless people are unable to advocate for themselves or to improve their existence.

“If we don’t have common, minimum rules there will always be people falling through the cracks. So while the work on accessions and reform of nationality laws is not very glamorous, it is very important,” Manly said.

Without consistent citizenship laws across all countries, people can become stateless in a variety of ways. Children born in one country to parents who are citizens of another country sometimes go unclaimed by either nation. Countries also make it national policy to deny certain ethnic groups citizenship, like the 93,000 Bedouins of Kuwait or 800,000 Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

The UNHCR has recently increased its efforts to spread awareness about statelessness, and a number of countries have amended laws that once left people  without citizenship. UNHCR’s campaign has also prompted several countries to sign the UN Conventions on Statelessness. Other nations have also improved their handling of stateless people, recognizing their unique situation, and providing them with basic human rights and legal protection.

– Jennifer Bills

Sources: The UN Refugee Agency News, Thomson Reuters Foundation
Photo: libcom.org

asian_flat_boats_on_river_market
Despite recent governmental actions to curb modern day slavery in Myanmar, human trafficking remains a common practice throughout the country.

Human trafficking takes on various forms within Myanmar, including forced labor, the use of child soldiers for the Myanmar government, and sex trafficking and prostitution. The most common countries of trade include Thailand, China, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. China and Thailand stand out as the two countries with the greatest volume of human trafficking with Myanmar, often with people sent to work in fishing villages, mines, and factories or as a prostitute or a bride.

Myanmar has been traced as both a source country for producing modern day slaves and a destination country to receive illegal slaves. Internally, the country has struggled with forced labor and military recruitment of child soldiers. According to 2011 data from the U.S. Department of State, 92 percent of families in Myanmar’s Chin State had at least one family member forced into serving the government without pay. The government recruits thousands of its citizens into forced labor, requiring them to work in infrastructure development, agriculture and, most commonly, the military. While exact numbers are unknown, thousands of these workers and soldiers are reported to be children with the youngest on record being only 11 years. The government forces the Burmese people into these situations with economic and physical threats, often targeting ethnic minorities.

The primary cause of trafficking in Myanmar traces back to the often-criticized military regime government itself. With the government’s blatant abuse of human rights and use of child soldiers, it is only natural for the Burmese people to follow their government’s lead and turn to human trafficking as a means of generating income. Furthermore, the government fails to recognize smaller ethnic minorities as citizens, which leaves them easy targets for traffickers.

Despite these problems, Myanmar officials claim they are committed to fighting this crime. Current governmental plans to address these problems include focusing on victims, building partnerships between government and civil society, and producing results in taking actions against known human traffickers. While the government pledges to increase arrests and prison sentences to address the trafficking problems, widespread government corruption remains an obstacle to progress in putting criminals away.

As of August 1, the United States and Myanmar governments convened to work on a U.S.-Myanmar Trafficking in Persons dialogue to address the issues the country has been facing. While the country faces many challenges in fighting this issue, in particular with regard to government corruption and economic strife, officials remain hopeful that Myanmar is headed in the right direction to curbing the flow of human trafficking within its borders. The test of time will demonstrate how serious the Myanmar government is in creating this change.

– Allison Meade

Sources: Human Trafficking , Republic of the Union of Myanmar , Knoxville Daily Sun

Prisoners_Myanmar
Myanmar has had a long history of political unrest and has taken thousands of political prisoners over the past few decades. In 2011 there were approximately 2,100 innocent prisoners, most of whom did not support the Burma’s military, or were members of the National League for Democracy (NLD).  But now, after decades of imprisonment for some, Myanmar President U Thein Sein has promised to release all of them by the end of the year. In doing so he acknowledged that the prisoners were indeed, still being held.

Most of the prisoners have already been released since 2010 when Thein Sein took power, but as of April 2013, 176 still remain, and Thein Sein has guaranteed that there are soon to be no political prisoners of conscience in Myanmar. He made the announcement during a speech at Chatham House in Britain (Burma’s former colonial power) on July 15, saying that a special committee was being appointed to go over every political inmate’s case. He was in London to discuss trade and military ties in order to boost Burma’s economy. The 2010 election was an important turning point for Burma, having replaced military rule with military backed civilian government.

The most noteable prisoner was Aung San Suu Kyi who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her work as head of the NLD in the 1990 election, when it won 59% of the votes and 81% of parliament seats. But the NLD was never able to take power because Suu Kyi had already been detained under house arrest as a prisoner for speaking out against brutal dictator U Ne Win in July 1989.  She spent 15 of the next 21 years as a political prisoner, until her release in November, 2010.

Since he took office, Thein Sein has been working to promote human rights in Burma, which has seen much sectarian violence such as the recent fighting and killing between local Buddhists and the minority of Muslims. Rohingya Muslims in Burma have been said to be the most oppressed religious group in the world today.

At their meeting in London, English Prime Minister David Cameron discussed Burma’s ongoing violence with Thein Sein, asking him to do more to create peace in the region. Thein Sein promised a “zero tolerance” policy against anyone who fuels ethnic hatred.

Emma McKay

Sources: New York Times, Freedom House, Biography.com, BBC
Photo: The Telegraph

mynamar_usaid_beach
Two years ago, Myanmar (also known as Burma) was the runt of Southeast Asia. For decades, it had suffered under autocratic military rule, entrenched human rights violations, and, at a 26% poverty rate, one of the region’s worst economies. But all that is starting to change.

In 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated the seaside nation, prompting a flood of international aid. Despite skepticism about aid impact, the global attention kickstarted major national reform in Myanmar. Jim Della-Giacoma, the director of the International Crisis Group in Asia, recently applauded the nation for handling the abrupt largesse transparently and efficiently—tendencies not often reflected in emerging governments.

In 2011, the decades-long civil war between the government and the Kachin rebels in Myanmar came to a ceasefire. The unprecedented peace has opened the gates wide for fostering economic growth and forging new global connections. The sprawling country is making visible strides out of almost 30 years of internal conflict and isolation and has become a harbor for international development work.

Not only is the nation poised for amplified development efforts, however—Myanmar has launched itself to the head of its league. In 2014, it will assume chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a bloc it joined in 1997. Its leadership will, among many things, be key to improved environmental policy in the region.

“I never thought I’d be talking about Myanmar’s influence in Southeast Asia,” said Carter Roberts, CEO of the World Wildlife Fund. “Sometimes there are moments when countries change governments and things happen, then shame on us if we don’t provide the right technical assistance at the right time.”

His words could almost be the roadmap for USAID, the US bilateral development agency that has been providing technical assistance in Myanmar since the country first opened international relations a few years ago. Under the “U.S.-Burma Partnership for Democracy, Peace and Prosperity” launched by President Obama last November, USAID is unfolding a three-pronged strategy to end health insecurity, boost the hi-tech industry, and encourage participatory governance in Myanmar.

The nation still faces serious human rights challenges, such as military persecution of its Muslim minority. Still, its ascent from hopeless destitution and obscurity to growing prosperity and leadership is staggering and offers hope to its many poor neighbors.

“There’s a real dialogue and engagement with government at a broad range of levels,” said Rajiv Shah, a USAID administrator in Myanmar. “There’s real progress.”

— John Mahon

Sources: Reuters, World Bank, Devex
Photo: Times Live

opium_opt
Opium is a narcotic, or an opioid. It is a white liquid made from the poppy plant, and is smoked in order to create euphoria. This is an addicting drug that can lead to physical dependence. Myanmar is the second-largest opium producer in the world. Myanmar, also known as Burma or the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, is located in Southeast Asia, and is bordered by China, India, Laos, Bangladesh, and Thailand. In a region known as “Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle” at the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, is notorious for its abundance of drugs and opium production through multiple poppy fields. This is one of the world’s primary sources of heroin, and the Myanmar government wishes to eliminate this opium production. Myanmar has been fighting opium within its borders for years, with little success. However, a new opium elimination program was recently created in order to tackle opium.

There was a peace initiative recently implemented in Shan State, which is the eastern part of Myanmar, which may end up helping the eradication of opium and poppies. The country manager of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Myanmar, or UNODC, Jason Eligh, detailed the plan to reporters. Basically, the plan is to help farmers wean themselves off of poppy in areas that are rebel-controlled. This will be done in order to gain trust and to help those opium producers find other ways to succeed, without having to turn to illegal means. The first step of this plan is to let survey staff enter Shan State, which grows 90% of the country’s poppies.

The plan was created under a partnership between the government of Myanmar and the military of Myanmar. Over the past few years, the growth rate of the poppy plant has increased, despite governmental attempts to lower it. Therefore, a new strategy was necessary in order to fight the growth of this plant. The government of Myanmar has partnered with the Restoration Council of Shan State, or RCSS, which has wanted independence for the past half century, but recently signed a ceasefire with the government in 2011. There are peace talks occurring at this time, and included in those peace talks is a promise to help farmers that are in poverty to have alternative development programmes, which would bring them away from the cultivation of poppy plants, or the temptation to grow them.

The plan to turn farmers to development programmes will occur from 2014 to 2017, and it is a multimillion dollar promise. The overall aim will be to help the infrastructure of Myanmar, as well as improve health and education. Still, a main component of the plan is crop substitution of the poppy plants, in order to raise citizens out of poverty and out of criminal activity. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, wishes to make Myanmar drug free by 2015. The Minister of Home Affairs, Lt-Gen Ko Ko, said that alternative development is the solution to the drug culture in Myanmar, and asked for international support, as well as international donors in order to help fund the project.

Overall, the situation in Myanmar is stressful and still a bit tense, but if this plan is enacted properly, it is entirely possible that there will be less or no opium production in Myanmar, and many farmers will be raised out of poverty and criminal activity.

– Corina Balsamo

Sources: The Jakarta Globe, IRIN News, DVB
Photo: The Telegraph

Rohingya_people_in_Myanmar

The Rohingya people represent a small Muslim minority in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar. They are denied citizenship, forbidden from colleges, and have suffered mass killings and violence that the government has done nothing to halt. And recently, Myanmar passed a law restricting Rohingya childbirths, an action which may qualify as an act of genocide.

The Rohingya people have lived in Myanmar since the eighth century. However, their existence was wiped from official record in 1982 with the passage of a citizenship law. The law had the effect of making the Rohingya stateless peoples, illegal immigrants in their own country, with no rights or international recognition.

Rohingya people have experienced harsh violence and now will suffer an enforced two-child limit. The limitation is officially claimed as an effort to ease tensions between the Buddhist majority and Muslim minority, however the policy serves as a frightening indicator that genocide may not be far away. Genocide Watch has even gone so far as to issue a “Genocide Emergency Alert” for Myanmar, and the United Nations has also expressed similar concerns.

Genocide Watch breaks down genocides into eight distinct stages. In order, they are as follows: Classification, Symbolization, Dehumanization, Organization, Polarization, Preparation, Extermination and Denial. Myanmar is quickly ticking stages off the list.

Rohingya people are regularly forced to live in ethnic enclaves with enforced curfews. They experience intense violence which the government has done little if anything to prevent. They are becoming increasingly isolated from resources and from the outside world. If nothing is done to stop these policies, the Rohingya may be removed entirely from their country. The international community must act now to hold the Burmese government responsible and stop the eradication of the Rohingya ethnic group before it is too late.

-Caitlin Zusy

Sources: UN Dispatch, News.com
Photo: News.com

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South Korea’s Saemaul Undong, or New Community, movement of the 1970s is lauded as one of the most successful economic development programs in modern Asia. This week the South Korean government announced its plans to use the experience and knowledge gained through this initiative to help the new government of Myanmar spur development in the Southeast Asian country.

The announcement came as the finance ministers of the two countries met to discuss future expansion of bilateral economic cooperation between the countries. The South Korean model is a community-based rural development program credited with modernizing the country’s economy and greatly reducing domestic poverty. The approach could offer effective strategies and guidelines for the future development of Myanmar as the emphasis is on enacting measures appropriate to the given political, economic, and social contexts  and is not about catch-all international theories.

As the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia and located in a prime position between the major global economies of India and China, Myanmar has great development potential. South Korea understands the unique opportunities that an investment in the economic expansion of Myanmar could potentially offer. In addition to an ad hoc advisory role at the policy level, South Korea is also pledging assistance to build a “Korea-Myanmar friendship bridge” over the Yangon River.

The bridge would allow more disconnected, rural communities new and expanded growth opportunities. South Korea also acknowledges that the assistance would have a public relations element, with the aid garnering the country a favorable opinion from the people of Myanmar. Such positive public opinion would definitely be helpful when South Korean companies begin to venture into Myanmar’s economy. Such an entrance will more than likely initially center around a planned industrial complex on the southern part of the Yangon River. The complex is set to involve South Korean investment.

Despite the promising investments from abroad, Myanmar faces significant challenges to its development. The country’s transition from an authoritarian regime with a tightly controlled economy to a democracy with free markets is certainly daunting. With over a quarter of its population living in poverty, Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in East Asia.

This poverty carries population challenges, like the high rate of 32% for children under the age of five suffering from malnutrition. While such a statistic holds concerns for the future and quality of social and economic development within Myanmar, other issues have more direct and immediate effects on development. Chief among these issues is the lack of modern infrastructure. Most notably, 75% of the population does not have access to electricity. With electricity consumption stuck at 20 times below the world average, the country faces huge barriers to entering the global market.

Fostering real, sustainable development in a country with such limited availability of basic, modern infrastructure capabilities will be a difficult challenge. These unique challenges, though, are potentially well-suited to the model of the South Korean Saemaul Undong. Through the empowerment of the rural communities and major investment, both domestic and foreign, in infrastructure, Myanmar could be well on its way to becoming the new Asian success story.

– Lauren Brown

Source: Asia-Pacific Development Journal, World Bank, Global Post
Photo: Donga News