Sunday, May 13, 2012

12-5-2012 Two-day workshop on 2012 by-elections in Burma

Press Release
12 May 2012
Two-day workshop on 2012 by-elections in Burma

A two-day workshop on 2012 by-elections in Burma was jointly organised by North Eastern Social Research Centre (NESRC), Guwahati and Burma Centre Delhi (BCD) at North East Diocesan Social Forum Guwahati on May 11 and 12, 2012. Melvil Pereiro, director of NESRC chaired the first session.

Chairman of NESRC Dr. Walter Fernandes who delivered the keynote address on May 11 said that Northeast being closest to Burma, what happens there has serious implications for the NE region. Stating that the minorities were not getting justice in Burma, Dr. Walter also asserted that justice can be delivered only through the democratic process. So the NE has a very strong interest in Burma, he said and underscored the importance of NE people coming together on the issue and talk to the government of India about its look east policy and what it meant in the context of Burma. He said it was needed for the participants to go back to their states and continue the discussion.

Dr Alana Golmei of BCD termed the entry of Suu Kyi into the Burmese Parliament at Nay Pyi Taw a landmark victory for pro-democracy movements in Burma. However, she pointed out that, despite this landmark victory, the fact remains that the NLD would hold less than 7 per cent of the Parliamentary seats.

“Hence it will be a pressing task for them to go for a meaningful reform process including the amendments to the 2008 Burmese Constitution. Another major challenge and urgent issue to be addressed is the plight of the ethnic nationalities in Burma,” Dr Golmei said.

Former MP of National League for Democracy, Dr. Tint Swe said the once flourishing Moreh trade centre has become deserted today at a time when India was talking big about connectivity with Myanmar. Dr. Swe said although there is democratic transition taking place yet democracy still hangs in balance. He was apprehensive of the junta going back to square one in the governance of the country. He appealed well wishers of Burma to help accelerate the democratic process.

Dr. Swe strongly advocated people-to-people contact in northeast India to drum up support for amendment of the Myanmar constitution which was drafted by the military government. Involvement of the civil societies in extra parliamentary activities would really help the Burma in the process of democratization, he said.

Chairman of Naga National League for Democracy in exile, U Saw Sa said Nagas of Burma are the most neglected tribe and that till date there are no proper roads, schools, electricity, water supply and health care centres. The few kms of road are roughly constructed making it difficult for vehicles ply leading to loss of life due to accidents. Total Naga population is around 2-3 lakhs. He said the main objective of NNLD is to fight for restoration of democracy in Burma and creation of political status for Nagas in Burma.

Addressing the workshop from the civil society perspective on the ongoing reforms in Burma and its implications in the NE, social activist from Nagaland, Niketu Iralu said the military junta in Naypyidaw has not suddenly become a congregation of saints who want to do the right thing for their people. He said that the gruesome sobering pictures of Global TV showing the all-powerful dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya etc coming to their miserable ends were the wake-up calls to the ruthless generals. Admiring the democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her struggle, the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Iralu said if people decide to be as responsible and committed as them, the world would see how the human race can survive and progress together in the 21 century. He added that the challenge was going to become tougher decade by decade. Further, he said unless people decide to be incorruptible agents of change agents of change guided by the still small voice within, it would simply add more to the crisis.

Ex-MLA from Nagaland, Tangsoi Khongo said the Nagas in Burma are trying to cope with the sudden changes taking place there. He spoke about the forced labour upon the tribals. Those refusing to work are jailed, he said. He appealed the government to take steps to understand what is happening and intervene for the safety and protection of the people.

Nava Thakuria, a senior journalist based in Guwahati observed that the mainstream Indian media is influenced by the foreign policies of New Delhi, while reporting the issues related to Burma. However he argues that sitting in Guwahati one can report about Burma with his own perspective. The media houses in northeast India should develop sources inside Burma to project the country as it is without any colour.

BCD coordinator, Mr Kim spoke on “ethnic nationalities and possible peace in Burma.” He said there are seven main ethnic groups (Shan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Mon, Karenni (Kaya), Rakhine), seven states & 7 divisions, six new self-administered areas. He said the ethnic people comprised of 40% of total population and their land made up 60% of Burma’s total land. He said the ceasefire agreement with various rebel groups brought no positive changes for ethnic groups. He said the natural resources in ethnic areas are over-exploited with expropriation of ethnic groups’ lands. He also mentioned about the violation of human rights in Kachin State committed extensively by military personnel upon ethnic civilians.

Director of Zo Indigenous Forum, Lalremruata Rema presented paper on “Social and Legal status of Chin Refugees in Mizoram.” He pointed out that the Mizos and Chins share the same genetic, cultural, historical, and linguistic heritage, as they all descended from the Zo people. He said the total number of Chins in Mizoram was more than one lakhs in Mizoram which constitute 10% of the total population.

He suggested strengthening the relations between Chins and Mizo living in Mizoram and also setting up of UNHCR office in Guwahati or Aizawl.

Secretary General of Zomi Human Rights Foundation, Suanmoi Guite presented paper on “Deep rooted causes of Burmese refugees and economic migrant in Manipur, NE India.” He said the international border fencing propose by the MHA India’s internal security could deny the cultural rights of indigenous tribal people across the international border. He said no infrastructures were set up in the areas bordering the international border.

Journalist from Nagaland working with The Morung Express, K. Filip Sumi spoke about media perspective on the 2012 by-elections in Burma. He cited reports of the harsh restrictions that the media in Myanmar faced during the elections by the government who issued a list of do’s and don’ts.

He said the government in Burma need to exempt pre-publication censorship of articles for a total democracy to take place. He also said freedom of the press should not fall short of the right to criticise and freely express opinions.

Kabi Gangmei, a social worker based in Shillong who had recently visited many remote parts of Burma, observed that Myanmar’s future is secured only in a democratic set-up, where ethnic communities are respected and resources are shared equally. He concluded saying that a democratic Burma will also be a more trusted friend for India in the long run.

The two day workshop titled ‘Reflections on 2012 by-elections in Burma’, which was organised by Burma Centre Delhi (BCD) and North Eastern Social Research Centre (NESRC), also insisted that the Indian citizens should maintain the same sympathetic approach to hundred thousand Burmese refugees taking shelter in Mizoram and some other parts of the country.

At the end of the workshop, a five-point recommendation was adopted for a follow process.

1. Review of Vision 2020 for the Northeast
2. Checking and preventing drugs, arms and human trafficking between the NE and Burma
3. Establishing dialogue and cooperation between the divided communities of Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Burma
4. Common effort to repeal AFSPA
5. Consequences of the democratic process in Burma to the Look East Policy

Dr. Walter Fernandes
North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati, Assam

Dr. Alana Golmei
Burma Centre Delhi (BCD)

For more information, kindly contact;
Dr. Alana Golmei
Mob: +91-9968291645

Dr. Walter Fernandes
Tel. +91-361-2602819