Monthly Archives: September 2008

Prayer for Burma: Child soldiers

The military regime in Burma is believed to be the worst user of child soldiers in the world. Thousands of children serve in the Tatmadaw. Extensive “recruitment drives” including forcable conscrption  of children are needed make up for the very high rates of desertion and absence of volunteers. Six reports to the UN Security Council have since 2002 identified the regime as one of the worst violators of children’s rights in this way.

In 2005 the UN Security Council addressed the issue, among other measures:

The Council also reaffirmed its intention to consider imposing, through country-specific resolutions, targeted and graduated measures, such as a ban on the export and supply of small arms and light weapons and of other military equipment, against parties to armed conflicts on the agenda of the Council and in violation of applicable international law relating to the rights and protection of children in armed conflict.
(See Press Release SC/8458)

Yet the dictators in Naypyidaw continue to pressgang children. The International Herald Tribune yesterday, under the title “Child soldiers and the China factor” featured the story of one of them:

Myin Win was 11 years old when he was first recruited into Burma’s national army. He was picked up by soldiers while selling vegetables at a railway station and sent to a military training camp. He weighed only 70 pounds, or about 32 kilograms, and said that the guns were so heavy he could hardly lift them.He was able to escape, but was recruited a second time at the age of 14. This time he tried to negotiate. “I’ll give you money,” he said to the lance corporal. The recruiter replied, “I don’t want your money.” Myin Win said, “I’ll call my mother and she can vouch for me.” The soldier told him, “I don’t want to see your mother or father and I don’t want money. I want you to join the army.”

Myin Win was sent to training again and, while still only 14, deployed into ethnic minority areas where he was ordered to burn down houses and capture civilians. “We were ordered that if we see anyone, including women and children, then we must approach and catch them and take them to our officers for interrogation,” he said. “If they try to run, shoot them.”

According to the article the UN has been successful in reducing the problem elsewhere:

The approach to Burma is in stark contrast to the Security Council working group’s tough – and effective – approach to other perpetrators like Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Last year the Security Council threatened sanctions against the Tamil Tigers for the group’s use of child soldiers during Sri Lanka’s two-decade-long civil war, and gave a six-month deadline for action. It worked. Reports of child recruitment by the Tamil Tigers dropped from 1,090 in 2004 to 26 in the first six months of this year.

In other cases, the Security Council has also obtained results. In Ivory Coast, it pushed government and rebel forces to adopt action plans to end child recruitment; the practice has now been abandoned in that country. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, it referred information on violations to sanctions committees and urged the arrest and prosecution of commanders responsible for child recruitment. Although some child recruitment continues in the country, an estimated 30,000 child soldiers have been released or demobilized since 2003.

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Praying for Burma

What can we pray for today? There’s no new news. Well, it’s true that Radio Australia is reporting US ‘deeply concerned’ over Burma’s Suu Kyi and various news agencies have caught up on the idea that her party (since it won the last free elections) should take the place of the Generals in the UN. But neither are really new. I have come across no new neat videos to share with you…

But then the situation is much the same as it has been for twenty years, since the thugs took over. Forced labour, rape, terror and imprisonment of anyone who speaks out, just a normal day in Burma and that’s what we should pray about. Change. God knows how it will come. We may hope for a united opposition (with Suu Kyi’s party and the ethnic minorities all acting with one accord) or may dream of ASEAN neighbours really turning the screws, or China seeing the chance to distract the West from its domestic situation by pressuring its clients in Naypyidaw. But these are merely hopes and dreams, how change will come God alone knows! But that is the point, God does know, we should pray to be shown as quickly as possible 🙂

Prayer for Burma: James Cameron Video

This video, one of a series of celebrity videos on YouTube from US Campaign for Burma explains well why we should do more than pray, do encourage your friends to write to their representatives, or at least do something!

Prayer for Burma

The Bangkok Post says:

Thailand will try to convince Burma to allow the United Nations to play a role in its general elections scheduled for 2010, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said yesterday.

Mr Samak, speaking at the Foreign Ministry yesterday, said the UN’s experience in organising elections in Cambodia and East Timor could help Thailand’s neighbour return to democracy.

Maybe Thailand’s unpopular (though elected) prime-minister can use his friendship with the generals to achieve something useful?

PS, I have just read in the paper that Thai PM Samak Sundaravej is being removed from office (for working in another job, on a cooking show!) so first we should pray for the Thai political instability, as that will impact greatly on Burmese people in Thailand and through however it is resolved on the future of Burma. (See The Times Online for more details.)

Thanksgiving?

Refugees International a US-based organisation recently studied the access now offered to “over forty humanitarian organizations inside Burma” to reach the areas struck by cyclone Nargis

All report access to any requested part of the delta, including ethnic minority areas, and the ability to send international staff to train, implement and monitor programs without obstruction. Since June, over 1,000 visas have been granted to international aid workers. Similarly, agencies report the ability to resolve problems with the government, and praise the Tripartite Core Group (TCG) – the cyclone response structure comprised of working levels of the Burmese government, ASEAN and the United Nations – as an effective mechanism for resolving disputes. The TCG has ably removed obstacles related to visas, Foreign Exchange Certificates and the importation of food, among others.

Prayer for Burma

I’m praying that Sarah Armitage’s Facebook post (see below) will provoke others too – maybe you? – to write to their representatives or the media about the situation in Burma. Polite silence in the rest of the world allows the junta to carry on with “business as usual”. In view of the disturbing news about Aung San Suu Kyi, excternal pressure may be particularly needed just now. The Sydney Morning Herald reported a couple of days ago:

Burma’s detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has refused to meet with the junta’s liaison officer and declined a visit from her personal physician, state media said…

The military had arranged for her to meet on Tuesday with Labour Minister Aung Kyi, who is tasked with coordinating official talks with her, the government mouthpiece New Light of Burma said.

But she informed her lawyer Kyi Win during a meeting on Monday that she would not speak with the minister, and also refused to see her doctor who had been set to give her a medical check-up, the paper said…

Lawyer Kyi Win said after his meeting with her Monday that she had lost weight but seemed to be feeling well.

He said they discussed a planned appeal of her current detention, which began more than five years ago.

She has met with her lawyer three times over the last month. Before August, she had not been allowed to see him since 2004.

Why I’d like YOU to write to your representative

I have only written to my MP a very few times in my four decades as a voter, so you could hardly call me a political activist 😉 But this week I wrote to the Hon Phil Goff who is the MP for my constituency. I reproduced the letter on my personal blog and now here, in the hopes that others might want to write something similar to their representatives. Please do take a few minutes to write, if enough of us do it might make a tiny difference. Sometimes prayer alone is not enough we have of actually DO something 😉

Email to my Representative the Hon Phil Goff MP

Dear Mr Goff,

I am writing to you, as you are my constituency MP, and a previous Foreign Minister, and because I imagine that the Prime Minister who is (I believe) standing in as Foreign Minister currently is probably even busier than you are 😉

I am puzzled that a Labour-led government (who I would expect to be concerned for basic human rights and dignity) does not seem to have been at all active in taking steps to encourage a resolution to the twenty year old conflict in Burma where a military junta, which assumed power in the wake of protests at a previous military government, has been systematically and brutally suppressing all dissent, refusing to negotiate with either the current opposition or with the political party elected by an overwhelming majority in the last free elections, and instead setting up a bogus process which is intended to cement their own rule. The junta is guilty of documented crimes against humanity, including the use of forced labour and rape as a weapon, in their suppression of ethnic minorities.

I have not written to a politician on such a topic before, but the latest case just seems so disgusting (see the account below this message) and comes only days after we signed a free trade deal which includes the Myanmar (Burma) Junta among its beneficiaries, that I felt this time I could not simply stand by and ignore my country’s complicity in these crimes.

[Account of the rape of Nhkum Hkawn Din from Sarah Armitage, Partners UK & Childcare Projects Coordinator.

On 27th July 2008 near Nam Sai village, Kachin State, Nhkum Hkawn Din left her house to take food to her brother who was working in a paddy field on their parent’s farm. When her brother returned home later that day not having seen her, the family realised that something was wrong. After searching most of the evening, she was reported missing.

Towards the end of the third day of searching, her clothes and shoes were found alongside the basket she had been carrying to her brother. Her body, naked and mutilated, was finally found only 200 metres away from a Burma Army checkpoint. According to family members she had been gang raped and then further violated with knives. Her skull had been crushed beyond recognition and her facial features obliterated. Her eyes had been gouged out and her throat was cut. She had also been stabbed in the stomach and on her right side.

Local witnesses say that they saw Nhkum Hkawn Din being followed by Burma Army soldiers on her way to the paddy field and that they saw the soldiers, one of who was recognised as a Colonel, leave the area a little later on.

The local army commanders have admitted that one of their lower ranking soldiers, Soe Thu Win, carried out the attack. He was recognised by witnesses during a line-up and later confessed under interrogation. It has been stated that he will be sentenced to 20 years in jail without trial. The Colonel was not interrogated and has since been relocated.

The family have been offered $500 plus some food (1 bag of rice, cooking oil, 5 cans of milk and some sugar) as compensation.

There has been no official investigation and once again the Burma Army are getting away with murder.

Rape is systematically used as a weapon of war against ethnic minorities in Burma, more than a thousand cases have been documented. There is also a culture of impunity, where no action is taken against soldiers who rape. On June 19th The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1820 noting that rape and sexual violence can be described as a crime against humanity.]

Yours faithfully,

Tim Bulkeley