Mae La Refugee Camp under flood

In the last 48 hours, Zone C1A in Mae La Refugee Camp on the Thai-Burma border, and which is home to some 40–50,000 refugees, mostly Karen, has been hit with a big flood. As if life in the camp isn’t hard enough as it is …

Thankfully, there has been no loss of life. The damage at this stage has been mostly to school furniture and books.

If you’re the praying kind, then folk in the camp would greatly value your prayers at this time.

And if you’re able to help out financially, then donations marked ‘Mae La Refugee Camp Flood Fund’ can be made via PayPal (contact me for details) or directly to this bank account:

Name: Moe Win Tun Kin
Bank: Commonwealth Bank of Australia
BSB number: 063 622
Account number: 1024 8600


Some vodcast shout outs

Time away typically allows me the chance to catch up on some of my favourite podcasts and vodcasts, and to clear some room in my iTunes library. Two of my favourite vodcasts are Insight and 101 East. I just wanted to give a wee shout out about some interesting recent episodes from both. From Insight:

and from 101 East:

Patterns of Abuse: Photographs of rural life in a militarized Karen State

I have sometimes used this blog to draw attention to the humanitarian abuses facing Karen and Burmese people, two people groups most dear to me. And a few weeks ago, I mentioned that the Karen Human Rights Group (whose important work focuses on the human rights situation of villagers in rural Burma) has produced a 98-page photo-annotated album called Patterns of Abuse: Photographs of rural life in a militarized Karen State. This nicely-produced book contains 125 images taken over a 17-year period and depicts life in rural Karen State. My copy of the book arrived in our mailbox yesterday, and it powerfully documents the most tragic of human rights abuses against a most resilient people living under – and resisting – one of the most oppressive and evil regimes in history. A well-written introduction presents an accurate survey of the historical and political context that the Karen face, and subsequent sections illustrate and describe village life in Karen State, life in State Peace and Development Council-Controlled areas, life in non State Peace and Development Council-Controlled areas, as well as sections on soldiers and various portraits.

That neighbouring-Thailand’s welcome increasingly seems to be running dry only adds to the deep sense of anxiety that the 133,000+ Karen refugees experience, an anxiety further fed by the increasing sense of donor fatigue over a prolonged refugee crisis.

Please consider purchasing a copy. All proceeds support the work of KHRG.

Weekly wanderings

Lindis Pass

News from a Tyrannised Nation: a Karen Update

Karen VillageThree items just in from the Karen Human Rights Group:

Over 700 villagers flee to Thailand amidst fears of SPDC/DKBA attacks on a KNLA camp and an IDP camp in Pa’an District

Villagers in Pa’an District, Karen State, have begun fleeing to Thailand to avoid violence and forced recruitment as porters in possible a joint SPDC/DKBA attack on a KNLA camp in Dta Greh Township, located next to a now populous IDP camp along the Moei River, bordering Thailand. This news bulletin describes the events of the past four days in which SPDC and DKBA forces have advanced towards the KNLA camp and begun what appears to be preparation for an attack. SPDC soldiers have begun patrolling and have set up an 81 mm mortar not far from the site and displaced villagers living in the area have become increasingly concerned about their safety.


 Karen 1Don’t neglect rural Burma in calling for Suu Kyi’s release

Following the arrest of the American John Yettaw on May 5th 2009, Burma’s pro-democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was charged with violating the terms of her house arrest, moved to Insein Prison and put on trial. The international community has responded to these events with a flurry of attention on Burma not seen since Cyclone Nargis last year. Heads of State, activists and newspaper editors have renewed calls for her immediate release. At the same time, Burma Army operations in Karen State and other rural ethnic areas along with their associated human rights abuses remain ongoing and widespread. Yet once again the situation of abuse in rural Burma has been marginalised in favour of the more high profile political drama in the country’s urban settings. In calling, quite rightly, for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the international community must neither neglect the situation of abuse in rural Burma nor miss current opportunities to support those who face this abuse.


 Karen 2Whatever happened to the 2007 protesters?: Interviews with convict porters

This report presents January 2009 interviews with two former SPDC convict porters. Both men are originally from Arakan State, Western Burma, and participated in the 2007 demonstrations against the rising cost of living. These demonstrations culminated in September 2007 with the large-scale monk-led protests and subsequent military crackdown. Both men were arrested by SPDC authorities for their activities, forced to serve as porters for the Burma Army in Karen State and eventually escaped captivity. Their testimonies cover issues such as SPDC-sponsored murder of convict porters, corruption within Burma’s judiciary and systematic SPDC abuses perpetrated against prisoners. The interviews also give insight into the possible fates of other Burmese citizens who have tried to voice dissent in Burma’s authoritarian environment, whether as part of the September 2007 protests or otherwise.

News from Burma

Al-Jazeera television recently aired the following Burma Campaign UK report on the plight of Karen refugees on the Burma-Thai border:

aung-san-suu-kyiOn a related matter, Glasgow City Council recently awarded Aung San Suu Kyi with a Freedom Of The City in absentia. Their media release reads:

‘Burmese pro-democracy campaigner Dr Aung San Suu Kyi will be given the Freedom of the City of Glasgow in absentia, at the City Chambers at noon on Wednesday, March 4.

A representative of the iconic politician, Dr Thuang Htun, will accept the award on her behalf.  Dr Suu Kyi remains under house arrest imposed by Burma’s military regime.

Dr Htun is a representative for United Nations Affairs for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma. He also represents the democracy movement at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

In advance of accepting the award on Dr Suu Kyi’s behalf, Dr Htun commented on the irony of the situation. He said: “The fact that Dr Aung San Suu Kyi should be given the freedom of a city far from her home, at a time that she is denied even basic freedoms in her own country is a sharp reminder of the reality of today’s Burma.”

Lord Provost Bob Winter will present the honour to Dr Htun who will also be presented with a silver plate and a crested scroll. He will then be guest of honour at a special lunch.

The Lord Provost said: “It is with profound respect and admiration for Dr Aung San Suu Kyi’s unflinching bravery that the Council has conferred upon her the Freedom of the City of Glasgow. This is tempered with frustration that she cannot be here today, in person.

“However, I am delighted that her loyal representative Dr Htun has been able to visit our city to accept the award in her absence. He goes with our very best wishes for Dr Suu Kyi, a shining beacon of hope in her country.”

The Freedom of the City Award was originally proposed by Amnesty International and Glasgow Women’s Library.

John Watson, Amnesty’s International’s Scottish Programme Director, said:
“Aung San Suu Kyi is an inspiration to the people of Burma and to those around the world who applaud bravery and dignity in the face of oppression. Amnesty International congratulates Glasgow City Council on its decision to present her with its highest award”

Dr Adele Patrick of Glasgow Women’s Library said: “As part of Glasgow Women’s Library’s ongoing efforts to celebrate, uncover, and promote women’s cultural and political achievements locally and globally we warmly congratulate Glasgow City Council’s decision to offer Dr Aung San Suu Kyi the Freedom of the City.

“We acknowledge how this award raises the profile of the life and work of this remarkable woman and, by extension the people of Burma. We look forward to more pioneering women being added to this roll of honour.”

Dr Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, wartime leader of Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL, assassinated 1947). She has endured prolonged periods of detention and imprisonment over the past 20 years by Burma’s oppressive regime.

She founded the National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1988 and was swiftly put under house arrest with the offer of freedom if she left Burma.

In 1990 the NLD won the general election decisively and once again Dr Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest. The election result was nullified by a military junta. This was also the year she was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Accepting the prize Dr Suu Kyi said: “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it. “

The following year she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and donated the $1.3 million prize money to establish a health and education trust for the people of Burma’.

I recall the closing words from an album that is very fastly growing on me: ‘Choose your enemies carefully ‘cos they will define you/Make them interesting ‘cos in some ways they will mind you/They’re not there in the beginning but when the story ends/Gonna last with you longer than your friends’.

Growing up under militarisation

The Karen Human Rights Group has just released a 174-page report on the effects on children growing up in the context of violence – because of both ongoing armed conflict in Burma and Karen State (Kawthoolei; lit. ‘the land without evil’) and because of other more serious structural violence committed by the State. The report makes for sombre reading even while its very existence is a voice of hopeful protest; or, as Moltmann puts it, ‘There is already true life in the midst of the life that is false’. Here’s a blurb:

As the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the military junta currently ruling Burma, works to extend and consolidate its control over all areas of Karen State, local children, their families and communities confront regular, often violent, abuses at the hands of the regime’s officers, soldiers and civilian officials. While the increasing international media attention on the human rights situation in Burma has occasionally addressed the plight of children, such reporting has been almost entirely incident-based, and focused on specific, particularly emotive issues, such as child soldiers. Although incident-based reporting is relevant, it misses the far greater problems of structural violence, caused by the oppressive social, economic and political systems commensurate with militarisation, and the combined effects of a variety of abuses, which negatively affect a far larger number of children in Karen State. Furthermore, focusing on specific, emotive issues sensationalises the abuses committed against children and masks the complexities of the situation. In reports on children and armed conflict in Karen State and elsewhere, individual children’s agency, efforts to resist abuse and capacity to deal with the situations they live in, as well as the efforts made by their families and communities to provide for and protect them, tend to be marginalised and ignored. Drawing on over 160 interviews with local children, their families and communities, this report seeks to provide a forum for these people to explain in their own words the wider context of abuse and their own responses to attempts at denying children their rights. With additional background provided by official SPDC press statements and order documents, international media sources, reports by international aid agencies, as well as academic studies, this report argues that only by listening to local voices regarding the situation of abuse in which they live and taking as a starting point for advocacy and action local conceptions of rights and violations can external actors avoid the further marginalisation of children living in these areas and begin to build on villagers’ own strategies for resisting abuse and claiming their rights.

The full report can be downloaded here as a pdf.

As for Burma’s ruling junta, that trinity of evil – Maung Aye, Than Shwe and Shwe Mann – convert or kill them Lord. How long, O Lord? How long?

Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan – Requiescat in pace

Readers of this blog will know of my abiding interest in Burmese politics and, in particular, the Karen people. I am deepened saddened to hear today of the assassination (on 14 February 2008) of Padoh Mahn Sha by agents of the Burmese military regime. Apparently, two gunmen entered his house and shot him in the chest. For those who do not know, Padoh Mahn Sha was General Secretary of the Karen National Union which represents the Karen ethnic group in Burma in their struggle for democracy and human rights. He was a greatly respected leader who had dedicated his life to the struggle for freedom. There are no secrets why he was the target of this brutal assassination by one of the most suppressive and evil regimes in history.

There is an interview with Padoh here.

Also, a fund has been set up by his children to assist in the fight against poverty and for education in Karen state. Donations can be made online.

For those interested in following news from Burma, visit Burma Digest.

Recent Meanderings

1. I really enjoyed listening to this talk on the relationship between theology and science by Professor John Polkinghorne.

2. Ben, the father of a growing family, gives us a great wee review and critique of Spong’s latest book, Jesus for the Non-Religious. I reproduce his punchy conclusion here:

‘in spite of Spong’s characterisation of his own book as radical, “shocking” and “audacious” (pp. 10, 290), the real problem is that this book is not radical enough. The Jesus who emerges from these pages is ultimately indistinguishable from any other respectably innocuous, politically correct member of the Western middle classes. Instead of provoking a challenging political or theological response, therefore, this Jesus serves to justify our own values and assumptions. To adopt such a Jesus is like the new tendency of consumers to purchase “carbon offsets” as compensation for their own greenhouse emissions: one makes a seemingly radical gesture precisely in order to ensure that nothing changes! Like purchasing a carbon offset, Spong’s Jesus – far from challenging us or provoking us to action – simply reassures us that all is well. Bishop Spong’s Jesus may be useful and consoling, then, but he is not especially interesting, much less unique. He poses no threat, no challenge. He makes no demands. He tells us nothing that we didn’t know already. And for just that reason, it’s hard to see why “the non-religious” – or anyone else, for that matter – should have any special regard for this Jesus’.

3. I was inspired by this. The photo gallery is brilliant and you can read more here.

4. The ongoing Karen-Burmese conflict on the Thai-Burma Border continues to sporadically make news. The discussion starts about 18 minutes into this podcast.

5. ‘Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule’ (Stephen King). Whadda load of debris, dregs, dross, junk, litter, lumber, offal, refuse, rubble, rummage, scrap, sweepings, trash, waste, balderdash, bilge, bunkum, claptrap, crap, drivel, gibberish, hogwash, hooey, junk, moonshine, poppycock, rot, tommyrot, balderdash, baloney, bilge, etc… you get the idea.