Universe Column for 21st January 2007
by David Alton
This year’s Global Day of Prayer for Burma will be held on March 11th. It will be a chance to focus on the continuing atrocities committed by the Burmese military junta against the ethnic minorities; and a chance to highlight the continued captivity of Aung San Suu Kyi.
In 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League For Democracy decisively won the elections which the junta allowed to be held in Burma. Under normal circumstances, she would have been sworn in as Prime Minister.
Instead, the military set aside the results and refused to hand over power. Despite international denunciation and representations – and, in recognition of her bravery, she was awarded the Sakharov Prize and the Nobel Peace Prize – she remains under house arrest to this day.
For five years, from 1995 until 200, some of the restrictions were removed but even when her British born husband, Michael Aris, was dying of cancer in 1999, the regime would not allow him to visit her – and she never saw him again. . She remains separated from her children who live in the UK. She is currently said to be in good health, but is refused regular access to her doctor and visitors are not permitted to see her.
Meanwhile, her people continue to suffer every possible depredation.
In the Karen State, which I have visited illegally, mass murder has been committed. What has occurred there can only be described as genocide (in the technical and legal sense of that word).
By illustration let me share some information which I was recently sent about a group of villagers who were forced to clear landmines and act as human shields.
Karen people from 12 villages surrounding Baw Ga Lyi Gyi (on the Toungoo-Mawchi road) were recently forced to act as human shields around a bulldozer clearing the roadway of potential landmines.
In one village of 55 households, the Burma Army forced 1 person from each household to become human landmine sweepers or human shield. In another instance, 850 villagers were forced to carry supplies for the Burma Army and to act as human minesweepers along the same road.
The regime has a callous disregard for the lives of the people they enslave. One group that I am in touch with in the Karen State told me about 1,700 prisoners who have been forced to porter loads. Of these, 265 died – many were executed. In the Nyaunglebyn District, of the over 400 porters used in that area, over 20 have died. These include children.
As we commemorate the bicentenary of the decision taken 200 years ago to abolish slavery in Britain it is worth reflecting on the cruel barbarities of life that persist in Burma today.
Enslaved labour is routinely used by the Burmese military. It is widespread, systematic and brutal. Men, women and children are forced to carry loads, build up camps and provide labour on demand. Prisoner porters are also used to carry loads, build camps and act as human minesweepers. Many die; others are executed. In just one area of Burma alone independent witnesses say that during 2006 some 76 men, women and children were killed and 25,000 displaced.
If you want to help focus attention on this continued suffering consider taking part in the Global Day for Prayer on March 11th. Further information may be obtained from Christians Concerned for Burma firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.prayforburma.org