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Change we can believe in?

November 16, 2011

After the demilitarization of the Burmese government, many – especially outside the country – has hoped and believed that something was changing in Burma. That real democratic reform was finally on its way. And, granted, there have been some small reforms. A few short, faltering steps in the right direction. Such as the so-called prisoner amnesty on 12. October.

However, while less than 300 political prisoners have been released, more than 1000 still suffer in Burmese jails. The laws that put them behind bars are still in place. So are the very people who made and enforced these laws.

Despite some small political reforms, human rights abuses in Burma have actually increased in the past year, according to Burma Campaign UK. While the Burmese government keeps promising reforms, the Army has stepped up attacks against several ethnic groups. Women are raped, and homes mortar-bombed. According to Burma Campaign UK, 150,000 civilians were forced to flee their homes in the past year.

This is not real change. If anything, it is a turn for the worse. While the world seems to believe – or want to believe – that the generals are loosening their grip on the Burmese society, the opposite might still be happening behind the scenes.

This week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is meeting Burma’s President, Thein Sein, on the fringes of a summit of South East Asian countries. Urge him to use this opportunity to deliver a strong message that the international community will not be fooled by limited and cosmetic change in Burma. Tell him to demand the immediate release of all political prisoners, and a nationwide ceasefire before sanctions can be lifted. These acts would not solve all of Burma’s problems and make the country a democracy overnight. However, they would be signs of real change. Maybe even change we can believe in.

UPDATE: On 1. December, US president Barack Obama will send secretary of state Hilary Clinton to Burma. This is the first time in 50 years, an U.S. secretary of state visits the country, and a golden opportunity to take advantage of Burmese president Thein Sein’s interest in a better relationship with the United States. Please urge Clinton to use this opportunity to press for an end to the crimes against humanity committed by the Burmese Army and the release of all Burma’s political prisoners.

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