Human-rights groups specializing in Southeast Asia say they are worried that the Burmese elections, expected in October, never will happen.
Joseph Allchin of the Democratic Voice of Burma says the vote is looking less likely every day.
“It is looking unlikely that the elections will take place in October, there has been nothing in the way of official announcement as to a date. Many suspected that they would be in October because of the regime’s fondness for numerology; 10.10.2010. But this looks to be a bit soon.”
A source inside the U.S. State Department who asked not to be identified also said that the U.S. government isn’t sure the elections will go forward.
The Democratic Voice’s Allchin said actions by the Burmese government don’t reflect a desire for elections. Allchin cited Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party’s decertification.
The party “did not register as a party because of the clause that no persons with a criminal record or a foreign spouse could run or lead a party. Most people in the party who have done anything or who are of any consequence, such as being elected, have been jailed at some stage or another,” Allchin stated.
Suu Kyi’s marriage to an Englishman is one reason she was disqualified from running and holding office.
“Aung San Suu Kyi is routinely viewed with suspicion because she married an English scholar. She is now under house arrest. The junta will always attempt to distance ‘misdemeanors’ from politics and officially says they have no political prisoners,” Allchin explained.
“When an amnesty is declared they are released after signing a document promising that they won’t continue their involvement in politics. They keep Suu Kyi inside to try and silence her and her party, with the hope that she will cease to be important to the Burmese population,” Allchin added.
“There may be the hope that she will die unknown and insignificant of natural causes,” Allchin said.
Bob Dietz of the Committee to Protect Journalists agreed that elections this fall are unlikely.
However, Australian Human Rights lawyer, Montagnard activist and Burma specialist Scott Johnson believes that, likely or not, any elections will be a fraud. Johnson also takes aim at political leaders in Australia and the U.S. who want their countries to support elections.
A senator in Australia had voiced support for the Burmese elections, and Sen. James Webb, D-Va., has said the U.S. should endorse them because it’s the only way to deal with Burma.
“How can you lend yourself to supporting something that you know is a sham?” Johnson asked.
He called Webb’s “an appeasement mentality.”
Listen to an interview with Scott Johnson:
Amnesty International’s Burma specialist Benjamin Dawacki believes the elections, although still elusive, would be in the regime’s best interest.
“The elections have been scheduled since February 2008 for some time in 2010. There’s been no real announced election date. The speculation since last year has been that they would be in October or November of this year,” Dawacki said.
Dawacki believes the elections will go forward as expected.
“Part of the reason is that there’s a great deal of preparation that has been done. Forty-three political parties have been approved to contest the election. Many of the parties are actively campaigning,” Dawacki observed.
“The electoral laws were promulgated in March of this year. There have been additional electoral directives issued by the government,” Dawacki continued.
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Dawacki cites a practical reason the government may proceed with the elections.
“From a substantive standpoint, I think the elections will go toward further ensconcing the military in power,” Dawacki said.
Human-rights groups such as Human Rights Watch are calling on Burma to free its 2,100 political prisoners, some of whom are journalists, including Internet bloggers.
Dietz says Burma is a major violator of media freedom, including on the Internet.
“Burma ranks at the top of our list of places where local journalists are jailed. But now what we’re seeing is that Burma ranks at the top our list of places where bloggers are jailed,” Dietz confirmed.
“It’s the worst country in the world to be a blogger. A lot of places feel threatened by bloggers; it’s not unique to Burma. However, Burma certainly takes a very strident opposition to bloggers,” Dietz stated.
Listen to an interview with Bob Dietz:
Dietz says that the recent government crackdowns on bloggers have forced his group and other professional journalism organizations to expand who they consider to be journalists.
“The definition of who is a journalist and who isn’t we tend to spread out as much as possible to include bloggers. There are some who are outright political activists, but most bloggers who wind up in jail in Burma tend to straddle that line between journalists and political activists,” Dietz observed.
Dawacki agrees that Burma is one of the worst violators of media freedom.
“There is very little dispute in the human-rights community and beyond the human-rights community that suppression of free speech in Myanmar, and in particular freedom of the press, is extraordinary,” Dawacki said.
Dawacki adds that the suppression of press freedom has expanded to include Internet journalists and bloggers.
“Bloggers are certainly a target. I don’t know how many bloggers are behind bars, it’s no longer just the mainstream media, it’s the bloggers as well because the government is trying to extend its reach into areas of the media that are effectively new,” Dawacki added.
According to human-rights observers, Burma’s crackdown on journalists is only one example of a long string of human-rights violations.
Klein says that Burmese military and their Democratic Karen Buddhist Army proxies have committed a growing string of atrocities along the Burma-Thailand border.
Klein says that sometimes the Burmese military and the Buddhist Army work together.
Listen to an interview with Patrick Klein:
Klein cites two stories to illustrate the severity of the atrocities.
“We interviewed a little boy whose mother was raped in front of him. Then his daddy was shot and set on fire while he was still alive – in front of this 3-year-old boy,” Klein related.
“He was found and taken to an orphanage, and they said he didn’t talk for the first year,” Klein said.
“We heard a story about in one village. A little boy about 8 years old was forced to climb a tree as high as he could in front of his family. They told the boy that if he didn’t climb the tree they would shoot his family,” Klein related.
“This little boy climbed the tree; they kept telling him to go higher and higher. Then they told him to jump to his death in front of his family,” Klein added.
“One of our contacts we work with in Thailand, they have an orphanage on the Burma side of the border. The soldiers were coming into the village and they were even shooting at the kids. The kids had to flee across the river into safety and thankfully there were several adults from the orphanage who helped get the kids to safety. None of the kids was wounded or killed,” Klein reported.
The Democratic Voice’s Allchin adds that when the Buddhist Army carries out their own operations, they focus on the refugee camps, especially the children in those camps.
“It is very common for traffickers to target children, they are seen as a better investment, particularly for the sex industry as well as domestic workers. Refugees are more prone to ‘sell’ their children or allow them to leave because of the poverty they find themselves in,” Allchin said.
Allchin adds that, in some cases, some of the victims hope to be taken from the country.
“There may be a hope that to be trafficked to Malaysia, for instance, may offer them better opportunities than being stuck in a refugee camp on the edge of a war zone. Trafficking however is a very complex issue, one refugee leader I spoke to in Malaysia told me that ‘to you they are traffickers, to us they are travel agents,'” Allchin added.
“The use of children in the armed forces is sickeningly common as well. As you can imagine many of these armies are not popular employers, effectively there exists a form of conscription whereby soldiers are required to recruit more soldiers in order to facilitate stable growth in numbers,” Allchin explained. “It’s obviously easier to coerce and kidnap children.”
A recent report by the Democratic Voice of Burma says that a number of Buddhist Army soldiers have defected to the Karen National Liberation Army, the military wing of the Karen National Union.
Allchin explains that there may be a very hands-on reason for the kidnappings and ransom demands.
“In the recent case of the (Democratic Karen Buddhist Army), this is an issue whereby some of their guys have defected to the (Karen National Liberation Army). The (Buddhist Army) has retaliated by kidnapping their families, essentially holding them for ransom because of the loss of their guns,” Allchin explained.
Karen National Union Vice Chairman David Tharckabaw has told WND about the potentially fraudulent elections and about the Burmese regime’s attempts to acquire nuclear weapons.
The Myanmar-Burma Embassy did not respond to requests for comment on this story.