Opinion


In Burma, over 1.1 million Rohingya currently suffer from the impacts of systematic, widespread oppression. For decades, the Muslim minority in a largely Buddhist country has been denied citizenship, rendered stateless, and stripped of basic rights. The Rohingya face daily threats to their life and security in what the United Nations declares amount to “crimes against humanity.” Human rights activists deem the Rohingya the most persecuted minority in the world, warning of direct state involvement in actions that could constitute ethnic cleansing.

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I have always admired the courage and political instincts of Myanmar’s press. Although my knowledge is limited to English-language media, when I read what Myanmar journalists are writing I have often been impressed by how valuable and reliable the best Myanmar journalism is.

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The conference of ethnic armed groups held at Mai Ja Yang in Kachin State from July 26 to 30 was significant because of who was represented at the event.

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“It is not the United Nations,” said Ashin Wirathu, “but the United Muslim Nations.” Indeed according to Wirathu, a Buddhist monk dubbed by Time magazine the “The Face of Buddhist Terror”, even US President Barack Obama was duped by Muslims, and this is the reason why he spoke in defence of Rohingya rights during his visit to Myanmar (formerly Burma) in 2014.

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Growing criticism within Myanmar’s political circles about the erosion of parliamentary power is being directed at Aung San Suu Kyi’s fledgling leadership of the country. Several lawmakers, particularly veterans of the earlier parliament which sat from 2011 to 2016, have publicly criticized the heavy hand of the ruling National League for Democracy, which dominates the executive branch. Despite earlier hopes that a revived parliament could play a transformative role in post-junta Myanmar, some critics are now asking whether the institution will become steadily marginalized in the NLD-led political system.

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Being transgender can mean a world of possible gender identities, where people move from one gender to another and can also put aside the choice of male and female for one of “third gender”. Across Asia, including in Myanmar, many societies have a place for a third gender identity, and increasingly they are legally recognised too.

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Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD government faced a tough situation with China at the time of their inauguration in March. But, as she visits Beijing this week, hopes are high again in China that a redirection of Myanmar’s foreign policy could be underway and the pendulum of Myanmar’s balancing diplomacy is swinging back to the east. But many challenges lie ahead. These include resolution of the Myitsone dam impasse, repositioning political relations between the two countries, and peaceful settlement of ethnic conflicts in the Myanmar borderlands. The stakes are very high. The outcome of Aung San Suu Kyi’s meetings could well come to define Myanmar-China relations for many years to come.

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Discussion about a fourth option for the Myitsone dam project has generated great interest in Myanmar and China since late June. The fourth option – outlined in a commentary by Mr Joern Kristensen in the June 30 issue of Frontier – calls for the cancellation of the controversial project and for China and Myanmar to move ahead, and cooperate on other, mutually agreed hydropower projects.

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Since Myanmar’s landmark election in November 2015, the National League for Democracy government has publicly condemned the use of so-called hate speech on several occasions and indicated that a new law may be drafted to tackle the problem. The issue is particularly evident in online attacks against Muslims, women and LGBT people. While Muslims receive most of such attacks, women have also received anonymous threats for standing up for women’s rights and for LGBT people targeted for abuse.

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The role of Civil Society Organizations emerged in Burma during the late 1990s led by students and citizen journalists in Yangon. The term “CSO” has been used in both the Burmese and English media over the past 30 years.

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It is more than 100 days since the National League for Democracy-backed government took office. A few days after the change of power the nation took a 10-day holiday for Thingyan, the traditional New Year festival, so the first 100 days seems to have passed quickly.

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Many commentators on Myanmar’s forthcoming elections have noted that the Nov. 8 poll is likely to be the most free and fair, as well as consequential, as any in the country since the 1950s.

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Although Myanmar’s new civilian-led government has said little about the future of controversial, large-scale foreign investments, some projects are gaining ground without adequate public consultation and oversight. Among them is the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone, a China-backed project in Rakhine State.

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Earlier this year the United Nations published a report ‘Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar’, which concluded that human rights violations against us could amount to crimes against humanity.

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Events of recent weeks have provided a few more reasons to be frustrated with the National League for Democracy – both its government and parliamentary cohort.

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It’s no secret that the National League for Democracy (NLD) faces myriad challenges in improving Myanmar’s socioeconomic situation. In fact, its biggest challenge might be deciding which issues to address first. Led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD has made the peace process, which is aimed at ending decades of strife between the military and Ethnic Armed Groups (EAGs), a priority for the government. Other challenges include how to resolve the religious strife in Rakhine State, finding a way forward with the Myitsone Dam project, and possibly most importantly, how to light a spark under the economy. Jobs and the economy affect all citizens of Myanmar, from the dense forests of northern Kachin State all the way down to the tropical beaches of southern Thaninthayi Region. Foreign investment in the economy is crucial to capitalizing on Myanmar’s immense promise. It has cheap labor, abundant natural resources, and a vast potential for energy generation. One major factor that it currently lacks, which is crucial for foreign investment and economic development, is a comprehensive and reliable national electrical grid.

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July 2016 brought a remarkable fall from grace for Ma Ba Tha, the Buddhist “race and religion protection” organization that has become internationally infamous for promoting anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar.

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Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration, which took power at the end of March, is the first democratically elected government to run Burma in more than 50 years. There has been considerable criticism of the new government from pundits and in the media, and even in some political circles in the West. Among other things, commentators have criticized weaknesses in addressing the plight of oppressed Muslim communities in Rakhine State and what is seen as the government’s non-transparent and non-consultative decision-making. But while many of the concerns are valid, there must be more understanding of the daunting challenges Burma’s new democratic leadership is confronting. So far, they have made some missteps, but no huge mistakes.

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Aung San Suu Kyi’s plans for a 21st Century Panglong Conference following the NLD’s landslide victory in last November’s elections is a positive development raising the promise of national reconciliation after decades of ethnic conflict in Myanmar.

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“…if [Asia] implements the coal-based plans right now, I think we are finished,” Mr Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank president, told the Climate Action Summit in Washington in early May.

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