Myanmar: regressed, stalled or moving forward?

MyanmarCsisAn influential Washington think-tank is criticizing Myanmar‘s government for presiding over a “humanitarian catastrophe” in western Rakhine state and doing little to track down perpetrators of Buddhist-on-Muslim violence around the country, AP reports:

Those criticisms come in a very mixed assessment by the Center for Strategic and International Studies of the situation in Myanmar, three years after it began a historic transition to democracy from decades of oppressive and ruinous military rule.

The centrist think-tank , which has the ear of the Obama administration, visited Myanmar in August and issued its report Wednesday. President Barack Obama, who counts U.S. support of the Southeast Asian nation’s reforms as a foreign policy success, will make his second visit to Myanmar in two years when it hosts a summit of regional leaders in November. The report points to some hopeful signs in Myanmar, which is gearing up for elections in late 2015. It cites prospects for a nationwide cease-fire in long-running ethnic conflicts, improvements in a woeful health care system and economic reforms that have spurred rapid growth.

But the report also says power is deeply skewed in favour of the military, and that decision-making on key political reforms has stalled. It says that likely reflects a struggle between “reformists” allied to President Thein Sein — the former general who has overseen the shift to democracy — and establishment interests who fear losing privileges through more change.

The report says massive human suffering continues in Rakhine, where 140,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims have been rounded up into barbed-wire-enclosed camps after sectarian violence erupted in mid-2012 with majority Buddhists. It said for months the Myanmar government has “abdicated its leadership responsibilities” as worsening violence drove international humanitarian groups out.

“It is not yet clear that the military’s overwhelming dominance will diminish significantly as the current government approaches the end of its formal tenure in April 2016,” the think-tank says.


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Hong Kong democracy banner on Lion Rock as US NGO rebuts meddling claim


hk lion rock

After occupying Hong Kong’s major roads, pro-democracy protesters have occupied a landmark dear to the hearts of the city’s residents, the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time blog reports:

On Thursday, protesters unfurled a yellow banner saying “I want real universal suffrage” on a mountain known as Lion Rock. In a YouTube video, a group called “Hong Kong Spidies” claimed responsibility for the act. The video showed a man dressed in a Spiderman costume, who said that a group of “ordinary Hong Kong citizens” decided to support the protesters, who represent the true “Lion Rock spirit” of Hong Kong people. Behind him was a yellow banner saying “#UmbrellaMovement,” a reference to the fact that many Hong Kong protesters have used umbrellas to protect themselves from police pepper spray.

The location of the banner was highly symbolic, the NY Times adds:

Lion Rock Hill, one of the hills that give Kowloon, the mainland part of Hong Kong, its name (Kowloon means “Nine Dragons”), has come to stand for Hong Kong’s special identity, one that is stirring deep loyalty among the young people who form the backbone of the pro-democracy movement that has consumed the city since late September.

hk lion 2A U.S. NGO accused of instigating the pro-democracy protests says it is has nothing to hide, VOA’s Michael Lipin reports.

Chinese state media and pro-Beijing news outlets in Hong Kong have published accused the National Endowment for Democracy of funding and advising the protesters, and also portrayed NED as an agent of U.S. foreign policy.

In a report published Wednesday, the South China Morning Post quotes chief executive Leung Chun-ying as threatening to disclose evidence of “foreign forces participating in the Occupy movement” at the “appropriate time.”

NED responds

In an exclusive interview with VOA, NED’s vice president of programs for Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, Louisa Greve, dismissed the accusations as an insult to Hong Kong people, whom she said have their own desires for a “democratic basis for their government.”

NED receives U.S. federal government funding in pursuit of its stated global mission of supporting those working to “strengthen democratic values, processes, and institutions.” But it is politically and operationally autonomous from the government and it has an independent board of directors who allocate those funds.

The Washington-based organization provides more than 1,000 grants a year to partner groups around the world. NED’s three partners in Hong Kong include the U.S.-based Solidarity Center and the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, which receive grants of around $150,000, and the U.S. National Democratic Institute, which has a $400,000 grant for work in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Greve said activists know the risks of working with NED partners. “But they still say, ‘international cooperation is legitimate.’ So nobody regrets their choice – I haven’t heard of such a thing.”

china hk Lee Cheuk-yanLee Cheuk-yan (right)  is one such activist. He leads the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) and serves in the Legislative Council as a lawmaker for the Labor Party.

Labor unionist draws attention

HKCTU released a statement last week, saying it has received $540,000 in financial support from the Solidarity Center, another NED core grantee, over the past seven years. HKCTU leader Lee has been a prominent supporter of the Occupy movement. Pro-Beijing Hong Kong media have depicted him as a protest leader and a U.S. puppet for accepting American money.

Greve said Solidarity Center has given the bulk of its funds to HKCTU to help it with labor organizing work, something she described as a pillar of civil society.

“NED’s support to Solidarity Center, and Solidarity Center support to HKCTU is completely separate from Lee Cheuk-yan’s political work [as a lawmaker], which is a separate role that he plays, and the money doesn’t mix between the two,” she said.


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Denis Mukwege, Congolese gynecologist, awarded Sakharov Prize

Human Rights First

Human Rights First

In a move that will draw a collective cheer from thousands of women whose lives have been destroyed by brutal sexual violence, the European Parliament announced that Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege won the 2014 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, Human Rights Watch analyst Anneke Van Woudenberg writes:

Dr. Mukwege, who specializes in gynecology, has been on the frontlines of the fight against sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has treated countless victims of sexual violence in his hospital in Bukavu, eastern Congo.  He has been threatened, his family has been attacked, yet he continues the arduous task of mending the bodies of women and girls ravaged by brutal rape. He does it with kindness, grace and compassion….Sexual violence in Congo is at epidemic proportions. There are no exact statistics, since collecting data in a war zone is exceedingly difficult, but various studies confirm the figure is in the hundreds of thousands.

The $65,000 award was established in 1988 in honor of the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, the New York Times writes:

Previous winners include Nelson Mandela; Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general; and Malala Yousafzai, one of the recipients of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, for which Dr. Mukwege was a front-runner.

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said in a statement on Tuesday that Dr. Mukwege, 59,` was chosen “for his fight for protection, especially of women.” The Congolese physician will be invited to Strasbourg, France, to receive the award on Nov. 26, the statement said.

Mukwege runs another hospital in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province, U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin told the National Endowment for Democracy.

It receives about 10 new rape cases a day, every day. And those are only the tip of the iceberg, since most rape survivors never seek treatment,” he said addressing a conference on Voices from the Congo: The Road Ahead, held at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum:

The victims range in age from 2 to 80 years old. Dr. Mukwege says they arrive “broken, waiting for death, hiding their faces.” In a dozen years, Dr. Mukwege and his staff have repaired more than 20,000 of these women and girls. Their work is supported in part by USAID. Dr. Mukwege is sometimes mentioned – deservedly – as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. On his white coat is a badge given to him from a Jewish organization. It is a cry against indifference. It says, “Don’t stand idly by.”

The endowment has also made a grant to Films de Passarelles to produce a documentary about Dr. Mukwege’s work (see above).  It is nearing completion.

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Ukrainians see poll ‘reviving lost ardor for change’

ukrainesolidarnoscTo many Ukrainians who flooded Kiev last winter to demand change, this month’s parliamentary ballot is a chance to get the revolution back on track, Bloomberg reports:

While the nation’s new rulers sealed a European integration pact, the sweeping change the protesters demanded as they ousted Viktor Yanukovych hasn’t materialized. Efforts to curb graft and revamp dysfunctional state offices have fallen by the wayside. President Petro Poroshenko, elected in May, has picked tycoons for top jobs and hasn’t sold his business empire as promised. Voters are poised to expel Yanukovych’s allies at the Oct. 26 vote….. One in 10 candidates for parliament, across all the parties, is suspected of corruption in some form, Transparency International said Oct. 13.

Ukrainians are set to cast out Yanukovych’s former allies, a Sept. 26 survey by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology and the Democratic Initiatives polling company showed. Poroshenko’s party has 27 percent support and no group tied to Yanukovych’s clan has the backing needed to breach parliament’s 5 percent entry barrier, according to the poll, which had a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points.

ukraine euSeparate elections in Donbas will be a step toward forming a new (pro-Russian) political elite in eastern Ukraine, writes Balázs Jarábik, a visiting scholar in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program:

Like the national parliamentary vote, the ballots in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk aim to produce a certain credibility and put political leaders in charge of military ones.

If that happens, Kiev could gain a more acceptable partner for the implementation of the Minsk Protocol, which seeks to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, while Moscow might be more willing to bail out the area. Perhaps both capitals realize what the experience of other frozen conflicts suggest: that pursuing mutual economic interests is a better way to overcome the trauma of recent bloodshed than continuing military and political confrontation. But can Ukraine and Russia gain control of the actors on the ground?

Ukrainians go to the polls on Sunday, October 26 to elect a new national parliament. Following the May 2014 presidential election, which was organized to replace deposed President Viktor Yanukovych, the parliamentary vote marks another milestone in the “Euromaidan” uprising against corruption and in support of European integration, RFE/RL reports:

UKRAINE AID EUBrian Whitmore, author of RFE/RL’s “Power Vertical” blog, will moderate a panel of experts who will look at how the vote will impact the many security, economic and political challenges Ukraine continues to face.

RFE/RLive: Ukraine’s Parliamentary ElectionsWatch on YouTube and Google+Thursday, October 23, 2014Washington – 11:00 AM / Prague – 5:00 PM / Kyiv – 6:00 PM

Taras Kuzio is a leading international expert on contemporary Ukrainian and post-communist politics, nationalism and European integration, who serves as a research associate at the University of Alberta and non-resident fellow at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. His most recent article, “Ukraine’s new parliament will be more pro-European but will it be more reformist?” was just published in the “Financial Times” “beyondbrics” blog.

Natalya Sedletska is the host of “Schemes: Corruption in Detail,” a television program jointly produced by RFE/RL and the satellite channel “First Ukraine.” Sedletska, a former Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellow with RFE/RL who previously worked as an investigative TV journalist based in Kyiv, was one of the journalists who created the award-winning YanukovychLeaks website that recovered and published hundreds of documents from the former Ukrainian president’s residence at Mezhihirya.

Iryna Shvets is a board member of the Civil Network OPORA, a watchdog group that has carried out election monitoring campaigns for three national and eight local elections in Ukraine since 2007. Shvets, a longtime activist with OPORA’s Lviv office, has helped plan, conduct, and promote observation campaigns at the regional and national levels.

Brian Whitmore, Moderator — Europe Desk Editor for RFE/RL’s Central Newsroom and author of “The Power Vertical” blog. We invite you to post questions in advance, and follow updates for live links to the Google+ Hangout on Facebook and Twitter using #RFERLive. To follow the latest developments involving Ukraine, check out RFE/RL’s Ukraine In Crisis Live Blog.

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U.S. welcomes release of jailed Vietnam blogger

vietduucayThe U.S. government on Tuesday welcomed Vietnam’s decision to release jailed blogger Nguyen Van Hai, who staged a hunger strike to protest treatment of political prisoners, and said he was set to travel to the United States, Reuters reports:

Hai, better known by the pen name Dieu Cay, was set to arrive in the United States on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told a daily briefing….Hai ended a five-week hunger in late July after the prosecutors office agreed to look into his claim of abusive treatment. It was his second hunger strike since being jailed for “anti-state propaganda.”….

In 2013, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists awarded Hai an International Press Freedom Award. The committee said his troubles began in 2008, when he was imprisoned for the first time “after co-founding the unsanctioned Free Journalists Club of Vietnam while maintaining a widely read blog known as Dieu Cay (Peasant’s Pipe).”


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