Thursday, July 28, 2005

Human Rights Abuses on the Burma Road

In 2001 the Asian Development Bank laid out plans for a road linking Mawlamyine (Moulmein), the capital of Mon State in Burma, to Myawaddy, opposite Mae Sot on the Thai border. The Bank claimed,

By 2004, you will be able to travel an all-weather road from Mawlamyine in Myanmar, through Lao PDR and Thailand, to Da Nang in Viet Nam, made possible because of the GMS East-West Economic Corridor.

The Bank claimed the road would increase mobility and reduce rural poverty by creating a range of economic opportunities, especially for women, along the new highway. The ADB has also proposed a toll system to recover construction costs and to cover road maintenance. Other infrastructure, such as a deep-sea port, industrial estates, and special economic zones are planned in connection with the highway for the near future as well.

The main problem for the road is the Burmese military’s ongoing counter-insurgency campaigns against civilian populations in Mon and Karen States. According to recent figures compiled by the Burma Border Consortium, there are over 31,000 and 135,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in these two states respectively due to ongoing state-sponsored violence in the region. The proposed highway bisects this region, which means that it will facilitate not only trade but also the rapid movement of troops and supplies to army bases along the heavily militarized border.

The NGO Earth Rights Institute has gathered hundreds of testimonies from victims of human rights abuses, especially forced labor and portering, in contested areas of eastern Burma. Given the continuing levels of violence, including the pervasive use of forced labor, ERI remains deeply skeptical that the ADB’s projects will encourage sustainable and equitable forms of development in the region without the use of forced labor. This is especially worrying since the recent International Labor Organization annual meeting indicated that the Burmese government is fundamentally unable to control the use of forced labor by its military much less eradicate the practice. After several years of discussion, the SPDC has again repeatedly failed to take meaningful steps towards decreasing the use of forced labor in Burma.

Similar to the World Bank, the ADB is a multilateral development finance institution established in 1966 and dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific. Like the World Bank, it's projects have often gone awry dealing with corrupt and brutal governments. This never seems to slow down bank lending, however. The Burma Road is just the lastest in a series of mega projects gone wrong.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Growing Evidence of a Massacre by UN Occupation Forces in Haiti

A delegation of US trade unionists and human rights workers to Haiti at the beginning of July received an eyewitness report from local Haitian human rights workers that UN military forces had carried out a massacre in one of Port-au-Prince's poorest neighborhoods.

Since the coup on February 29th, 2004 that toppled the Aristide government, the people of Cite Soleil and other popular neighborhoods in the capital have been the target of systematic repression -- including extrajudicial executions -- by the Haitian National Police. Armed networks established by young adults in Cite Soleil -- labeled "gangs" by the authorities -- have attempted to provide security for a community facing almost daily incursions and shootings at the hands of the National Police. The community networks also provide vital social services such as education and food for the population.

The UN Mission in Haiti – MINUSTAH -- has insisted that these networks turn in their arms, but has not shown the capability or willingness to rein in the police units that have been terrorizing the population of Cite Soleil. The grass-roots networks have refused to disarm under the prevailing conditions, and have clashed with both police and UN military forces on multiple occasions.

The delegation interviewed a Haitian who was present in Cite Soleil during the operation and who got some film footage of the operation as it unfolded. The footage backs up eyewitness accounts of the events.

UN forces launched the offensive, shooting into houses, shacks, a church, and a school with machine guns, APC cannons, and tear gas. The eyewitness reported that when people fled to escape the tear gas, UN troops gunned them down from the back. UN forces shot out electric transformers in the neighborhood. People were killed in their homes and also just outside of their homes, on the way to work. One man named Leon Cherry, age 46, was shot and killed on his way to work for a flower company. Another man, Mones Belizaire, was shot as he got ready to go to work in a local sweatshop and subsequently died from a stomach infection. A woman who was a street vendor was shot in the head and killed instantly. One man was shot in his ribs while he was trying to brush his teeth. Another man was shot in the jaw as he left his house to try and get some money for his wife's medical costs; he endured a slow death. Yet another man named Mira was shot and killed while urinating in his home. A mother, Sonia Romelus, and her two young children were killed in their home, reportedly by UN fire after UN forces lobbed a 83-CC gas grenade into their home.

The eyewitness accounts combined with the videotape demonstrate that UN military forces in Haiti today are not engaged in the work of "peacekeeping" as much as they are in the business of repression.

Supporters of Aristide's party are being targeted for intimidation and terror before the next election is held--an effort to ensure victory for the present governemnt.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Bike Ride Across Russia to Free Slaves

Amateur cyclist Andrej Mucic plans to bike 7,000 miles across harsh Russian terrain to raise $10,000 for the American Anti-Slavery Group.

He is biking to raise money for campaigns supporting Cambodian survivors of sex slavery, promoting the US/Sri Lanka anti-slavery awareness campaign, led by former Sri Lankan slave Beatrice Fernando, and promoting US divestment from Sudan.

Make a contribution here.

To read his trip diary go here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Guatemala apologizes for slayings

Under orders from an international court, Guatemala apologized Monday for the government-directed massacre of 226 people in a highland village during the nation's bloody civil war.

Vice President Eduardo Stein traveled via helicopter to Plan de Sánchez, 95
miles north of the capital, Guatemala City, to formally accept government responsibility for the killings by soldiers on July 18, 1982.

The government was ordered to apologize by the Inter-American Human Rights Court, which also decreed that the state pay survivors and relatives $7.9 million in damages in a ruling last fall.

Stein said the army had ``unleashed bloodshed and fire to wipe out an entire community.''

Between 1978 and 1983, the government of Guatemala carried out a scorched earth policy against Mayan villages in the highlands where the guerrillas operated. The Plan de Sánchez killings took place during the 18-month dictatorship of Efrain Ríos Montt whose short lived administration conducted the worst of the genocide. Over 600 Mayan villages were burned to the ground, crops destroyed, and animals either killed or carried off in the spoils of war. Villagers who survived fled into the mountains where they were pursued by the Army and bombed by the Air Force.

Soldiers aided by members of civilian patrols stormed into Plan de Sánchez in 1982. They used machetes and machine guns to kill inhabitants, and forced groups of men and women into homes which they set ablaze or pelted with grenades. Additionally, a helicopter bombed the area, considered a stronghold of rebel activity. The war killed 200,000 people before a U.N.-brokered peace treaty was signed by both sides in December 1996.

Stein said he insisted the ceremony take place in Plan de Sánchez and called the court ruling historic.

``The people want moments that commemorate their victims,'' he said. ``But, more than anything, they don't want what happened to keep being denied officially.''

But the apology hardly ends the story. Only one massacre has been successfully prosecuted and in that case only three low level civil patrolers were convicted. A warrent is out for the arrest of the officer in charge, but he can't be found--even though he continues to collect his pension.

Earlier this week, a collection of secret police files were discovered detailing more cases of dissapearance. Forensic teams plan to start digging up secret graves in Guatemala City itself in the near future. At the same time, human rights activists continue to be persecuted, recieving threats against their lives.

Nearly ten years after the peace agreement, Guatemala continues to suffer from the after affects of the years of genocide.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Srebrenica: 10 years later, no arrests for the genocide

Ten years agoaround 8,000 Bosnians ere massacred after the UN “safe area” of Srebrenica fell to the Bosnian Serb Army. Crimes committed in Srebrenica have been recognized as amounting to genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (Tribunal).

Although some perpetrators have been prosecuted at the Tribunal, indicted suspects former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžiæ, former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladiæ and former Bosnian Serb Assistant Commander Zdravko Tolimir are still free. They are believed to be either in Serbia or in Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Ten years after their husbands and sons were massacred, the women of Srebrenica are still waiting for the men who killed their husbands and sons to be brought to justice. They are still waiting for the Bosnian Serb authorities in the Republika Srpska to tell them exactly what happened to their family members. The majority are still waiting for the bodies of their relatives to be returned to them for burial.

They are still waiting to move on with their lives.