Sectarian clashes between Muslim-minorities and Buddhists in Myanmar have allegedly angered the Islamic militant group, the Indian Mujahideen, and the Buddhist population and monasteries in India are at risk, according to intelligence sources.
India’s National Investigation Agency on Monday alerted the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh about a possible terrorist attack on Buddhists and monasteries across the state, according to the Indian media.
After Bodhgaya in eastern India, where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, was attacked by the terrorist group recently, the security at Dalai Lama temple in Dhramshala in north India has been noticeably tightened.
The National Investigation Agency has reportedly sent a communiqué to the northern Indian state police, cautioning them about possible terrorist attack on monasteries, especially in Dharamshala, the exile seat of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Plans to attack the monasteries in North India were exposed by Obedu Rehman, an operative of the India based terrorist group, according to the Hindustan Times.
Earlier this month, a series of eight blasts occurred in and around the Buddhist shrine in Bodhgaya, injuring two monks- one Tibetan and one Myanmar.
The blasts took place a day after the birthday of the Dalai Lama.
The Tibetan spiritual leader described the attacks as “very sad” while noting that it could be an act of “few individuals” and “shouldn’t be considered serious.”
“We are thankful to the Central Government and the Government of Bihar for the security provided at the Mahabodhi Temple and express our full faith in the ongoing investigation of the serial blasts,” said Lobsang Sangay.
The Dalai Lama has sent a letter to the Myanmar opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi urging to find a way to end the sectarian clashes in the country.
Suu Kyi tlll date has taken no stance regarding the clashes. She recently expressed her wish to contest the 2015 presidential election. Many people hope that If Suu Kyi wins the presidential election; she might be able to end the clashes in the country.
U.S. whistleblower and international hero Bradley Manning has just been awarded the 2013 Sean MacBride Peace Award by the International Peace Bureau, itself a former recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, for which Manning is a nominee this year.
A petition supporting Manning for the Nobel Peace Prize has gathered 88,000 signatures, many of them with comments, and is aiming for 100,000 before delivering it to the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo. Anyone can sign and add their comments at ManningNobel.org
The International Peace Bureau (IPB) represents 320 organizations in 70 countries. It was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1910. Over the years, 13 of IPB’s officers have been Nobel Peace laureates. See ipb.org
The Sean MacBride prize has been awarded each year since 1992 by the International Peace Bureau, founded in 1892. Previous winners include: Lina Ben Mhenni (Tunisian blogger) and Nawal El-Sadaawi (Egyptian author) – 2012, Jackie Cabasso (USA, 2008), Jayantha Dhanapala (Sri Lanka, 2007) and the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (2006). It is named after Sean MacBride, a distinguished Irish statesman who shared the 1974 Nobel Peace Prize, and is given to individuals or organisations for their outstanding work for peace, disarmament and human rights.
The medal is made of “peace bronze,” a material created out of disarmed and recycled nuclear weapons systems, by fromwartopeace.com The prize will be formally awarded on Sept. 14 in Stockholm, at a special evening on whistleblowing, which forms part of the triennial gathering of the International Peace Bureau. See brochure at: PDF.
IPB’s Co-President Tomas Magnusson said, “IPB believes that among the very highest moral duties of a citizen is to make known war crimes and crimes against humanity. This is within the broad meaning of the Nuremberg Principles enunciated at the end of the Second World War. When Manning revealed to the world the crimes being committed by the U.S. military he did so as an act of obedience to this high moral duty. It is for this reason too that Manning has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In more general terms it is well known that war operations, and especially illegal ones, are frequently conducted under the cover of secrecy. To penetrate this wall of secrecy by revealing information that should be accessible to all is an important contribution to the struggle against war, and acts as a challenge to the military system which dominates both the economy and society in today’s world. IPB believes that whistleblowers are vital in upholding democracies – especially in the area of defense and security. A heavy sentence for Manning would not only be unjust but would also have very negative effects on the right to freedom of expression which the U.S. claims to uphold.”
Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire recently wrote: “I have chosen to nominate U.S. Army Pfc Bradley Manning, for I can think of no one more deserving. His incredible disclosure of secret documents to Wikileaks helped end the Iraq War, and may have helped prevent further conflicts elsewhere.”
Maguire explains how far-reaching Manning’s impact has been: “While there is a legitimate and long-overdue movement for peace and non-violent reform in Syria, the worst acts of violence are being perpetrated by outside groups. Extremist groups from around the world have converged upon Syria, bent on turning this conflict into one of ideological hatred. In recent years this would have spelled an undeniable formula for United States intervention. However, the world has changed in the years since Manning’s whistleblowing — the Middle East especially. In Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt, and now Turkey, advocates of democracy have joined together to fight against their own governments’ control of information, and used the free-flowing data of social media to help build enormously successful non-violent movements. Some activists of what has come to be known as the Arab Spring have even directly credited Bradley Manning, and the information he disclosed, as an inspiration for their struggles.
“. . . If not for whistleblower Bradley Manning, the world still might not know of how U.S. forces committed covert crimes in the name of spreading democracy in Iraq . . . Now, those who would support foreign intervention in the Middle East know that every action would be scrutinized under international human rights law. Clearly, this is for the best. International peacekeepers, as well as experts and civilians inside Syria, are nearly unanimous in their view that United States involvement would only worsen this conflict.”
Won’t you add your name to the petition now?
Mairead Maguire adds: “Around the world, Manning is hailed as a peacemaker and a hero. His nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize is a reflection of this. Yet at his home in America, Manning stands trial for charges of espionage and ‘aiding the enemy’. This should not be considered a refutation of his candidacy — rather, he is in good company. Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi and Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo were each awarded the prize in recent years while imprisoned by their home countries.”
Buddhist monk Wirathu in Yangon, Burma. The 46-year-old has been blamed for inspiring sectarian violence
Radical buddhist nationalism is sweeping Burma, and at the forefront of the movement is a group more commonly associated with peace and tolerance: monks.
The most prominent among them is the controversial cleric U Wirathu, who gives passionate sermons from his Mandalay base calling on Buddhists to stand up against the “Muslim threat”.
“I believe Islam is a threat not just to Buddhism, but to the [Burmese] people and the country,” says the monk, whose boyish face and toothy grin belie the name his critics have given him: “the Buddhist bin Laden”.
The 46-year-old has been blamed for inspiring sectarian violence, which began in the long-volatile western state of Rakhine bordering Burma’s mostly Muslim neighbour, Bangladesh, but has spread to areas unused to such tension.
Hundreds of Muslims have been killed, mosques burned and many thousands driven from their homes.
Burma’s president, Thein Sein, will face demands to rein in anti-Muslim violence when he arrives on an official visit to Britain on Sunday. He has been invited by David Cameron to reward the gradual moves towards restoring democracy to Burma that began with the release from house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader, in 2011.
The former general, once a part of the military junta that ruled Burma for almost 50 years, has been criticised for allowing the ethnic attacks to continue. He will also be questioned over official tolerance of outspoken figures such as Wirathu who are blamed by many for whipping up hatred against Muslims.
It is an accusation Wirathu denies, instead blaming all the religious violence on Burma’s Muslims, who make up 5 per cent of the population.
In the leafy courtyard of the New Masoeyain monastery, where he lives and teaches, billboards display gruesome images of butchered and burned monks and of Buddhist women raped and killed – alongside pictures from around the world depicting Islamist violence.
A woman walks past a burnt out area in Sittwe, Myanmar, where dozens of Rohingya families used to live until fires destroyed the homes (GETTY)
He insists he does not believe in, and has not encouraged Buddhist attacks such as the riots a year ago in Rakhine that left 200 people dead and up to 140,000, mainly Muslims, homeless. Nor, apparently, has he joined those monks who have reportedly taken part in attacks.
He has, however, previously compared Muslims to “mad dogs” and called them “troublemakers”. Monks hold considerable sway in Burma, so when they condemn a single ethnic group at a time of political upheaval and uncertainty, critics say it is hardly surprising if violence flares. The solutions Wirathu offers to the perceived threat to Burma’s Buddhist majority are certainly provocative.
“I don’t know how you tame a wild elephant in your country,” he told The Sunday Telegraph, when asked what exactly he means when he says Buddhist Burmese should “stand up for themselves”, “but here the first thing you do is take away all their food and water. Then when the elephant is starving and weak you give him a little bit of water and teach him one word. Then you give him a little bit of food and teach him some more. That’s how we tame the elephants here.”
This is his metaphor for the imposition of economic sanctions on Muslims, who are also known as Rohingya, an ethnic grouping in the northwest that has long been denied Burmese citizenship. Buddhists, he insists, should not shop in Muslim stores, nor sell land to Muslims. This principle is being promoted by a movement, which he started in conjunction with other monks from southern Burma, known as 969.
Those figures are said to represent Buddhist virtues. In the form of a logo, however, they are a badge used to help supporters identify businesses as Buddhist-run.
It adorns videos distributed by the group showing scenes of destruction and violence supposedly caused by Muslims. It is also appearing increasingly at rallies, such as one held in Rangoon last week to protest against a front cover of Time magazine which described Wirathu as “The Face of Buddhist Terror”.
Wirathu has also proposed a ban on marriage between Buddhists and Muslims. “Women should not get married to Islamic men. If one Buddhist woman gets married to an Islamic man, it’s not just one less Buddhist [because Islam requires her to convert], but they will have one more and they will have lots of children so the population balance can change quickly.”
The poet and artist Soe Wei, who was a political prisoner of the Burmese military junta for two years, says that like many Burmese he finds it difficult to criticise a monk, though he does not share all of Wirathu’s opinions. Pressed on whether he sees Wirathu as a figure of terror or a man of peace, Soe Wei shakes his head then smiles wryly.
“I don’t see him as a man of peace. I’ve never seen anyone in authority really willing to have peace in Myanmar.”
As a peace prize winner myself, I am nominating Manning for this honor for his work to help end the Iraq War and other conflicts
Peace is more than simply the absence of war; it is the active creation of something better. Alfred Nobel recognized this when he created alongside those for chemistry, literature, medicine and physics, an annual prize for outstanding contributions in peace. Nobel’s foresight is a reminder to us all that peace must be created, maintained, and advanced, and it is indeed possible for one individual to have an extraordinary impact. For this year’s prize, I have chosen to nominate US Army Pfc Bradley Manning, for I can think of no one more deserving. His incredible disclosure of secret documents to Wikileaks helped end the Iraq War, and may have helped prevent further conflicts elsewhere.
I recently visited Syria, where I met a few of the millions of refugees and internally displaced people whose lives have been torn apart by the ongoing conflict in that country. I learned from those I spoke to, both within the government and in opposition groups, that while there is a legitimate and long-overdue movement for peace and non-violent reform in Syria, the worst acts of violence are being perpetrated by outside groups. Extremist groups from around the world have converged upon Syria, bent on turning this conflict into one of ideological hatred.
In recent years this would have spelled an undeniable formula for United States intervention. However, the world has changed in the years since Manning’s whistleblowing — the Middle East especially. In Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt, and now Turkey, advocates of democracy have joined together to fight against their own governments’ control of information, and used the free-flowing data of social media to help build enormously successful non-violent movements. Some activists of what has come to be known as the Arab Spring have even directly credited Bradley Manning, and the information he disclosed, as an inspiration for their struggles.
In a Middle East newly dedicated to democratic flow of information, those who would commit human rights violations can more easily be held accountable. If not for whistleblower Bradley Manning, the world still might not know of how US forces committed covert crimes in the name of spreading democracy in Iraq, killing innocent civilians in incidents such as the one depicted in the “Collateral Murder” video, and supporting Iraqi prisoner torture. Now, those who would support foreign intervention in the Middle East know that every action would be scrutinized under international human rights law. Clearly, this is for the best. International peacekeepers, as well as experts and civilians inside Syria, are nearly unanimous in their view that United States involvement would only worsen this conflict.
Around the world, Manning is hailed as a peacemaker and a hero. His nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize is a reflection of this. Yet at his home in America, Manning stands trial for charges of espionage and “aiding the enemy.” This should not be considered a refutation of his candidacy — rather, he is in good company. Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi and Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo were each awarded the prize in recent years while imprisoned by their home countries.
Last week at Manning’s trial, the public learned that at the time Manning released his information, WikiLeaks stated they wanted to publish “the concealed documents or recordings most sought after by a country’s journalists, activists, historians, lawyers, police or human rights investigators.” Manning’s disclosures to Wikileaks only “aided the enemy,” as his prosecutors charge, if the enemy is international cooperation and peace itself.
Manning is the only one on trial, yet what of those who committed the atrocities he revealed? The United States, the most militarized country on earth, should stand for something better than war. Its government must be open to “debates, discussions and reforms” concerning its foreign policy, to use Manning’s own words. By heeding Pfc Bradley Manning’s message on the importance of transparency, America’s government can once again rebuild its image in the eyes of the world, and spread democracy not through foreign invasions, but through setting a strong example.
I hope American leaders will embrace the U.S. constitution, and base their national and foreign policies on ethical values, human rights and international law.
Mairead Corrigan-Maguire was awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her extraordinary actions to help end the deep ethnic/political conflict in her native Northern Ireland. She shares the award (more…)
Another Fallen Angel
Aung San Suu Kyi’s refusal to condemn attacks on Muslims in Myanmar has dimmed the Nobel laureate’s lustre among global rights campaigners, but observers say her reticence will do her no harm with voters.
Nearly a month after religious riots killed 43 people in central Myanmar, the former political prisoner turned lawmaker finally voiced sympathy for Muslims targeted by violence that saw mosques and homes razed.
But Suu Kyi again failed to clearly condemn attacks against Muslims—who represent an estimated 4% of the population—or hate speech by some extremist Buddhist monks.
RANGOON — According to Burma’s government, the Rohingya do not exist. Denied citizenship by an internationally criticized 1982 law, the stateless “Bengali immigrants” have in the past faced pogroms, persecution from the Burmese government and more recently from other Burmese.
Thousands of Rohingya have fled to countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand over the past year, giving Burma’s neighbors and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) an ostensible stake in addressing the Rohingya crisis.
But despite launching a new human rights body at the most recent Asean summit in Phnom Penh in November 2012—including a surprise clause acknowledging “universal” human rights norms—the group has largely stuck to its non-interference mantra.
Since June 2012, over 220 people have died in what has widely been described as sectarian fighting between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma, with most of the deaths in Arakan State in the country’s west, where most of Burma’s estimated 800,000 Rohingya live.
In Arakan State last June, mobs of Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya clashed after the May rape and murder of a young Arakanese woman, a crime for which three Rohingya men were arrested. Arakanese retaliation quickly spread to Myanmar’s other Muslim groups, with ten pilgrims lynched by a Buddhist Arakanese mob in June—a crime for which nobody has been charged.
There were more Arakanese-Muslim clashes in October 2012, and in March this year, 43 were killed—some gruesomely and most of them Muslims—in central Burma, after which the sole arrests, to date, have been 3 Muslims who were involved in a shop row at the outset of the violence.
What at first looked like local sectarian fighting later took on the form of a vicious anti-Rohingya and then anti-Muslim campaign, with rabble-rousing monk Wirathu at the forefront. Burma’s current government has not only not done enough to prevent or stop the violence; it has been complicit, according to some.
The Rohingya say that they have lived in what is now Burma for generations. The Burmese government says they are illegal immigrants. Many Burmese, including senior members of the long-feted opposition National League for Democracy, men who themselves spent years in jail as political prisoners, also regard the Rohingya as illegal immigrants.
Asked last October whether the Rohingya should be granted Burmese citizenship, Tin Oo, a senior NLD figure, said that “those who are not legal citizens of this country cannot stay,” adding that it was difficult to establish how many Rohingya could be entitled to Burmese citizenship.
“This is a difficult problem to solve,” he said. “When I was a young man, there were no Rohingya in Burma.”
Tin Oo’s party colleague, the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has been criticized for her apparent reluctance to discuss anti-Muslim violence in Burma.
Breaking this silence in Japan last week, Suu Kyi called for a revision of the citizenship laws.
“There is discrimination among citizens in our country,” she said. “We should also determine if certain laws are a hindrance to equal rights among citizens in the country, and revise them if we can.”
Mentioning a meeting she had recently with Burmese Muslim leaders, she lamented the state of inter-faith relations in Burma, saying that “this is a very sad state of affairs. We must learn to accommodate those with different views from ours.”
There has been scant regional pressure on Burma to treat the Rohingya in a more humane way. Asean’s two biggest Muslim-majority member-states—Indonesia and Malaysia—have raised the Rohingya issue with the Burmese government and have sent diplomatic and humanitarian missions to Burma and to Arakan State. But they have for the most part shied away from blunt public condemnation, as is often the way in dealings between Asean countries.
However, the bloc as a whole has been reluctant to single out Burma. Speaking at the most recent summit in Phnom Penh last November, then-Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said that member states told the Burma delegation that “if the issue is not handled by the Myanmar government, there is a risk of radicalization and extremism in that region.”
Speaking on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Vientiane on Nov. 6, a spokesman for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak expressed unease about the plight of Muslims in western Burma.
“Malaysia remains extremely concerned about ongoing tensions between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine State of Myanmar,” he said.
For the most part, that is as far as Asean or its member states have gone in public, with the one exception being Indonesia. Foreign Minister Marty Natelagawa told The Irrawaddy at the ASEM summit that “one core issue in resolving the conflict is citizenship, and this is a matter the Myanmar government must address in the future.”
However, Burmese President Thein Sein told the Democratic Voice of Burma recently that the law would not be changed.
If they were of a mind to, the Burmese government could issue some sharp “heal thyself” type retorts to Jakarta or Putrajaya, in any case. Indonesia has been accused of letting anti-Christian and anti-Ahmadi sentiment get out of hand. Malaysia’s governing parties have dabbled in some sectarian brinkmanship in the run-up to the May 5 election. Hardliners linked to the government threatened to burn Bibles in an unwitting parody of the Rev. Terry Jones, that Perkasa, the group involved, said was in response to a row over whether Malaysia’s Christians should be allowed use the word “Allah” in their literature.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has been much more assertive than Asean with Burma over attacks on the Rohingya, which the OIC deems “genocide.”
Both Indonesia and Malaysia are part of an the OIC’s 11 country “Contact Group,” which has pushed Burma for greater humanitarian access to the roughly 100,000 Rohingya stuck in fetid camps in Arakan State.
The other nine members of the group are Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Djibouti, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Turkey, some of which have a torrid history of human rights abuses directed at ethnic and religious minorities.
Burma will, for the first time, chair Asean in 2014, another factor that will likely restrain the bloc’s members from tackling the Rohingya issue head on. Burma had to forego its turn as chair in the past, as Asean feared this would affect the groups’ relations with Western countries.
Next year will be a crucial one for Asean, the final year before it is scheduled to form a regional economic community, and arrangements for Burma’s role as Asean chair will likely take precedence over political or human rights concerns.
In late March, a United States-Asean meeting, looking ahead to Burma’s chairing of the association, gave the Burmese government every encouragement possible.
US Ambassador to Asean David L. Carden said: “I have every confidence Myanmar will be a leading contributor to Asean integration, including economic integration. We are pleased to see the government and private sector are focused on the road ahead and that other Asean member states are showing strong support.”
Digicel have been quietly angling for a license in Myanmar since early 2010, back in the days when Aung San Suu Kyi was still shut in and the junta was jailing people for dissent. Since then, up to a dozen Digicel officials have been staying at the luxury hotel and working out of an unmarked office in Yangon’s Sakura Tower. They are reportedly providing technical assistance to MPT and even sponsoring a local soccer team—an attempt, says a Yangon-based former consultant to the company, to get into the same room with regime cronies and government officials.
Well now we know as of the 3rs Feb Digicel Group has officially thrown its hat in the ring to be considered for a telecommunications licence in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The company said that it submitted its expression of interest in a bidding process, which is expected to yield two new licenced operators within the next five months.
What the selection committee will use to decide who gets the licences are still not clear, but the country will require the winners of the two nationwide telecommunications licences to “meet or exceed specified population and geographic coverage targets”.
What is clear to me is Myanmar is one of the most corrupt countries in the world and to do business in that country you must grease some palms.
However if short on manpower he can always call on Bert the Drumcondra drunk for assistance or else get the Bonox to lobby Amnasty International and Suu Kyi, to help him out with a slice of the cake….
Singapore’s SingTel, Norway’s Telenor, Malaysia’s Axiata Bharti, and India’s Airtel are also named among the bidders.
President Obama certainly has a way with the ladies—whether they be world leaders, American politicians, or even celebrities. He sings Al Green. And he’s got some pretty smooth dance moves. So it’s no surprise that Obama is also the smoocher-in-chief. From Aung San Suu Kyi to Aretha Franklin and Hillary Clinton, check out who’s gotten up close and personal with the president.
Obama is expected to urge the Southeast Asian country’s government to stay the course toward democratic reforms.
The White House has billed his visit as a celebration of the recent shift by the government of President Thein Sein, symbolized most publicly by the release of dissident Aung San Suu Kyi in 2010 after years of house arrest.
But the visit has also met with criticism from human rights advocates who argue that the accolades are premature and the presidential visit too big a reward for Myanmar’s government. Hundreds of political prisoners remain jailed and an ethnic conflict involving a minority group has erupted in recent violence.
Obama administration officials released excerpts of a speech Obama plans to give at Yangon University.
“The flickers of progress that we have seen must not be extinguished — they must become a shining North Star for all this nation’s people,” the speech says.
The remarks include an indirect reference to the plight of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority not granted citizenship. Only Myanmar can define its citizens, but Obama’s speech holds up the U.S. as a model.
“I say this because my own country, and my own life, have taught me this,” Obama says in the excerpts. “We have tasted the bitterness of civil war and segregation, but our history shows us that hatred in the human heart can recede, and the lines between races and tribe fade away.”
Obama’s six-hour visit to Myanmar, also known as Burma, was expected to include meetings with Thein Sein and Suu Kyi.
Obama planned to praise the iconic dissident, now a member of parliament and leader of the opposition party, for her “fierce dignity.”
“She proved that no human being can truly be imprisoned if hope burns in your heart,” he says, according to the excerpts.
Obama planned to highlight the reforms — recognition of Suu Kyi’s party, release of some political prisoners, a ban on forced labor and a series of cease-fires that halted ethnic violence in some areas.
Obama suggested that his policies toward Myanmar, which opened diplomatic engagement after years of being cut off from the U.S., were at least partly responsible for the changes. And he sought to use Myanmar as a validation of his engagement strategy elsewhere.
“When I took office as president, I sent a message to those governments who ruled by fear: ‘We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,’” the excerpts say. “So today, I have come to keep my promise, and extend the hand of friendship. America now has an ambassador in Rangoon, sanctions have been eased, and we will help rebuild an economy that can offer opportunity for its people, and serve as an engine of growth for the world.”
Myanmar is rich in rubber, timber and other potential exports. It also stands to play a key role in Obama’s effort to keep China’s influence in the region in check.
The visit to Myanmar is part of a three-day tour of Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, a trip aimed at drawing attention to Obama’s so-called pivot to Asia
From the L.A. Times
Katherine Allen is the Director of Amnesty International
As 2012 begins to draw to a close I will once again reflect on the people I have been privileged to meet. This year, two courageous individuals stand out, both indomitable figures in Burma‘s struggle for human rights.
Both Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Zarganar – one of Burma’s most famous comedians who poked fun at the government – dared to stand up and speak out for the people of Burma, and they did so knowing that they faced the prospect of abuse, harassment, arrest and long-term imprisonment. For Amnesty supporters it wasn’t just a privilege to be able to stand with these and other human rights defenders, many of us saw it as a necessity.
So when Zarganar took to the stage of the Secret Policeman’s Ball in New York earlier this year after having had his 59-year prison sentence commuted only a few months before, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi received Amnesty International‘s Ambassador of Conscience Award in Dublin, making her first visit to the UK and Ireland in nearly 25 years, not only was I honoured to meet two of the bravest human rights activists of our time, I was also reminded of the indelible impact which the support and the solidarity of Amnesty activists can have in helping to achieve enduring positive change for others.
This is why I am so delighted that Amnesty International launches its Write for Rights Campaign today. Here is a wonderful opportunity to be able to voice our support and stand with women and men much like Aung San Suu Kyi and Zarganar; women and men who have bravely dared to defend their human rights even at the risk of persecution and harassment.
Featured in this year’s Campaign are the Pussy Riot duo who have been imprisoned for daring to freely express their opinion in Russia. They are currently facing years of imprisonment in arduous conditions in two separate labour colonies.
A brave young women’s movement in Afghanistan called Young Women for Change also features in this year’s Write for Rights Campaign, as does Azza Suleiman, a 49-year-old woman from Egypt who was seriously beaten by security forces in Tahrir Square during the uprising, after she went to the aide of another woman who was being beaten by soldiers. Azza was beaten so badly she now has a fractured skull and suffers from memory loss. This brave woman is now calling for the perpetrators of this abuse to be brought to justice, and we must stand with her.
We must also stand with Hakamada Iwao – one of the world’s longest serving inmates on death row. Hakamada has languished on death row for 44 years in Japan. Amnesty considers his case to have been unfair and is calling for a commutation to his death sentence.
The joy of meeting brave men and women like Zarganar is made all the sweeter in knowing that we have stood shoulder to shoulder with them in their darker days, even though we were thousands of miles away going about our own lives. On the days when it seemed as though there was no hope for them, Amnesty persisted in its support. Amnesty’s Write for Rights Campaign gives thousands of people throughout the UK the chance to send a message of solidarity, whether it be a letter or a card of support, or taking a photo in solidarity. It will only take five minutes to take action, but the impact could last a lifetime.
The days for the likes of Azza and Hakamada may seem dark now. But I urge you to join me in standing in solidarity with them now. Because when we see the success achieved for them, the joy is all the sweet