It’s all over the news. Burma is “thawing.” The United States and the EU have suspended their sanctions. Democratic party leader Aung San Su Kyi has been elected to parliament in the most significant election after twenty years of house arrest. However, her party has refused to take its allotted 43 seats in parliament due to discrepancies about the constitution with the military-led state party. Images of Schewedagon (see below) have appeared every where, inviting international tourists and investors. In this dramatically positive phase of transition, it is important to not forget why the pro-democracy movement is so critical in Burma.
Last night, the film The Road was screened at the University of San Diego. Made by four native San Diegans who traveled to Thailand in 2006 where they crossed the border into Burma, it reveals how life is for one of the country’s predominant ethnic groups, the Karen. In order to avoid the brutality of the military led State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), people are forced to diligently wait for opportune moments to travel and avoid direct confrontation. Contrary to their name, the SPDC has utilized some of the most violent tactics imaginable, as revealed in the film, using landmines, rape and the killing of children to maintain state control over regions with strong ethnic identities. The 5th Brigade Camp, at the time with 7,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), is filled with people who have lost friends and family.
This is the story of Burma. For years, the outside world has heard about military repression of rights. The 1988 protests where 5,000 unarmed protesters were gundowned by the military received coverage, as has Aung San Suu Kyi’s imprisonment. But stories of how people like the Karen have suffered are often lost in political jargon.
In attendance was Dustin Kinney, one of the filmmakers, who remarked following The Road how critical of a time this is for Burma. USD senior Karissa Smith, who helped manage and put on the screening, said of the film helps students to “opens their eyes to another world outside their own” and deepen their perspective about Burma. Giving the Karen “a life worth living…in a country where they literally have no voice without the knowledge of human rights,” she said, “Aung San Suu Kyi is trying to give them their lives back…every voice helps.”
As Burma re-enters the world, it is crucial that the past is not forgotten. For the Karen and other ethnic minorities, their future is still at risk despite moves towards democracy. They merely ask for equality and freedom to live their lives and maintain their culture. In support of the new Burma, its important not only to back Aung San Suu Kyi’s burgeoning pro-democratic government, but to keep in mind that true justice cannot be achieved without responding to the atrocities carried out by the government against its people.
Further Reading, Watching and Action:
- Watch The Road:
or try it on YouTube:
- Road of Resistance San Diego based nonprofit aimed at educating people about Burma and to tell the story of the Karen people in order to promote awareness and change.
- BBC News Profile of Aung San Su Kyi
- Amnesty International: Why the Burmese government should recognize political prisoners and release them.
- Sunflower for Suu Australian nonprofit “with the aim to encourage awareness of Aung San Suu Kyi, the 2200 political prisoners and human rights issues in Burma by growing sunflowers and spreading their seeds.”