By Myra Dahgaypaw
Burma’s human rights abuses have cost hundreds of thousands of lives but have received little international attention. In contrast, the recent elections for 45 seats — only 7% of the Burmese parliament — have had widespread media coverage. Many people in the international community are satisfied with the elections but to me they are just a tease.
Days after the election, Washington announced a limited easing of economic sanctions and the return of its ambassador. Similar measures are expected by members of the European Union and the Asian trading bloc, ASEAN. While there is much to celebrate with the election of Nobel prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, it is only the first step in a long list of reforms needed in Burma before the nation should be welcomed into the international community.
The changes in Burma still exclude a significant amount of the population. For ethnic minorities in Burma, there is still no improvement, and in many ways things are getting worse.
For the first twelve years of my life I was an Internally Displace Person (IDP) in eastern Burma. I was too young to recall the number of times I had to flee for my life because my village was burnt down.
At first, I was so small that my mother carried me in a bamboo basket on her back. I just remember that I never got to live in a proper home. Each time our village was destroyed we fled into the jungle and in the rainy season we lived in caves. My community would build a new village where we would stay until the Burmese troops found us. Then they would come and burn down our village again. Later they planted landmines to prevent us from returning. As a child I learned quickly not to cry or to cry silently because the sound could give away our position.
Imagine what it would be like if you were scared every moment of every day, while sitting at home, visiting friends, or going to school. At any moment the Burmese army could arrive and start shooting or fire bombing raids. If you were a woman you could be raped as well.
Imagine if you unexpectedly lost the person you shared a blanket with (in my case, my mother). I survived, but my family did not. Half of my immediate family members were killed by the Burmese military. They might have silenced me as a child, but they can’t silence me anymore.
The Burmese regime tells the world it is changing but attacks against the ethnic minorities are increasing. The United Nations refugee agency reports that there are more than 50,000 displaced people but the Kachin put the figure as high as 70,000. These people have lost their homes, property, family members and friends at the hands of the Burmese regime.
According to the BBC, twelve-year-old Myitung Brang Shawng spoke in a slow, deliberate manner as he talk about his mother’s horrible death. He said, “[e]veryone was running but my mother didn’t and they shot her. I went back and found her body — they’d thrown it in a deep hole that had been dug as a cesspit. It took 10 of us to get the body out and I then buried her.”
I believe I survived to tell the world that genocide has happened in Burma and the world has to pay attention to the ethnic minorities there who are still suffering. However, I can’t do this alone. I need the help of concerned citizens like you to tell the world that we must stop or prevent genocide from continuing to happen in Burma and other parts of the world.
I have been optimistic because of support from people who are sharing the stories of the oppressed and are helping raise awareness. I believe there is a gradual movement towards creating and implementing international human rights laws. This is the result of generations of people who have campaigned against all odds and to make this happen. The problem is, it is happening too slowly.
By working with organizations like United to End Genocide, we can speed the process up and help bring freedom, peace and justice to the people of Burma. Together, we can create a generation without genocide not just in Burma but everywhere.
Myra Dahgaypaw is a Karen human rights activist from Karen State, Eastern Burma and is a Fellow with United to End Genocide. She was an internally displaced person for about 12 years and a refugee for 17 years until she resettled to the United States. As a member of the Karen Women’s Organization and a board member of the Karen American Communities Foundation, Myra has testified before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. She assists and advocates for refugees from Burma who are resettled in the United States.