Hoping to See a Free Burma
by Tanya Kiatkulpiboone (JD '10)
While I expected this Spring Break trip to be eye-opening, busy, and worthwhile, I could never have imagined how impactful it would be on my world view or how it would cause me to reflect internally on a daily basis.
Our itinerary seemed endless. I learned something new every day; we attended a Karin church service inside the Mae La refugee camp, took a trip to the Mae Sot provincial dump (where people actually made their homes out of and lived adjacent to the dump), interviewed some detainees at a UNHC holding center, and volunteered at a daycare center for children whose parent(s) were undocumented or worked the red light district. Among all of our experiences, nothing was more vivid to me than our meeting with the underground drafters of a possible new Burma Constitution.
My understanding of Burma was scant, much less any knowledge of a deep Burmese desire for "real" Democracy. When we met the drafters of a prototype New Burma Constitution, they were so excited to share their enthusiasm for the potential it could hold. The drafters had been working on the Constitution for years. They believe that the Constitution will be an essential tool for transitioning their country back to their sustainable and thriving home as it once was, when the military regime falls. When. That is the million dollar question.
Currently, the military regime or SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) wields complete power in Burma; they rule by oppression and destruction of the various ethnic Burmese groups including the Chin, Shan, Kachin, Mo, Karin, and Arakut. The crimes they commit amount to genocide. As a result, many ethnic Burmese have sought asylum in Thailand and abroad. The drafters themselves escaped to Thailand, and while the drafters seemed optimistic that they will see the end of the military regime, it was difficult for them to articulate the steps necessary f6r that outcome. Instead, they chose to focus on their Constitution implementation project; promoting their drafts at ethnic group summits and contemplating how they would distribute underground copies to those who still face daily strife in Burma.
Although a timeframe for action was lacking, the drafters seemed to anticipate upcoming elections. It was clear that the drafters Lu will not formally support any ethnic group nominee for the 2010 Parliamentary Election because it is logistically governed by the SPDC-instituted constitution which is supposedly classified as "democratic" but reservedly so only for Burma Proper. So while they cannot condone any ethnic group candidate(s) who will abide by the rules of a political process put in place by an illegitimate authority, they do recognize that one or a few seats in Parliament could be positive or even helpful. Ultimately, however, they will continue to focus on their primary goal of pre-drafting one federal constitution and multiple ethnic state constitutions for the day Burmese military rule is dismembered. Ideally, these drafters are hopeful that relief to Burma will be manifested in a three-fold approach: (1) international awareness on the Burma situation will grow exponentially, (2) democratic forces within Burma and international entities would work together to bring down the military rule, and (3) the new constitution will already be sanctified by the ethnic groups and ready for implementation.
While the dynamics of the Burma problem are tremendous, through this trip, I came to learn and appreciate the people in various organizations dedicated to the cause of fighting modern era evils. I hope to see a free Burma within my lifetime.