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The Bottom-Up Pursuit of Justice the Case of Two Burmas

The Bottom-Up Pursuit of Justice the Case of Two Burmas

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Published by Jutta Pflueg
Maung Zarni
Maung Zarni

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Published by: Jutta Pflueg on Jan 25, 2011
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The Bottom-up Pursuit of Justice: The Case
of Two Burmas
 Maung Zarni
6789WE THE PEOPLE OF BURMA including the Frontier Areas and the Karenni State,10Determined to establish in strength and unity, a SOVEREIGN INDEPENDENT11STATE, To Maintain social order on the basis of the eternal principles of JUSTICE,12LIBERTY AND EQUALITY and To guarantee and secure to all citizens JUSTICE13social, economic and political, LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith,14worship, vocation, association and action; EQUALITY of status, of opportunity and15before the law, IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this Tenth day of Thadingyut16waxing 1309 Buddhist Era (Twenty-fourth day of September, 1947 A.D.), DO17HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.18Preamble, The Constitution of the Union of Burma, 1948
2223Since independence from Britain in 1948, Burma has evolved, ironically, into what I call24
an internal double-colony
, that is, a political, economic and ideological edifice which rests25on the twin pillars of 50 years of neo-totalitarian military rule and the Bama or Burmese26
majority‟s „
big brother
ideological perspective and practices (with regard to
the country‟s
27ethnic minorities).
These justice struggles between the ruling elite which, immediately28
upon Burma‟s independence
, was made up of non-communist Burmese nationalists and29minority feudalists, on one hand, and the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) and ethnic30minorities
who sought secession or ethnic autonomous statehood within the Union of 31Burma, on the other, can only be understood in the larger context of regional and global32developments (such as the Cold War, the post-Cold War developments in the region and the33global political
economy of „
energy security
Unless the regional and global dynamics of 34power and the scramble for energy tilt in favor of putting
people before profit
it is35inconceivable that even a semblance of justice, equality and liberty will prevail in Burma36(Zarni, Forthcoming).37This chapter examines ongoing injustices in two Burmas: the Burma that has been38under the firm control of 
the country‟s ruling military regime since 1962
, and the other39Burma where civil war has raged on and off for the past 60 years. I grew up in Burma under40the first military rule of General Ne Win (1962
88) and have extensive firsthand41knowledge of the other Burma as I
trekked through one of the world‟s largest minefields,
42the Karen state in Eastern Burma, snaking along the Salween River that separates Eastern43Burma and Thailand. Two Burmese colleagues,
who reside in military-controlled Burma,44provide their analyses, developing their respective understandings of the prevailing45injustices and the system that has produced them. I attempt to marry their readings of 46
207grassroots pursuit of justice and my observations about the global and historical dimensions1of local injustices.234
56Economically and strategically, Burma is vital to the competing strategic visions or national7interests of China, India, the Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN), and a small8but vital part of the global
extractive industry‟s „
frontiers. Notwithstanding the9vociferous international debate around Western economic sanctions against Burma as a10pariah state, energy interests including Australia, Italy, France, Japan, the US, Russia,11Canada, and so on,
are represented in Burma‟s multi
-billion-dollar gas and oil projects, not12to mention the presence of state energy firms and investors from China, India, South Korea,13Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines (Xinhua 2009). An overarching question14is the role of exogenous forces in the unfolding national tragedy of Burma
a classic15
natural resource curse
under the watch of the Burmese generals and their distinctly16internal colonial polity. Below are identified six global factors that I consider structural17barriers to the pursuit of justice by Burmese citizens and communities as they strive against18ethnic and economic injustices, human rights atrocities and human insecurities.19201.
Burma‟s geo
-strategic significance to emerging global powers, such as China and21India, as well as to ASEAN, which contrasts sharply with her policy insignificance22to pro-change Western powers (Zarni and May Oo, 2004).232.
development model
(Rist, 2008) that is killing or displacing communities24across Burma: for example, construction of a 771-kilometre oil pipeline from the25coast of Western Burma to southern China; a 400-kilometre natural gas pipeline26
from Burma‟s
southern Coast to Thailand; the damming of rivers for giant27hydroelectric projects intended for sale of electricity to neighbouring China and28Thailand; and massive mining projects, all in ethnic minority regions (see, for29instance, (China Daily, 21/12/09; EarthRights International, 2009; Swe, 2009).303.
China‟s rise and its immediate consequences for 
the balance of domestic power in31Burma. For example, Burma is one of the very few issues, besides Taiwan, which32Beijing has cast its Security Council veto over, making it impossible for Western33supporters of the Burmese pro-democracy opposition to use the Security Council34to pressure the regime towards dialogue, reconciliation and reforms. (For a35Chinese perspective see (Chen, 2009)364.
India‟s withdrawal of support to the opposit
ion in the 1990s in order to contain37China in Burma. As Joseph Allchin, an analyst with the Democratic Voice of 38Burma, wrote:3940I
ndia has consistently sought closer ties with the junta since the late 90‟s when
41the government seemingly made a U turn on previous support of the Burmese42democracy movements. This U turn was epitomised by the controversial43Operation Leech, in which a number of Burmese opposition activists were lured44to Indian territory only to be killed or arrested. The reasoning seems to be the45increased energy needs of India and a competitive geo-political rivalry with46China for influence over the region. India has a number of business and military47deals with the junta; ranging from the recent inception of a Tata truck factory to48military training and importantly, Indian state owned gas companies operating49
in Burma‟s lucrative Bay of Bengal gas field
s. (Allchin 2010) (For an Indian1perspective see, for example, (Kuppuswamy, 2003).25.
No strategic
or real Western support for change, owing to the „Low to No‟ policy
3significance of Burma beyond liberal rhetoric (
No Nukes, No Oil, and No4Terrorism, No Solidarity
, as a Western diplomat friend once said, only half-5 jokingly);
The near total absenc
e of „
political enlightenment
‟ among
the power elite or ruling7classes in Asia generally and in Southeast Asia, except in Indonesia, and8conversely, the regressive shift towards mass consumerism within these societies9(as opposed to democratic norms and intellectual freedoms). Indeed, Burmese and10Cambodian human rights activists were barred from meeting Southeast Asian11heads of states and/or leaders at the ASEAN leadership summit in the Thai beach12resort of Hua Hin (Reuters, 29/02/2009). Consequently, the socio-cultural and13ideological basis on which a
solidarity and progressive liberal14movement could be built is lacking
among Asia‟s power elites. Instead
, an15
essentialist „
triumphalism has prevailed in the wake of the decline of 16Western powers and influence. Such a perspective is typified in the writings of 17Kishore Mabubani (Mahbubani, 2008), Dean of the Lee Kwan Yew School of 18Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and Permanent Secretary at19the Foreign Ministry (1993
98). Indeed, blind faith in the possibility of infinite20economic growth (Rist 2008), inspired by the
of the
Asian Tigers
has21become one of the key barriers to achieving social and ethnic justice in Burma and22throughout Asia.2324Of all these exogenous factors, the fact that Burma has become inseparably linked to25
China‟s long
-term national strategic vision is the most consequential, with an adverse26impact on the pursuit of justice by grassroots communities across ethnic and class lines.27This is evidenced in the policy calculations and practices of both the central government in28Beijing and its provincial power centres, such as the capital of Yunnan, Kun
ming. China‟s
29determined opposition against any Burma resolution at the Security Council, which would30have the
 potential to alter the country‟s domestic balance of power in favo
ur of liberal31democratic opposition, speaks volumes about the seriousness with which Beijing views the32strategic value of its southern neighbour in its long-term national vision.
Burma is the only33access for southern China to the Indian Ocean, which
is vital to China‟s
pursuance of its34military ambitions. In addition, with a shared 2,200-kilometre border
, Burma is China‟s
35biggest corridor for overland trade and transport with mainland Southeast Asia.36Historically, China has had close ties with armed minority organisations, for instance the37Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the United Wa State Army, which have38served as a strategic buffer between the two countries. For Yunnan province, Burma is the39largest trading partner, a growing foreign market and its largest source of raw materials (Li40Chenyang and Lye Liang Fook, 2009).41Exacerbating the above factors that inhibit the pursuit of justice are the state-centred42paradigms within the social sciences, the
absolutist reading of „
state sovereignty
, which is43embedded in the national ideologies of emerging regional and global powers, and the44structural and institutional limitations and failures of global institutions such as the United45Nations, its constituent agencies (in particular the Security Council) and international46financial institutions.47The colonial state in Burma under native military rule clearly lacks the capacity for48genuine reform, as evidenced, to provide just one example, by the
crimes49against humanity
, according to the UN human rights envoy Tomás Ojea Quintana, who50

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