Target: Burmese President Thein Sein
Goal: Support Burma for giving amnesty to political prisoners, and encourage government leaders to continue reforming state structures
In the days leading up to President Barack Obama’s visit to Burma, Burmese officials decided to grant amnesty to 452 prisoners, the latest in a series of efforts aimed at proving Burma’s desire to move towards a more democratic system. President Thein Sein and his reformist government are eager to show the international community that they are serious when it comes to putting a past of military rule behind them. Yet, issues of human rights infringements persist, even amidst the reformists’ efforts at change. Support the release of these prisoners, and encourage the Burmese government to address those issues still serving as obstacles to true democracy.
Recently, 500 prisoners were granted amnesty, 58 of whom were political detainees. Now, as the government prepares to release 452 more prisoners, questions abound. Human rights groups believe that at least 300 political prisoners are still being held by the government, as well as some foreign nationals. Burmese state media have suggested that some of those foreign nationals will be released under the upcoming amnesty but have said nothing regarding political detainees. Nonetheless, since taking office in November of 2010, President Thein Sein has freed hundreds of prisoners and taken steps towards allowing more freedom in the media. In response, Western nations have loosened sanctions against Burma to encourage continued progress and dialogue.
President Obama will become the first serving U.S. president to visit this Southeast Asian country. His trip is meant to encourage ongoing reform, yet some believe it is too early to mark Burma as a success story. There is still much work to be done. Burmese security forces must be held accountable to international standards in their efforts to quell ethnic insurgencies along the borders. Protesters must be permitted to gather without fear of arrests, and those political prisoners still held captive must be released.
President Thein Sein has made headway in reforming Burma into a more democratic and open society and deserves recognition. Commend his efforts, but remind Burmese officials that there is still more progress to be made.
Dear President Thein Sein,
Your government’s decision to offer amnesty to 452 prisoners is an important and courageous action that clearly breaks with your country’s troubled past. In the wake of granting amnesty for 500 prisoners and increasing the freedom of the media, you are slowly proving to the world that your reformist government is serious about democratic values.
There is still more work to be done. I encourage your government to release all political detainees being held in prison and to ensure that every citizen of Burma has the right to gather and protest without fear of arrests or detentions. These are important steps to take to bring Burma in line with international human rights standards.
In addition, the continued ethnic clashes along your country’s borders have shown that the Burmese military operates with little accountability. I encourage you to rein in these security forces and protect all individuals within your country.
President Barack Obama’s visit to Burma and the loosening of Western sanctions are proof that your country and your government are moving in the right direction. Continue this good work, and put the troubles of the past permanently behind you.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: omni1 via Flickr