Burma’s Buddhist-nationalist monk Wirathu calling Burmese simple minded

28 Feb

He goes as the self-titled “Burmese Bin Ladin”, though its really not clear why….

The guy he is talking to, U Win Tin, is a former political prisoner, NLD member and all around baller, though his deision to open a dialogue with Wirathu raises some judgement questions.


Al Jazeera: “The Hidden Genocide”

11 Dec

Please skip to the bottom to watch Al Jazeera’s documentary: “The Hidden Genocide” [50 min]. It provides the clearest outline of the tragic conflict that continues to reap destruction and death upon Burma’s Muslim Rohingya population. It really is a must watch.

Around this time last year the Burma advocacy organization I worked for met with a UN official from the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (UNOSAPG) to discuss whether there was a risk of ethnic violence/discrimination that had the potential to amount to genocide. Despite our fairly radical position on the tragic state of human rights in Burma, and the specific concern of the 800,000 – 1,000,000 Muslim Rohingya living in the country’s Western Arakan State, “genocide” seemed to be an inappropriate term. At the time, discrimination against the Rohingya was institutionalized. Rohingya were denied citizenship, rights to free movement,  marriage, and access to education  – still, violence, at least on the part of the state, was not part of the equation.

Early this summer the balance changed when violence broke out in Arakan State. Though both sides played a role, the Rohingya bore the brunt of the death, destruction, and mass displacement. The government’s border guard / police forces (Nasaka) played an active part, targeting Rohingya instead of stemming the violence.

Still, to outside observers the extent of the crisis was unclear. Estimates of the number of dead ranged from the government’s (78) into the hundreds.

The extent of displacement, while unquestionably high, was also not clear – as aid organizations and the UN were denied access (by both Burma and bordering Bangladesh)

Slowly information on the extent of the tragedy trickled into the press, which was denied access to the affected areas.

In October, AFP reported on the sinking of a boat carrying Rohingya refugees, fleeing the violence, to Malaysia – leaving approximately 130 dead.

In Mid-November, Human Rights Watch released satellite photos showing the complete destruction of Rohingya neighborhoods in Mrauk-U, Arakan State.

Just this week, the UN declared that approximately 115,000 Rohingya have been displaced as a result of the conflict, and in desperate need of aid.

Concurrently, the Burmese government has bathed in praise from the international community, culminating in the nation’s first hosting of an American president.

Even Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and the figurehead of the Burmese democracy movement world-wide  – turned local politician, has been tight-lipped at best concerning the Rohingya issue. Optimists attribute her silence to necessary political calculus. One can hope that is true, and still, as myself, feel wretching disgust at the country’s most popular figure cow-tailing to popular, and state-sponsored discrimination against one of the world’s most oppressed people.

The facts of the conflict are hopelessly unclear, but the following documentary sheds greater light on them than any previous reporting. It is clear that what has unfolded since this past May amounts to mass destruction, displacement, death, and discrimination against the Burmese Rohingya, whether there are mechanisms in place to stop the conflict from progressing into “genocide” remain far less clear. Now would be a good time for the countries throwing aid dollars at and removing sanctions from Burma to consider the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

“If only I had been older I would have killed thse Rakhine” – Young Rohingya Girl

Video of the Year: It’s Africans’ turn to help Norwegians

21 Nov

It has been quite a while between postings. I do not blame my own laziness, so much  as the failure of the world to produce post-worthy things…..until now.

From the fine folks over at Radi-Aid

A very important sentence

10 Jul

“A new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University shows that fulfilling unmet contraception demand by women in developing countries could reduce global maternal mortality by nearly a third, a potentially great improvement for one of the world’s most vulnerable populations.”

That is from this article in the New York Times.

So, I guess its time to start getting those women greater access to contraception…right?

It’s worthing noting that the article is about more than the stunning (~1/3) maternal mortality figure. It highlights the changing priorities of aid and development concerns in recent years, specifically concerning health care:

(the focus on family planning) has faded from the international agenda in recent years, overshadowed by efforts to combat AIDS and other infectious diseases, as well as by ideological battles.

The proportion of international population assistance funds that went to family planning fell to just 6 percent in 2008, down from 55 percent in 1995, while spending on H.I.V./AIDS represented 74 percent of the total in 2008, up from just 9 percent in 1995.

The questions of aid priorities is fundamental to discussion of aid solutions. There is no doubt that spending on HIV/AIDS spending is crucial. However, when the amount of aid dollars is limited, it’s necessary to consider the proportional distribution relative to the weight of each of problem (NB – I have no idea what the relative weights of health priorities in developing countries are. I’m definitely not suggesting that money spent on HIV/AIDS should go to contraception).

A similar question of prioritization has arisen concerning cancer spending the the U.S. where breast cancer is by far the greatest fundraiser and research spending, while it ranks third in deaths, and second in new cases (see cancer spending table from this NYT article after the break).

Continue reading


Video of the week: Why my three year old niece now wants to move to Pyongyang

10 Jul

The sound is terrible, but the video is a must watch.

Woo hoo! Science!

8 Jul


Christopher Buckley has a pretty informative Q.A. in the New York Times about the Higgs discovery:

Q. What exactly is a Higgs boson, and why all this fuss?

A. Essentially, it’s an eentsy-teensy-weensy particle — we’re talking small here — that contains the answers to how the universe came about, including whether God was involved. As for the “fuss,” the CERN laboratory in Geneva, where the particle was discovered, spent $10 billion on its Large Hadron Collider. Over the last two years, 800 trillion (give or take) proton-proton collisions have been performed, which works out to — what? — maybe not so much per collision, but 10 billion is still 10 billion. For that kind of dough, you expect more bang for your buck than, “Ja, ja, we’re working on it, go away!” Physicists — spare me.

Q. How did they discover it?

A. It’s not rocket science, O.K.? Basically, two guys with Ph.D.’s, one Swiss and one from some other country — they don’t have to speak the same language or even get along — stand in this really long tunnel near Geneva and fire protons at each other. When the little bell on top of the Large Hadron Collider goes ding-a-ling, presto, there’s your Higgs boson, in the in-box. But then you need this ginormous magnifying glass to find the little bugger. Anyway, they did. Finally!

Full Q.A. after the jump… Continue reading

Is it time for the world to appoint an Emergency Relief Czar?

7 Jul

That’s the question asked by this post in the Guardian’s Poverty Matters Blog. The idea stems from criticisms of humanitarian responses to international crises of the past few years.

So what might shake things up? One possibility is to appoint a humanitarian ombudsman who would “name and shame” individuals and organisations as a way of jolting often labyrinthine bureaucratic systems within which it is hard to pinpoint ultimate responsibility.


John Mitchell, director of Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (Alnap), a network of organisations including UN agencies, donors and the Red Cross, said this had been mooted in the 1990s but never explicitly materialised. Mitchell explained that “the idea was to send such a person into a high-profile situation and report in real time so hopefully they would report on a crisis, not ex post facto. They would deal with any concerns in real time”.

 It’s worth thinking about whetehr there is more liability for largescale failure with a focused leadership structure (eg this guy). But, on the face of it the idea looks like a winner. As long as pay is tied to performance.