There was optimism and hope in the air four years ago, when Burma's democratic government prised control of the country from the military after 49 years of brutal rule. The Burmese, and indeed the world, looked to the new government to relax the iron grip of the army and initiate a wave of liberal change. But the new leaders are still cracking down on ethnic minorities and students as if it was a force of habit.
What have you heard about Burma, Tibet, Northern Cyprus? Even less than Syria, North Korea, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. Don't look. Pretend it's not happening-or pretend that efforts at peace will work-if we just give it enough time. Rwanda took more than 100 days. The Jewish people waited five years. Syria has been in conflagration for three years. Talk. Talk. Talk. Well maybe there will be talk. But then who's listening. The media? There is a certain presence of an absence in far too many hot spots.
December 10 has been declared Human Rights Day. This is a day for all of us in the West, in particular, to pray for those who live under autocratic, theocratic, despotic regimes who deny their citizens their humanity. There is slavery on the 21st century. While we exclaim over the movie "12 Years a Slave," we ignore those who are enslaved today, in Sudan and North Korea.
Many people in Myanmar commemorated the 25th anniversary this September of one of the bloodiest crackdowns in the country's history. Western business should be encouraged to bring more socially responsible practices to Myanmar but should take critical measures to ensure that they not become part of the democracy-hindering problem rather than the solution.
To say that the Burmese generals who have been meeting with diplomatic A-list visitors such as Clinton and Hague have blood on their hands is almost an understatement. Aside from the 1988 crackdown, which killed thousands of young activists, many shot at point-blank range, their record of repression includes the crackdown on monks and other peaceful protesters.