Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled the next steps America would take in its tit-for-tat rapprochement with Burma. Her announcement followed the (by most accounts) successful Burmese by-elections, in which Aung San Suu Kyi's once-banned political party won 43 of the 45 open seats.
Advocacy groups like RI are in the business of trying to make things better. One knock-on effect of that mission is that even when good things happen, we can't relax or rest on our laurels. Instead, we have to go back to work the next day and start pressing for something even better.
But I must confess that even though I work in advocacy, I get irritated by this tendency at times. Every so often, I wish that we could just stop for a moment and take pleasure in the fact that something has gotten better.
News reports coming out of Burma and the border areas of Thailand detail increases in the number and severity of sexual assaults. We were in the country in late November, and the report we issued called attention to ongoing sexual and gender-based violence – and the complete lack of meaningful action by the Burmese government on this issue.
This week, the Washington Post published a poll showing that the U.S. Congress has set a new record for disapproval. A whopping 84 percent of Americans do not approve of the way Congress is doing its job. Media coverage of the House and Senate highlights the brinksmanship and polarized politicking that seems to surround every piece of legislation – and now, even routine nominations and confirmations.
“….and that building, that was Yangon University,” our host said, pointing to a massive, empty, and abandoned building. He went on to tell us that following the country’s 1988 coup, Burma’s military rulers began to see universities and their students as the major source of political unrest. As a result, they introduced a “distance learning” system to keep students from congregating, protesting…and in the end, learning. This approach has been devastating for the country’s growth and development.
As I write this in the Burmese capital of Yangon, the city is still buzzing from last week’s historic visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Despite the hope and excitement her trip brought to this isolated country, fear and impunity persists in Burma’s conflict zones. The latest region to erupt into conflict is the northern border state of Kachin, where my colleague and I traveled last week.
Today, leaders from government, civil society, and the UN gathered at the US Institute of Peace to explore statelessness and its impact on women worldwide. The Institute's sparkling new headquarters played host to an insightful and inspiring discussion - a fitting kick-off for a week full of stateless advocacy here at RI.