Human Rights Flashpoints-September 1, 2009

September 2, 2009

Burma – New Fighting in Northeast
The last few days have seen renewed violence in Myanmar (Burma). Fighting erupted between government forces and one of the so-called ceasefire groups, when the army clashed with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in Myanmar’s northeast Shan state. 37,000 people fled to the neighboring Yunnan province in China.  Even more noteworthy, the fighting and the resulting displacement led to a surprising criticism by China, the military regime’s strongest supporter.

The MNDAA is one of the 17 ethnic armies that have signed a ceasefire agreement with the government. Last week’s fighting broke a 20 year old ceasefire and might be the beginning of increased clashes between the army and ethnic armed groups ahead of next year’s elections. Tensions have increased due to government demands that the groups convert their forces into border guard units under the command of the national army. Many analysts agree that the aim is to disarm ethnic insurgents and neutralize their threat ahead of the elections.

Must Reads


We are working together with the Chinese authorities to try to get access to the area. While we believe their material needs are being taken care of, we haven’t been able to assess what their needs for international protection are – Kitty McKinsey, UNHCR spokeswomen, September 1, 2009.

This is an irrational and short-sighted move by the army. Not only have they increased tensions and caused distress with the ethnic groups, they’re straining ties with China – Aung Zaw, editor of Thailand-based Irrawaddy magazine, August 29, 2009.

There’s a degree of brinkmanship that’s extremely precarious and things could get out of control. When both sides are engaged in brinkmanship, the potential for miscalculation is considerable and dangerous – Anthony Davis, security analyst at Jane’s, August 29, 2009.

The United States is deeply concerned over the attacks by the Burma army in Eastern Burma against several ethnic nationality groups and we continue to monitor developments there very closely. The brutal fighting has forced thousands of civilians to flee their homes for safety in Thailand and China, and has reduced both stability and the prospects for national reconciliation in Burma. We urge the Burmese authorities to cease their military campaign and develop a genuine dialogue with the ethnic minority groups as well as with Burma’s democratic opposition – Ian Kelly, US Department of State, August 31, 2009

Gabon – Poll Uncertainties
Sunday’s presidential elections to replace late President Omar Bongo – who passed away in June after 41 years in power in this oil-rich country – are leading to uncertain results. Three different candidates – Bongo’s son, Ali Ben Bongo, veteran opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou, and former minister Andre Mba Obame – have all claimed to have won the election. The BBC reports that the vote was generally peaceful but tense, especially due to long lines at polling stations.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Gabon’s security forced stepped up patrols in the capital on Tuesday, after election officials delayed announcing the results of the election until Wednesday. Witnesses said anti-riot police had been deployed to one of the squares often used for political gatherings in Libreville, Gabon’s capital, and that Republican Guard soldiers had reinforced the usual gendarme presence outside several government buildings.


Democracy is about accepting success and defeat – Interim President of Gabon Rose Francine Rogombé, August 31, 2009

The Secretary-General […] calls upon all Gabonese to continue to support the democratic process, to ensure the will of the people is respected, and to heed the appeal by the Interim President of Gabon, H.E. Ms. Rose Francine Rogombé, for calm and responsibility as the vote counting process continues – Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, August 31, 2009 .

The [AU] mission calls on the candidates … and the entire population to ensure peace and democracy is maintained in Gabon by sticking to dialogue – Albert Tevoedjre, head of the AU election observer team in Gabon, September 1, 2009.

Must Reads
Freedom House: Freedom in the World 2009: Gabon

Coming Up

  • September 1: Day of commemorations in Poland to mark the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of WWII
  • September 1: The United States assumes the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council for the month of September
  • September 1: Libyans celebrate the 40th anniversary of Colonel Qaddafi’s rise to power
  • September 2: Meeting of the International Special Representatives for Afghanistan and Pakistan in Paris.

Juliette Rousselot contributed to this post.

Human Rights Flashpoints is a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations and is brought to you by AIUSA’s Crisis Prevention and Response team