To be honest with you, dear readers, there’s not a lot of particularly good news this week.
Yes, some political prisoners were released from Burma this week…but only a very small handful of a possible 2,200. Yes, President Obama will meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama…but only after the Commander in Chief visits China first, and not when the exiled leader comes to Washington (breaking an important diplomatic tradition of nearly twenty years). Yes, internally displaced Sri Lankans are beginning to return home…but more than 250,000 remain unlawfully detained.
Still, it’s all news that must be read. And, in contrast to all the dreary reports, there’s an important find in South Korea to tell you about and a profile of Thai monk in Kentucky that might bring a smile to your lips…
Burma’s ruling military junta has said that Nobel Peace laureate and Prime Minister-elect Daw Aung San Suu Kyi may not attend the appeal of her recent conviction for violating the terms of her house arrest. The junta defended their decision, saying, “If the defendant is serving a sentence, there is no need to summon him or her to the court for statements.”
A new report from Human Rights Watch notes that “Burma’s military government has more than doubled the number of political prisoners in the past two years, including more than a hundred imprisoned in recent months.”
Presumably caving from all the international pressure to some degree, the junta released 7,114 of their prisoners this week. Among those released were journalists (both mentioned in the Human Rights Watch report) and opposition activists Nine Nine and Than Than Htay. Other activists were reportedly released, but this is a drop in the bucket when you consider that the junta currently holds over 2,200 political prisoners. UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon welcomed the releases, but urged the junta to release all other political prisoners (including Suu Kyi).
The Irrawaddy reports that “Thai police officers [last Sunday] raided the offices of several exiled Burmese opposition groups including the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, the Burmese Women’s Union and the National Health and Education Committee…[and a] Burmese source confirmed that 10 Burmese women from the Burmese Women’s Union who were attending a capacity-building workshop in Chiang Mai were apprehended and are now in custody.”
Reuters reports on the US’s soon-to-conclude Burma policy review.
In a new report, the International Crisis Group states that “With Beijing having limited influence over Burma’s military rulers, the West needs to find a way to work together with China to push for changes in [Burma].”
The Agence France-Presse reports that “the daughters of two former Myanmar prime ministers are aiming to join a new political party that is being set up to take part in next year’s elections.”
Seven bomb blasts rocked Rangoon this week as well. No injuries or deaths were reported. As of yet, no group has claimed responsibility for the bombings.
Buddhist Art News brings our attention to a news story about “Cambodian soldiers [who] believe certain tattoos [made by Buddhist monks] can protect them from bullets and landmines, and even make them invisible.”
Christian minister Christopher LaPel testified before a UN-Cambodian tribunal this week that he baptized Comrade Duch, the former head of the Khmer Rouge’s infamous S-21 death camp, without knowing who he was. He also insisted that Duch’s conversion was “genuine.”
A literal, word-for-word Chinese-to-Korean translation of an ancient chanting text has been discovered during an examination of the personal library of Ven. Seong Cheol at Baekryunam, Haein Temple, South Korea. The S hiphyeondam Eonhaebon is a collection of ten songs and poems written in praise of the Dharma. The anthology was composed by the Tang Dynasty’s Dongan Sangchal, a master of the Jodog Order of Zen Buddhism. In addition, this particular copy includes notes from the fifteenth century school Kim Si-seup. “It’s a rare book—perhaps even the only copy—that is not included in the Natural Treasures list nor on the lists of national libraries and university libraries,” Ven. Won Taek told a press conference this week.
Human Rights Now – The Amnesty International USA Web Log reports that Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights, has told the UN Human Rights Council that internally displaced civilians from the country’s recently-ended civil war can leave camps “once screened to ensure that they [are not] members of the opposition Tamil Tigers.” As blogger Jim McDonald points out, though, “Unfortunately for the Sri Lankan government, arbitrary detention of the displaced civilians isn’t allowed under international law – specifically, the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.” So far, fewer the 6,500 of a total of 265,000 internally displaced civilians have been released.
Violence in the restive southern part of the country sadly continues: five paramilitary troops, a teenager and others were killed this week.
Though US President Barack Obama has chosen not to meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama during the exiled Tibetan leader’s upcoming visit to Washington, the Commander in Chief will meet with him in November after a visit to China.
The editors of the Wall Street Journal offered a powerful statement this week in response to the controversy around President’s break with tradition vis-à-vis His Holiness (both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush met with him each time he came to Washington during their administrations). The write that the decision “sends the message to other democracies that it’s acceptable to cave to Chinese pressure,” and is also peculiar in that “the Dalai Lama advocates the same human freedoms on which the US was founded: Democracy and the right to exercise basic civil liberties, including freedom of worship.”
In addition, Tibet’s Prime Minister-in-exile Samdhong Rinpoche accuses the US of “appeasing China.”
Meanwhile, China is beefing up security ahead of the 60th anniversary of Communist Party rule. Reuters writes that “Officials have been coy about what threats they fear but say they are not over-reacting, pointing to recent protests in the remote regions of Tibet and Xinjiang as a reminder that the country is vulnerable to security threats.”
In a related story, it has been reported that all of the 200 Tibetans arrested following the Saga Dawa Festival for chanting “May the gods be victorious” have returned home except for one. Sotop, the lone prisoner, is a forty-year-old from Kargang township in Dege Jodha, eastern Tibet, who was at one time a representative “responsible for expressing local Tibetans’ issues to the Chinese government.”
The first delegation from the European Union ever to visit Tibet “spoke enthusiastically of an economic boom in the Himalayan region, saying the region had ‘the same sort of problems’ found in southern Italy”—specifically, human rights abuses.
However, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navanethem Pillay, put these abuses at the front of her comments to the press recently. She was quoted as saying, “I followed with concern the recent disturbances in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region and those previously in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and surrounding areas. While condemning such violence and urging the Chinese authorities to respect human rights in upholding the law, I also encourage them to reflect on the underlying causes of such incidents, which include discrimination and the failure to protect minority rights.” She also cited “lack of democracy” as a contributing factor.
India’s Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna has rejected Beijing’s opposition to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s upcoming visit to Arunachal Pradesh state—a territory China lays claim upon.
In addition, hundreds of monks in the Indian state offered prayers ahead of His Holiness’ visit.
THE UNITED STATES
Frankfort, KY’s State Journal profiles Charus Changchit, a Thai Buddhist monk living in Franklin County.
The International Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha Conference will hold their annual conference in Ventura, CA, this year.
Bill Webb says
While, as a Buddhist, I would like to see President Obama meet with His Holiness on this visit, I am sure the Dalai Lama understands.
Mr. Obama was not elected to keep a couple of million US Buddhists happy, but to do what is in the best interest of the country as a whole. The current state of the world economy seems, unfortunately, to mitigate more toward keeping the leaders of one of the world’s largest economies (to which the US happens to owe a great deal of money happy, than to honoring one Buddhist leader out of many, no matter how charming or prominent.
That is reality.
Rev. Danny Fisher says
Thanks for your comment.
In response, I'd like to say that I think the significance of President Obama's "snub" of His Holiness has more to do with the fact that the Dalai Lama is one of the most public figures speaking out against civil and human rights abuses inside the PRC. To again quote the Wall Street Journal piece, I think the real concern is that by his decision to break with the fairly long tradition of U.S Presidents meeting with His Holiness, President Obama seems to “send the message to other democracies that it’s acceptable to cave to Chinese pressure [to ignore such issues].”
Thanks again for your comment.
Jessica Burchett says
Ignoring what President Obama seems to be doing "instead" of meeting with His Holiness (as I've not been keeping up), I suggest that what is traditional can also be impractical with [ever-]changing environs. Perhaps President Obama prefers the time extension such that he may be more actively engaged in meeting with His Holiness (I am quite sure the Dalai Lama's ideals and this experience are highly significant and deeply important for him).
Ch. P. says
As to the editorial page of the Wall St. Journal, let's not forget that their philosophy doesn't exactly map onto ours 100% of the time. I would say it's closer to 10%. Boehner et al sounded nice, and more genuine than the Democrats, talking about freedom and standing with HHDL during the Congressional Gold Medal festivities. But we have to remember that it is convenient for them to refer to HHDL in the context of espousing their always-more-confrontational approach to foreign policy.
I think we also have to be mindful of what we choose to identify as a "tradition." If President Obama is meeting with HHDL in November, I think that is enough. Sure, he's not following the exact same pattern as previous Presidents, but I don't see any inherent reason whatsoever to see POTUS wanting to do other things during the time that HHDL is in Washington for the first time during the administration.
Let's also remember that W.'s boldest embraces of HHDL came during the second term, when political capital with the PRC was essentially a moot issue, at least in terms of his own White House.
Everything we've seen in terms of where POTUS's philosophy lies (e.g. Dreams from My Father) indicates that he deeply sympathizes with the views and approaches of HHDL. Things take a little time sometimes. Diplomacy is tricky. We might get yucky tasting tomato juice before we get the sweeter tasting carrots.
Perhaps most importantly of all, I think it is also important to remember that, despite WJC and GWB meeting with HHDL (maybe even "partly because of" rather than "despite"?), it's been quite a long time since any major policy concessions on the part of Beijing toward Tibet have been made, no?
Thanks very much for your "RSS Plus" news summaries–very well done!