A group of three Burmese Buddhist monks - Venerable Ashin Agga Dhamma, Ashin Kawwida and Ashin Nayaka - were in Brazil August 18 to 22 to educate Brazilian society and authorities about the difficulties that Burma - officially called Myanmar by the authoritarian government ? has faced in recent years. For more than forty years, the country has been governed by a military junta, which violently represses any expression of dissent or support for democracy. To make things worse, Burma was struck last May by a natural catastrophe. The Nargis cyclone left more than two million Burmese homeless. Since the military government was reluctant to accept international humanitarian aid, it was difficult to provide assistance to those displaced.
The monks, who led a series of protests against the dictatorship and were violently repressed by the local government last September, in the so-called Saffron Revolution, established the International Burmese Monks Organization (IBMO), an international organization whose objective is to raise awareness and ask for the support of the international community to return democracy and the rule of law to Burma. Since the organization's founding, the monks have been in more than 20 countries pursuing this goal and recently sent a group to Brazil.
In São Paulo, the monks participated in a range of meetings with the local press and in a seminar on the situation in Burma, with the participation of the Brazilian Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, former Special Rapporteur of the UN for Burma, and of the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The monks also brought a photographic exhibition, which was shown during their travels in Brazil.
Moreover, the group had some meetings to discuss strategy. In São Paulo, they met with the Municipal Commission of Human Rights, the Secretariat of International Relations of CUT (Brazilian Trade Union) and of the PT (Labor Party) and with some local NGOs and religious communities. In Brasília, the monks were hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MRE), to whom they pled for Brazil to more actively participate in the condemnation, through multilateral organs like the UN's Human Rights Council, of human rights violations committed by Burma's military dictatorship. "Brazil has already made positive contributions to the Council, but it is important that it be more active and monitor whether the recommendations made by the UN are faithfully implemented", explained Ashin Nayaka.
The monks highlighted two more issues Brazil's involvement could be critical: supporting an international arms embargo on Burma, thus diminishing the power of the Burmese army, which currently receives arms shipments China and India; and calling for the immediate release of political prisoners - more than 200, including the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Aung Sun Saa Kyi, whose period of house arrest was recently extended. Unless these conditions are satisfied, it will be difficult to hold free and democratic elections in 2010, as the military junta has promised.
While in Brasília, the monks also met with the Ministry of Health, with whom they were able to discuss their respective experiences treating those infected with sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS, one of the greatest problems in Burma nowadays. Moreover, they spent time with the Commission of Human Rights of the House of Representatives, who, in support of their cause, released a public statement that same week, requesting the immediate release of the Burmese political prisoners and asserting that Brazil must urgently partake in international efforts to secure an arms embargo.
"Brazil has done some positive things regarding the alarming situation of human rights violations in Burma, but it can do more given its privileged position in the international sphere, especially in preventing the exportation of arms to the military junta by some of its strategic partners", says Camila Lissa Asano, assistant of the Human Rights and Foreign Policy Project of Conectas Human Rights, a non-governmental organization that hosted the monks with the support of the Open Society Institute.