Could change be afoot in Myanmar?
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On a recent trip to Myanmar, activist and actress Emma Thompson and her adopted son Tindy discussed the issue of human rights with one-year-free-from-house-arrest opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi. The meeting came about after a request made by ActionAid Myanmar, which Thompson and Tindy are both involved with – Thompson for over ten years. So, the question must be asked, if cautiously: could change be coming to the South East Asian country? The country that is, in the minds of many westerners, notorious for its harsh treatment of crimson-robed Buddhist monks during protests in late 2007? Until March this year Myanmar was under the power of a military junta, but a general election in 2010 has seen a more progressive government emerge, led by President Thein Sein. So, possibly yes. But one thing is certain: human rights will not forcibly manifest themselves in the way we have recently seen in Tunisia, and in Egypt, and then in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, and all the other Arab and North African countries that have seen their citizens rise up against the rulers over the past year. Myanmar, Tindy tells TNS, is an entirely different situation. President Sein is a reformist, and despite being his political opponent Aung San Suu Kyi has believed for some time that he is a genuine advocator for change. There will be no uprising in Myanmar, Tindy believes: ‘Political change manifests itself completely differently in different parts of the world... Myanmar has unique circumstances and it is the way that young activists have worked around the strong-armed government to bring about change that is so admirable.’ So what are these young activists doing to begin the no doubt laborious process of change? ‘I spoke with Aung San Suu Kyi about the youth and she reiterated that there is already strong grassroot activism among young people in some areas of the country that have been especially spearheaded by the Fellows Programme, part of the global Activista network, of ActionAid,’ Tindy says. ‘And she wants to expand this success story to most, if not all, parts of the country when she has the capacity.’ Tindy goes on to discuss what Aung San Suu Kyi is doing herself to move the country forward, with regards to the next generation: ‘She values young people as a resource and she wants to place them at the heart of the transition to democracy,’ he says. ‘So, irrespective of the small capacity that her party possesses at the moment, she is setting up schemes where young people can access credit to enable them to become small-scale entrepreneurs and she is also thinking up ways of how to make the youth emotionally and psychologically ready when the political transition eventually happens.’
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