ALTSEAN-Burma (Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma) supports human rights and democracy in Burma.
ALTSEAN-Burma (Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma)
Posted by Sopheap Chak on Jan 13, 2011
ALTSEAN-Burma (Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma) is a Southeast Asia-based network that supports human rights and democracy in Burma and is comprised of a number of institutions based in ASEAN member states (including human rights and social justice NGOs, political parties, think tanks, academics, journalists and student activists).
The network started in 1996. In order to achieve its mission of leading advocacy campaigns and capacity-building efforts to establish a free and democratic Burma, the network has worked to ensure both online and offline access to its information. Online, the network has expanded its web-based advocacy via three main websites: www.altsean.org, www.unscburma.org, and www.butterfly3.org, with over 4,000 subscribers, including diplomats, journalists, NGOs, and international NGOs.
Acknowledging the power of social networking, ALTSEAN-Burma has launched a number of online campaigns, including a “Criminal Accountability” section on our website www.unscburma.org; a 2010 Election Watch with weekly updates; and a Twitter feed and Facebook account. The network also offers an online research platform, Burma Advocacy Research Database (the BARD), which serves as a comprehensive online tool designed to provide activists and researchers with information for advocacy purposes.
However, ALTSEAN also recognizes the limits of many communities’ access to the internet; particularly due to the lack of electricity in areas where the organization works. The network thus attempts to be realistic in ensuring they can reach these communities and are able to support them. Coordinator Debbie Stothard, and her team researcher, Andrea Martini Rossi, interviewed below, believes the network is empowering people to speak out and push for greater human rights and democracy.
ALTSEAN-Burma (Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma) was formed in 1996 at the conclusion of the Alternative ASEAN Meeting on Burma held at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. This Southeast Asia-based network is comprised of human rights and social justice NGOs, political parties, think tanks, academics, journalists and student activists, and we aim to support the movement for human rights and democracy in Burma. Having experienced the way ASEAN governments have colluded with each other to suppress people’s rights, the network purposely targets ASEAN as a regional bloc to hold them accountable for the violations. This is the reason why the network has been named Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma.
The main idea of the web-based activities is to provide timely information for activists on the Burma movement and other relevant stakeholders beyond the Burma movement, such as diplomats, media and government officials. The idea is to offer information on the Burma issue in a short and precise format so that they can easily digest information and understand the main issues.
The network is committed to a free and democratic Burma where all people enjoy human rights in accordance with the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is also dedicated to the creation of a society of empowered individuals and communities in charge of their own destiny. This can be realized through genuine national reconciliation, regional cooperation and mutual respect.
Our overall aim is to inform, train, motivate and energize people to act and speak out for their rights. More people understand that politics, economics and security questions are inter-connected and have an impact on their livelihoods and daily lives. The people we have trained, especially the women, have gone on to be leaders in their communities, organizations and the broader movement. Much of their work, which remains confidential due to security reasons, continues to inspire us. They have found ways to use the skills and knowledge gained to promote human rights and democracy in very practical and innovative ways. We look forward to the time when Burma is free, so that all these stories can be shared openly without fear of crackdown or backlash.
I believe that our work has had a small part in empowering people to speak out and resist injustice. It has also played a part in encouraging civil society to engage ASEAN and ASEAN governments to push for greater human rights and democracy. The struggle is far from over, but it is clear there has been a significant change in the region: more civil society groups are working together in the region and speaking out, and more governments are listening.
Our governments play the “one step forward, two steps backward” game too often. They may come out with a good statement or good plan one day and violate our rights the next. We have to be super-active all the time to ensure that we do our best to push back the harm done.
As a regional movement overall we are getting more efficient and more effective in how we do our work. Grassroots organizations are becoming more sophisticated. We seem to be more regionally connected and focused than some governments. However, this can also be seen as a threat by some governments, who would rather have a docile and passive civil society that they can control and manipulate.
Using the Internet for communications cuts down on costs and makes things happen more quickly. E-mail communication has helped all of us to be more efficient and productive. Now that a lot of people use the Internet for information and social networking, we can reach more and more people and mobilize them to do at least a click for the cause. We have websites and Twitter and Facebook accounts. However, a lot of the people we work with do not even have access to electricity, let alone the Internet. So we have to be realistic and ensure that we can reach them in other ways and support them too.
Most of the information available on our site is used by organizations working for the Burma movement to back their campaigns on Burma-related issues. They can produce their own talking points, PowerPoint presentations and campaign information. Sometimes there are requests from organizations, which is good input for us because that way we know what the movements need and what other stakeholders beyond the movement need and want to know. We more or less understand what type of information is normally required —the economic situation in Burma, the military, human rights violations, political prisoners, etc.-, it can be a wide range of issues. Yet we try to identify issues that are most commonly needed. Also, we have expanded our site to be more campaign-oriented: people can join the cause and share their suggestions there.
Our site gets more hits when there is a major development occurring in Burma, like the Saffron Revolution in September-October 2007; Cyclone Nargis in 2008; the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2009; and now elections in 2010. So every time there is a major event, we can see many people visit our site and sign up to receive our newsletters.
We do a lot of work with members of Parliament (MPs) in several ASEAN countries, like Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and also MPs in Burma who were elected in 1990. Unfortunately, we do not have any partnership with the current military regime’s MPs. We do work with government officials at the ASEAN level. We help create the IPMC, which is the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Caucus on Myanmar, an organization made up of MPs in most of the ASEAN countries who have specific interests and great concerns on the Burma issue. We do a lot of work with and for them, meaning we write speeches, talking points, briefings, and whatever other information they need to go back to their constituencies and lobby for democracy and human rights in Burma. We do work with both ruling and opposition parties and all MPs, regardless of their political side.
We have seen other organizations that have been using our model, like a Burmese media organization in exile, named Burma News International, which has created something similar. They used the framework and the way we organize information to do their work on elections. There are a few other election-focused sites as well that have similar frameworks to ours. However, it is hard to tell whether or not we are inspiring them. There seem to be connections among various organizations in this movement, which is quite positive. We are confident this can encourage activists inside Burma and other organizations like the media or human rights activists to gain a better understanding of the election process and criteria for free and fair elections, and how to monitor the election process. So hopefully they will use this system and framework that we have set up accordingly to international standards to monitor elections and to communicate with outside world.
No. We are probably among the first organizations in the Burma movement to come up with an election watch. We have been monitoring the electoral process since early March 2010.
We have good cooperation with a lot of organizations in the Burma movement, such as www.burmapartnership.org. We communicate with them on a daily basis to share information. We cooperate with other groups on the border, but it is really a wide ranging network.