Civil society organisations (CSOs) operating on Burma’s borders are calling on State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to eliminate a blacklist that continues to prevent them from fully participating in the country’s democratic transition, according to a statement released on Tuesday.
The statement, from the Burma Partnership, a border-based CSO umbrella group, said that 40 groups sent an open letter to Suu Kyi on Monday in a push to have their original citizenship restored after decades of exile in neighbouring countries.
Under Burma’s former military regime, anyone deemed to be a threat to the order imposed in the wake of a bloody crackdown on nationwide pro-democracy protests in 1988 was barred from entering the country. The blacklist includes CSOs, Burmese and foreign activists, journalists and others critical of the regime.
“We believe this is the right time to call [for the the elimination of the blacklist] since it has been over 100 days since the people-elected new government took office,” said Saw Alex of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network, one of the groups that signed the open letter, speaking on behalf of the coalition.
Despite efforts under the quasi-civilian administration of former President Thein Sein to remove names from the blacklist, as many as 4,000 people are believed to still be regarded as persona non grata by Burma’s authorities.
“We still don’t know whether we will be safe and secure if we return and operate openly inside the country as we do on the border,” Saw Alex told DVB, adding that many organisations were deemed enemies of the state because of their reports documenting human rights abuses by the military.
Among those working with CSOs in border areas are many individuals who left the country without documentation, making both them and their children effectively stateless.
Nai Kasauh Mon, the director of the Human Rights Foundation of Monland, said that border-based CSOs have played a vital role in working for internally displaced persons, refugees and migrant workers’ education, health, and capacity building along the border, and should be allowed to continue their work inside the country.
“We, border-based CSOs, wish to take part in various roles during the transition and utilise our skills that we have been learning for many years to rebuild a better country,” the statement quotes him as saying.
Thwel Zin Toe, a steering committee member of the Women’s League of Burma, also called on the government to disclose the names of activists on the blacklist, adding that many “wish to take part eagerly in the nation-building process during the time Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is leading the country.”
In June, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Kyaw Tin told state media that the government planned to change the rules for social visas for former citizens, changing the maximum length of a stay in the country from 28 days to three or six months. Exiled groups are now calling for the process for full citizenship to be sped up.