Describing the Burmese government as amongst “the most
cruel governments in existence,” Oakland University political
science Prof. Martha Zingo railed against civil rights violations
and atrocities taking place in Southeast Asia
During Free Burma Day in East Quad Residence Hall yesterday,
organizers said they refuse to call the country by its official
name of Myanmar because a military junta rather than the people
chose the name.
Zingo chastised the Burmese government, saying, “between
drugs, sex and oil the Burmese government have all the money they
ever need, while the Burmese people are being systematically
She listed a myriad of injustices against the Burmese people
such as murder, torture, religious persecution and systematic
starvation. Zingo gave several statistics to back up her claim.
“By the end of 2001, 600,000 to one million Burmese were
internally displaced,” she said.
She added that these “displaced” people must forage
in the forests for bark, leaves and grass for survival. They also
live in constant fear of being found by the Burmese military, Zingo
Despite these disturbing claims, the United States and France
both helped fund an oil pipeline in Burma. “The United States
has a dual policy on Burma. Bush just signed into law a 1973
statute that would end economic ties with Burma. Yet on the other
hand, the U.S. makes exceptions with things that are important
— oil,” she said.
Zingo stressed the repressive measures Burma uses to control its
people. Possession of a fax machine is punishable by 15 years in
prison, she said.
She also noted that after Sept. 11, the Burmese government
labels ethnic minorities as terrorists to give legitimacy to its
actions against citizens.
The speech was a climax to a day that included a bazaar of
Burmese hand-made products ranging from linen shirts, wicker
baskets and lacquer boxes. Burmese refugees made all of the items,
and the promoters of the event said all proceeds will go directly
to the Burmese Relief Center based in Flint.
These donations are used to aid displaced people on the
Thailand-Burma border and support several refugee orphanages and
medical clinics that offer emergency assistance.
Attendees of the event perused the selection of wares to pick
out holiday presents. “It can be a gift and you also feel
that you are contributing to charity,” RC freshman Jessica
Ken Kawasaki is co-director of the American branch of the Relief
Center, which among other fundraising ventures coordinates the
importation of fabrics woven by refugees, to be sold in the United
He said as a result of Thailand’s narrow definition of
refugee status, hundreds of Burmese asylum-seekers are rounded up
throughout Thailand as illegal aliens and bused to points of
deportation. “Sometimes they are dead when they
arrive,” Kawasaki said.
After a hazardous journey, women are preyed upon by pimps and
taken back into nearby Thailand. He said the women who produce his
clothing were given employment in hopes that they would not be
lured away into prostitution in Bangkok, Thailand’s
Four hundred Burmese nationals are sent back from Thailand every
month, Zingo said. She added that in the process they are tested
for eight diseases, including HIV. Those who test positive
disappear, according to the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
The few that did show up said they were touched by Zingo’s
speech. “I definitely will send a letter (to the Burmese
government) and give a monetary donation (to the relief center). I
feel bad not doing anything,” said RC freshman Karl
Others, such as RC sophomore Marilia Kyprianides, seemed
disgusted by what they called the hypocrisy of the United States.
“I think there’s so many countries that we don’t
know about and I wasn’t surprised to find that the U.S. had
violated their own human rights policies to fund an oil pipeline in
Burma,” she said.
Zingo shed her view on the turnout of the event: “I think
we’re doing well; we had a fair turnout today. The more we
have events such as this — even if we do not raise money
— we can just get people to be politically active and
possibly contribute to helping the situation.”