Sunday, October 14, 2007


Hidden Crisis of Burma - Reports Tracking Page
Last update: 23:00 in Bangkok (22:30 in Rangoon) on Sunday 14 October

What is the Hidden Crisis?
The Hidden Crisis in Burma would appear to entail Crimes Against Humanity on a vast scale. Reports concerning this new crisis can be grouped into several categories. 1) They speak to round-ups of civilians and monks, beatings, imprisonment and torture, and the transfer of prisoners to unspecified locations. 2) Other reports concern the denial of medical treatment to the wounded, leading to preventable deaths. 3) There are reports of monks being massacred. 4) There are reports of a large number of "secret cremations."

Why is it a Hidden Crisis?
The term "the hidden campaign" was first used by Rosalind Russell of The Independent. Personally, I prefer the term "Hidden Crisis." It's a fact that the campaign itself -- a massive one waged by the junta against its people -- is largely hidden from view. Few news agencies have correspondents on the ground in Burma. The Internet is blocked, so it's hard for Burmese to blog what's happening (as they did during the protests). But, unless you live in Britain, it's not only the campaign that is hidden; the crisis is also hidden. It's a hidden crisis largely because the gatekeepers of the US media severely discount the validity of reports necessary to telling the story (see here). The Hidden Crisis is unquestionably a bigger story than the September's highly visible protests -- in terms of how it impacts the Burmese. But it's a more challenging story to document, and an even harder one to prove.

We can't help that we don't see the campaign; but if the crisis is invisible -- well, frankly, that's our fault. At Jotman, for the past 10 days, I've taken it as a personal mission to make this campaign less hidden; I have collected and collated reports; at you will find every report concerning the Hidden Crisis I know about. I have explored inconsistencies I found among overlapping reports (see here). I also set up a tracking page, previous to this one, to group monk massacre reports.

As expatriates in Rangoon told the Sunday Times, ". . .the consistency of the stories makes them credible." I am convinced that the story of the Hidden Crisis becomes more coherent and less speculative if you look at the reports not as a series of newspaper stories, or isolated reports, but as a whole. It's time someone brought all these reports together, so we can look at them, side by side, in one place. That's the purpose of this post, of this "tracking jot."

Method of Tracking
For each category, there is a brief description, I tally the number of reports, note the origin of the report (phone call, interview, email, blog, etc), and indicate the sources where such a report was collated or written up. I have also addressed the question of the validity of the reports (beyond the obvious issue that most of these reports have come from anonymous sources). If you are journalist or editor in a position to clarify any these points, I invite you to email me and set the record straight.

Description: "Harrowing accounts smuggled out of Burma reveal how a systematic campaign of physical punishment and psychological terror is being waged by the Burmese security forces as they take revenge on those suspected of involvement in last month's pro-democracy uprising."
No. of unique reports: numerous
Source of reports: many; various
Reports compiled by:The Independent (Jot) and Guardian (most recently), many sources.
Validity: extremely high
(Note: I am still working on this category, it was too big to tackle last night.)

Description: Apparently "orders went out to hospitals and clinics not to treat the wounded." Beaten, injured or wounded people taken into custody received no treatment.
This evidence has given rise to grave concern for the well being of elderly monks and very young novices rounded up, by all accounts, with brutality."
No. of unique reports: 2
Source of reports: Western medical expert speaking to respected Burmese doctors, 18-year-old novice monk*,
Reports first compiled by: Sunday Times (Jot), Sydney Morning Herald (Jot)
Validity: High: “We have first-hand evidence from respected Burmese doctors that hospitals and clinics were ordered not to give any treatment to the wounded,” said a foreign medical expert.

Description: There are also reports of monks being killed in mass executions.
No. of unique reports: 3 (plus 1 report of extreme brutality)
Source of reports: interview*, diplomat's source, email to CNN*, phone+blog
Reports first compiled by: Daily Mail (Jot), CNN website (Jot), Jotman (Tracking Jot), Bangkok Post/Sunday Times (Jot)
Validity: Do these reports all refer to different monasteries or the same ones? The BBC interviewed the same defecting Burmese military man as the Daily Mail had, but the BBC report omitted all-important details from the Daily Mail report concerning the alleged massacre. Why? (See this Jot)

Description: "The secret cremations have been reported by local people who have seen olive green trucks covered with tarpaulins rumbling through the area at night and watched smoke rising continuously from the furnace chimneys."
No. of unique reports: many
Source of reports: Burmese - told to diplomats and aid workers.
Reports first compiled by: Sunday Times (Jot)
Validity: Sunday Times journalist expresses confidence in the reports: "Their accounts have been volunteered to international officials and aid workers in Rangoon, Burma’s main city. The consensus in the foreign community is that the consistency of the stories makes them credible."

* Denotes report said to have come from an eyewitness (not secondhand). If vague, no star.

What to do about the Hidden Crisis
It's up to us to pressure the news media to cover this story, lobby governments and international agencies to act, and lend our support to groups positioned to make a difference. This much is certain: if you don't pay attention, nobody else will. The Burmese have nobody else they can turn to. It's up to us.

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