May 21, 2004

Waters analyzes Burmese "abyss"

Hamilton Waters, a student seeking his Master's degree at Mississippi State University and Northern Illinois University, spoke yesterday about the plight of the Karen ethnic minority in Burma. He called the treatment of the Karen people by the Burmese military dictatorship "the most abysmal human rights record on the planet."

Waters expressed his desire throughout his speech and slide show to cause the audience to feel the same pain as the Karen. "You're not going to get detached scholarly analysis today," Waters said. "If they hurt, I want you to hurt. I want you to feel this." Waters described the Karen as Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), refugees who are not revolutionaries. Since 1948, when England pulled out of Burma after Japan helped to liberate the country, the Karen and other ethnic minorities have rebelled against the Burmese majority.

In 1962 a military dictatorship took hold and in 1988 another replaced it. While some Karen have chosen to settle in areas where the Burmese military has secured peace, over 200,000 choose to move around the country.

Waters focused on a few individuals he met during his time in Burma close to the Thai border. He described a 35-year-old man, "my age," who had lost two children and was unable to provide for the two remaining. Showing pictures of all three family members, Waters grew tearful when he described the children's stunted growth and chronic health problems due to malnourishment and malaria.

The title of the event, "I am not a human being any more," came from the father's lamentation of his inability to help his children.

He described the lives of the Karen people as a "slow burn" that "will never make headlines" despite the institutionalized rape, amputees, burned villages, and relocation camps.

Student Christina Moon, who introduced Waters at the event, will be going with a delegation of students to Burma this summer in order to examine the human rights crisis.

South Asia Watch and the University of Chicago chapters of the United States Campaign for Burma sponsored the event.