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Myanmar’s junta torching ‘village after village’ in bid to quell opposition | Myanmar

On the morning of 6 January, Boi Van Thang set out on a motorbike across the mountainous terrain of Chin state in western Myanmar. He would travel to a nearby village, he told his wife, and bring back meat for her and their seven children.

He never returned. Three days later his wife, Thida Htwe, received a call. Boi Van Thang’s body had been found. The bodies of eight other men and one boy had also been discovered.

Thida Htwe said that her husband’s throat was cut, that he had a knife wound in his chest and as well as several in his back, and that one of his legs was broken.

graphic

Photographs apparently from the scene, seen by the Observer, show a body that Thida Htwe identified as her husband. He is naked apart from his underwear, and his feet are tied. His clothes are in a pile beside his body.

Further images provided by Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO) show other victims of the massacre who were reportedly found nearby. In one photograph, five bodies are lying beside one another; some have their hands tied or material placed over their eyes or mouth. They have numerous wounds to their throats, chests and stomachs.

The youngest of those killed was 13. Chin journalist Pu Tui Dim was among the dead. He had been travelling with villagers, apparently on his way to visit family. He has been described as an “experienced ethnic media personnel who helped pave the way for independent news media in Chin state”.

Almost one year ago, Myanmar’s military ousted the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and seized power in a coup. Since then, the country has descended into turmoil. The UN estimates the crisis will have driven almost half the population into poverty in 2022. Public services are barely functioning, as large numbers of teachers and medical staff are refusing to work in junta-controlled facilities, and instead operate their own networks.

The military has used violence and terror to stamp out dissent and silence opponents. Some 1,500 people have been killed by the military, and 11,800 arrested, according to a local human rights group. But opposition remains. As well as peaceful protest movements, local civilian defence forces have emerged, some of which are supported by established ethnic armed groups. The military has in turn launched artillery and air strikes.

In Chin state, where there is a strong resistance movement, as many as 80,000 people have been forced to flee their homes by fighting, according to the CHRO. Almost 900 were arrested between February and December last year alone, according to the group, while 182 people were killed during the same period. Some are thought to have been kidnapped and used as human shields.

“I have lived through the previous military regime and I read stories and reports from all over Chin state,” said veteran activist Salai Za Uk Ling of the CHRO. “I have never seen this level of brutality in my life.”

In December, more than 30 people, including children, were killed in Kayah state on Christmas Eve. Their bodies were found burned beyond recognition. Earlier in the month, the military rounded up and killed 11 people in the Sagaing region of Myanmar’s north-west. The group was shot and then set on fire, according to local media reports.

A pro-democracy protester, handcuffed and with hands above his head, is detained by riot police in Yangon.
A pro-democracy protester is detained by riot police in Yangon. Photograph: Reuters

Alongside such massacres, the military has increasingly deployed a scorched earth campaign as part of its intensifying reign of terror. Myanmar Witness, which collects evidence of military abuses, has corroborated 57 incidents where buildings in villages and other civilian areas have been set alight. Many have been attributed to the military. Extensive damage has been recorded within Thantlang, in northwest Chin state.

Such violence was reminiscent of the Rohingya crackdown in Rakhine state in 2017, said Aung Myo Min, human rights minister of the National Unity Government (NUG), the administration in exile. “They sent more troops, they went village to village and torched all the houses, and forced the massive displacement to other areas,” he said. “It’s the same pattern.”

The NUG is investigating the killing of Boi Van Thang and other civilians murdered that day. It will submit its findings to a group established by the UN Human Rights Council to collect evidence of violations of international law committed in Myanmar.

“It is important for us to bring justice and make sure the culture of impunity is no longer in the future of Myanmar,” said Aung Myo Min.

Activists suspect the junta has targeted Chin state because it wrongly believes local resistance can easily be silenced. “They always have this perception that the people of Chin state are weak and can be easily subjugated,” said Salai Za Uk Ling.

The state, in western Myanmar, is the nation’s poorest, and home to the Chin people, a mostly Christian ethnic minority that has long suffered oppression in the Buddhist-majority country. Churches are among the buildings that have been torched.

Activists say the military’s assumption that it could impose order in Chin state have been wildly inaccurate. According to CHRO, close to 80% of its civil servants are refusing to work after joining the civil disobedience movement. “The administrative apparatus no longer functions in Chin state apart from in towns or capitals like Hakha,” said Salai Za Uk Ling.

Tuesday marks the first anniversary of the military’s seizure of power in Myanmar, he said, but added: “The coup has not succeeded yet.” In some villages, most young people had joined the armed resistance, he said.

The murder of Boi Van Thang and others on 6 January has prompted a fresh wave of people from villages near to Matupi, a strategic crossroads in Chin state, to flee their homes.

El Zamoon was among those who fled. He spent eight days travelling, mostly by foot, across steep roads to seek safety across the border in India’s Mizoram state. Children, exhausted, fell from their bikes along the journey.

El Zamoon fled when the military began firing heavy artillery at his village. “Everyone here wants to go back to their homes, but they are afraid of the soldiers,” he said.

Families of those killed left without the opportunity to hold a ceremony for their loved ones.

Thida Htwe was unable to see her husband’s body or hold a memorial. She said he was a kind-hearted man who, in his spare time, would tutor village children. “He was only 38 and a good father to our kids,” she said.

“Now I am left with seven kids. I don’t know how to raise them without him,” she said. When she sees other families she feels a deep sadness. “I wish he were here with us. We will never forget him.”

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Congratulations, Privacy Just Took A Great Leap Out the Window!

Your Data Is Being Used Without Your Permission And Knowledge

The Voice Of EU | In the heart of technological innovation, the collision between intellectual property rights and the development of cutting-edge AI technologies has sparked a significant legal battle. The New York Times has taken legal action against OpenAI and Microsoft, filing a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court. This legal maneuver aims to address concerns surrounding the unauthorized use of the Times’ content for the training of AI models, alleging copyright infringements that could potentially result in billions of dollars in damages.

READ: HOW YOUR DATA IS BEING USED TO TRAIN A.I.

This legal tussle underlines the escalating tension between technological advancements and the protection of intellectual property. The crux of the lawsuit revolves around OpenAI and Microsoft allegedly utilizing the Times’ proprietary content to advance their own AI technology, directly competing with the publication’s services. The lawsuit suggests that this unauthorized utilization threatens the Times’ ability to offer its distinctive service and impacts its AI innovation, creating a competitive landscape that challenges the publication’s proprietary content.

Amidst the growing digital landscape, media organizations like the Times are confronting a myriad of challenges. The migration of readers to online platforms has significantly impacted traditional media, and the advent of artificial intelligence technology has added another layer of complexity. The legal dispute brings to the forefront the contentious practice of AI companies scraping copyrighted information from online sources, including articles from media organizations, to train their generative AI chatbots. This strategy has attracted substantial investments, rapidly transforming the AI landscape.

Exhibit presented by the New York Times’ legal team of ChatGPT replicating a article after being prompted

The lawsuit highlights instances where OpenAI’s technology, specifically GPT-4, replicated significant portions of Times articles, including in-depth investigative reports. These outputs, alleged by the Times to contain verbatim excerpts from their content, raise concerns about the ethical and legal boundaries of using copyrighted material for AI model training without proper authorization or compensation.

The legal action taken by the Times follows attempts to engage in discussions with Microsoft and OpenAI, aiming to address concerns about the use of its intellectual property. Despite these efforts, negotiations failed to reach a resolution that would ensure fair compensation for the use of the Times’ content while promoting responsible AI development that benefits society.

In the midst of this legal battle, the broader questions surrounding the responsible and ethical utilization of copyrighted material in advancing technological innovations come to the forefront.

The dispute between the Times, OpenAI, and Microsoft serves as a significant case study in navigating the intricate intersection of technological progress and safeguarding intellectual property rights in the digital age.


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Culture

‘The Bill Gates Problem’ – The Case Against World’s Richest Man

The Case Against World’s Richest Man

When Clinton assumed the presidency of the United States, there was eager anticipation from the Chinese, not for Clinton himself, but for Bill Gates. This was during the late 1990s, a period when the internet was still in its nascent stages, and the digital boom of the early 2000s had not yet reached its peak. The enigmatic persona that captivated the attention of the burgeoning Asian powerhouse is now portrayed in “The Bill Gates Problem” as a “domineering, brusque figure” whose demeanor is likened to “a cauldron of passions that freely erupts.” According to a former employee cited in the book, Gates was perceived as “a complete and utter jerk to people 70% of the time,” while the remaining 30% saw him as a “harmless, enjoyable, exceptionally intelligent nerd.”

The 1990s were also the decade of the conflict between Microsoft and the now defunct Netscape browser, which challenged what was already being openly described as the former’s monopolistic practices. Gates was investigated and accused in Congress for such practices; he ultimately won the battle, but the case harmed his reputation, and in 2000 he resigned as CEO of his company. From there he undertook an expansion of the foundation that he had established with his wife and to which he has dedicated his main efforts in the last two decades. In 2006, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation received the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.

With a personal fortune of $100 billion and tens of billions more in his private foundation, Gates has been one of the richest men in the world for decades, and the foundation has been the most generous organization of its kind, specializing above all in health aid, education and child nutrition, with a large presence in Africa and India among other regions of what was formerly known as the Third World. Tim Schwab, a contributor to the weekly left-wing newspaper The Nation, undertook a detailed investigation to denounce something that in truth was already known: that American foundations are largely a way for billionaires to avoid taxes.

To prove this, he thoroughly looked into the accounts and procedures of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the failures and occasional successes of its philanthropic policies, and came to the conclusion that behind this facade of help to the needy hides an operation of power. He is ruthless in his criticism, although accurate in his analysis of the growing inequality in the world. Absorbed by the revolutionary rhetoric, he laments that the Gates Foundation has remained “deadly silent” regarding movements such as Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, which demand social change in the face of the “excess wealth and ‘white savior’ mentality that drives Bill Gates’ philanthropic work.” He does attribute some good intentions, but his criticism is merciless, sometimes even coarse, while the absence of solutions for the problems he denounces — other than the calls for do-goodism — is frustrating.

His abilities as an investigative journalist are thus overshadowed by a somewhat naive militancy against the creative capitalism that Gates promotes and an evident intention to discredit not only his work but, above all, him. The demands he makes for transparency and the accusations of obscurity are dulled by the author himself in the pages he dedicates to Gates’ relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the famous corruptor of minors at the service of the international jet set. Gates has explained his meetings and interviews with him on countless occasions, and in no case has any type of relationship, other than their commercial relations or some confusing efforts to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, been proved. Still, Schwab raises, with no evidence whatsoever, the possibility that their relationship “could have had something to do with Epstein’s principal activities in life: sexual gratification and the exercise of power.” The book is full of this kind of opinions and speculations, to the detriment of a more serious analysis of Gates’ mistakes in the management of his foundation, the problems of shielding the intellectual property of vaccines in the hands of the pharmaceutical industries and, ultimately, the objective power that big technology companies have in global society.

He signed a collaboration agreement with the RAE to improve Microsoft’s grammar checker and was interested in the substantial unity of the Spanish language in all the countries where almost 600 million people speak it. That man was very far from the sexist, arrogant, miserable predator that Schwab portrays. Nor did we deduce — and this can be applied to the personal adventure of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos — that his life’s goal was world domination, as suggested by this book. If they have achieved it, or may achieve it, it is due to the dynamics of digital civilization and the objective difficulties in governing it. The deregulation of financial capitalism, which has increased inequality among humankind, is due to the incompetence of obsolete political institutions and to leaders who care more about their own fates than those of their people. The criticism against “lame and wasteful government bureaucracies” might be part of the propaganda promoted by the world’s wealthy, but lately we have also heard it from small-scale farmers across Europe.

In conclusion, we found the book to be more entertaining than interesting. It provides a lot of information — we’re not sure if it’s entirely verified — and plenty of cheap ideology. Above all, one can see the personal crusade of the author, determined to prove that Bill Gates is a problem for democracy and that millionaire philanthropists are a bunch of swindlers. The world needs their money; maybe managed by party bureaucracies, that much is not clear. Bill Gates’ money, that is, but not Bill Gates himself.


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Global Affairs

Brazil’s G20 Presidency Kicks Off In Rio With Foreign Ministers Meeting | International

Foreign ministers of the Group of 20 nations were gathering Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro to discuss poverty, climate change and heightened global tensions as Brazil takes on the annual presidency of the bloc.

The ministers and other representatives of the 20 leading rich and developing nations planned to spend two days setting a roadmap for work to accomplish ahead of a Nov. 18-19 summit in Rio.

One of Brazil’s key proposals, set by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is a reform of global governance institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and multilateral banks, where he wants to push for stronger representation of developing nations.

Brazil’s ambassador to the bloc, Mauricio Lyrio, said at a news conference Tuesday that structural reforms of international institutions are urgent because of a proliferation of conflicts around the world — not just in Ukraine and Gaza, but in a total of 183 locations, according to one study, he said.

“We have practically returned to the level of conflicts seen in the Cold War period. This shows that there is a lack of governance to deal with current challenges,” said Lyrio, who is the economic affairs secretary at Brazil’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

“It is one thing to work for peace in each conflict; another thing is to have a global governance that prevents conflicts from occurring,” Lyrio said. “We’re basically putting out fires.”

After years of diplomatic isolation under former President Jair Bolsonaro, Lula has sought to reinsert Brazil on the center stage of global diplomacy since returning to power in January of 2023.

Lucas Pereira Rezende, a political scientist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, said Lula was especially well-suited for the role, recalling that during his earlier terms as president from 2003 to 2010 he was once called “the most popular politician on Earth” by then-U.S. President Barack Obama.

The G20 “is a very important international stage, especially at a time when the world is facing two major wars, involving large states, and also at a time when multilateralism is in crisis,” Rezende told The Associated Press.

“But Lula is a very strong international actor and has a very strong multilateral role, especially when presenting himself as a leader of underdeveloped or developing countries.”

G20 finance ministers and central bank presidents are set to meet next week in Sao Paulo, and a second meeting of foreign ministers is scheduled for September.

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