Thursday, July 30, 2015

Angelina Jolie takes her human rights crusade to Burma

Angelina Jolie takes her human rights crusade to Burma: Hollywood star and UN special envoy shakes hands with the president before meeting refugees and political prisoners on south east Asia tour 
  • Angelina Jolie Pitt arrived in Burma straight from Cambodia this morning
  • It has a horrific human rights record and brutally oppresses opposition 
  • Personally invited by former political prisoner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
  • She hopes to shine a light on human rights, sexual violence and democracy 

Angelina Jolie today met the President of Burma as part of a trip to meet high-ranking officials and the victims of a country with a poor human rights record and a history of political unrest.

It's her first visit to the country and is part of a tour of south east Asia in her role as a UN special envoy, promoting human rights, and as part of work to counter sexual violence worldwide.

She was personally invited to the troubled country by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition in the dictatorship, who was put under house arrest by the Government for a total of 15 years. Jolie visited her during the trip.

Rare meeting: Un Envoy Angelina Jolie shakes hands with the president of Myanmar, Thein Sein, at the presidential palace earlier today. She hopes to shine a light on human rights abuses and sexual violence

Angelina said: 'I am looking forward to meeting with many people including women’s groups, civil society, displaced people and youth, to learn firsthand from them about their concerns and hopes for the future of their country.

'With elections on the horizon in November it is an important moment for people to exercise their democratic rights and help to address the fundamental issues critical to a peaceful future.' 

This morning she arrived in the country, also known as Myanmar, and met President Thein Sein and high-ranking members of the military government at the presidential palace.

Sources close to Mrs Jolie Pitt said she used the opportunity to talk about prominent issues in the country, including sexual violence, a lack of transparency and child soldiers.

But she will also be visiting members of the political opposition and will carry out field visits to displaced people in Myanmar’s conflict-affected states.

The source, who has been travelling with the UK special envoy party, said that Burma is one of 130 nations that signed up to an agreement to address sexual violence as part of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative.

Yet it has taken no concrete steps to address the issue and lags behind countries such as Somalia, the Central African Republic and Kosovo, who admit to having problems but are making better progress.

The source says addressing sexual violence is high on her agenda, as she is dedicated to stamping out the use of 'sex as a weapon' in conflicts.

Between now and Saturday, when she leaves Burma, Mrs Jolie Pitt will also visit members of the political opposition, who have been severely oppressed over the years, and refugees.

She will meet local people who are working on human rights and inter-faith relations, and groups carrying out projects to promote women’s rights, voter education and participation ahead of the forthcoming elections. 

Arrival: As well as high-ranking members of government, she will also be visiting members of the political opposition and will carry out field visits to displaced people in Myanmar’s conflict-affected states

Human Rights Watch says that the President's Cambodian People's Party has made often violent attempts to silence political opposition and has a history of taking political prisoners.

The Government controls the judiciary which means people have no legal recourse to the oppression, according to Human Rights Watch, and protest has been made illegal.

But it is hoped that Mrs Jolie Pitt's unique status as a non-Government party will help 'shine a light' on the country's problems in a way other organisation's can't.

The source said: 'She will be telling senior figures that they have similar interests, and if they truly want to become a democratic country, the onus is on them to address these problems.

'It is an amazing opportunity to get into Myanmar which not everyone gets so Angelina will be using it to meet as many different groups as she can and try and open a dialogue on these issues.'

Angelina Jolie Pitt has been following the situation in Myanmar closely since her first visit to Myanmar refugees in Thailand in 2002, and many subsequent visits to the region to focus on these issues.

She arrived in Burma from Cambodia, where she was visiting health, education and conservation projects funded by the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation since 2003.

She was beginning preparations to direct the film First They Killed My Father based on a child’s experience of the years of turmoil in the country.

Angelina and husband Brad Pitt adopted their son, Maddox, in 2003. He is originally from Cambodia.

During her visit to the country, she reportedly told reporters Maddox is her son but also 'a son of Cambodia'.