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Burma Issues/human rights/1993 repo

Subject: Burma Issues/human rights/1993 report

Burma Issues
PO Box 1076, Silom Post Office
Bangkok 10504 Thailand

phone: 662 234 6674

Burma Issues (formerly Burma Rights Movement for Action,          
B.U.R.M.A.) is a Bangkok-based non-governmental organization that
monitors events in Burma with a focus on human rights, ethnic
minorities and the ongoing civil war.




The term "Human Rights" has recently become as corrupted as the
word "democracy'.  It is now not only being used by activists
groups to raise awareness of the sufferings of the poor and
oppressed, but also by those sitting on the thrones of power (even
despotic thrones) to justify their military actions against other
countries (as in the case of the US attacks against Iraq).  There
is an increasing danger that "human rights" will more and more
become the excuse of the most powerful (the domesticly powerful as
well as the internationally powerful) to use their power against
the oppressed, rather than to represent a challenge against such
corrupted power.  It is within this context that we must seek to
clarify the term "human rights" so that it continues to be a
liberating term, a term which has meaning and power for the poor
and oppressed in our countries.

The United Nations and the International Commission of the Red
Cross have detailed basic rights which all citizens of the earth
have the right to.  These rights are summarized as being the "right
to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".  For people to have
the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, they must
be guaranteed 1) sufficient and healthy food, 2) proper clothing,
3)  good education, 4)  proper health care, and 5) adequate
housing.  The specifics of these rights during both peace time and
times of conflict have been spelled out in the various human rights
charters which many nations have willingly signed.  Yet, signatures
to these charters seem to rarely guarantee a respect for the rights
of all people within a country or a society.  

In this paper, we will discuss the violation of these rights on two
levels;  1) domestic violations of human rights, and 2) violations
created from outside the country.

Domestic violations consist of imprisonment for religious,
political and personal reasons, torture, exploitation, forced
evictions, deprivation of food, medical care, education,
information, etc.   Such violations are usually carried out by the
powerful within the country against the powerless, and can be done
for religious, political or economic reasons.  Despite the fact
that basic human rights are guaranteed under UN charters accepted
by most countries around the world, these countries often ignore
the internal abuses of a people's human rights in order "not to
interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state".  In cases
such as Burma, this excuse is extremely lame keeping in mind that
the military now in power there was voted out by the vast majority
of the people and therefore does not represent legitimate and
sovereign power over the state of Burma.

Violations of human rights created from outside a country include
the infringement upon another nations life through military,
political, social and/or economic means.  Such infringements are
often done at the invitation of a small powerful minority within
the country rather than at the request of the oppressed of that
country (as was the case of the US entering the war in Vietnam in
1956).  Consequently the benefits of such involvement bring
benefits to that small powerful minority at the expense of the
majority of the people who are all ready poor and oppressed.

We want to spend a little more time talking about the internal and
external economic abuse of human rights.  Some of the most powerful
countries in the world which espouse human rights most loudly, are
involved in creating some of the worst human rights abuses through
their economic policies.  The US, Japan and many EC countries have
achieved fantastic economic growth with policies which have brought
immense suffering to millions of people within their own countries
as well as on the global level.  This is done in the name of the
economic god called "the free enterprise system" in which economic
"survival of the fittest" leaves millions destitute, working for a
pittance, surviving by begging or selling their bodies, and living
their entire lives without ever experiencing the basic human rights
guaranteed by a wealthy and civilized world.  Can true democracy,
itself, survive under such circumstances?

Now, more and more countries in the so-called developing world are
attempting to copy this economic piracy, holding dreams for the
wealth and prosperity they see in the countries of the North. 
Thailand is a good example in Southeast Asia.  Stressing economic
growth over almost everything else, the country's GNP growth rate
has been phenomenal.  This economic growth, which has not brought
benefits to most Thais, is now determining Thailand's foreign
policy, especially its policy in relationship to Cambodia and

For example, as the world moves for economic sanctions against the
Khmer Rouge (KR) in Cambodia in order to push them to take a
serious part in the peace process, Thailand bulks.   Praphakorn
Smiti, director of Thailand's Foreign Affairs Division recently
stated, "Thailand has done its best to bring peace to Cambodia. 
Many burdens were left with us for a long time, including the
refugees.  It isn't all right if the United Nations adopts tough
measures without considering Thailand." (Bangkok Post, Nov. 22,

Praphakorn's concern came from the fact that two Thai logging
companies have concessions in KR areas, and six other Thai
companies have concessions to mine gems.  These concessions provide
the KR with millions of baht each day (Bangkok Post, Nov. 22,
1992).  Economic sanctions against the KR would affect these few
companies, not the Thai people as a whole.  Yet, for the sake of
these few companies, Thailand is fighting against sanctions which
might be the last hope to cut the KR off from the money they need
to carry on their war against the Cambodian people, and bring the
country closer to peace.  

Praphakorn is also concerned that if funds to the KR are cut off by
sanctions, the KR may start looting Thai villages along the border
to get the food and supplies they require.  This should have been
taken into consideration when Thailand first began its support of
the KR.  As one observer stated it, "If you want to sleep with
snakes, you should expect to get bitten by them one day."

In Burma the story is frighteningly the same.  Thai companies have,
for the most part, invested through or with the cooperation of the
military regime, a regime which is considered along with the KR to
be one of the worst human rights violators in the world.  These
investments, and the political clout of the companies which have
made them, will continue to determine Thailand's and Asean's
"constructive engagement" policy with Burma.  Human rights is not
a consideration.  

The point is that companies or governments who invest economically
with a despot, will end up defending that despot in order to
protect their investments no matter how much human misery may be
created by that despot.  Their rationalisms fail to ease the
suffering brought on the people.  Thai Ambassador to Rangoon
Virasakdi Footrakul recently said, "We are realizing the gradual
change of Burma from a socialist to a market system."  (Bangkok
Post, Nov. 22, 1992)  The implication is that the terrible woes
being visited on the people of Burma today are the result of the
socialist system, and that these woes will be ended when the market
system moves into full swing.  

The burning questions for us to look at is: "Can an atmosphere of
true human rights be developed within a capitalist economic system
which puts capital above all else?" 

Human rights violations created by economic injustice will become
increasingly important for us to look at in the coming years.  As
long as the human rights of people are equated with economic
growth, GNPs will be used to prove the well-being of people rather
than the people's access to their true rights.