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GATT, Human Rights and Burma (r)

Subject: GATT, Human Rights and Burma

/* Written 10:11 pm  Nov 22, 1993 by bmcallister@xxxxxxxxxxx in igc:reg.seasia */
/* ---------- "GATT, Human Rights and Burma" ---------- */
II.Global condemnation of Burma

	Without question, the Burmese human rights record is
deplorable.  In 1988, the State Law and Order Restoration
Council (SLORC) displaced the prior military ruler and
engaged in bloody suppression of the country-wide pro-
democracy movement.[1]  The U.S. Department of State has
acknowledged forced conscription, the use of forced and
prison labor, political detentions, disappearances, torture,
and other repressive actions by a military government with
no claim of constitutional legitimacy.[2]  On March 3, 1992,
the United Nations Commission on Human rights adopted a
resolution condemning Burma for human rights violations and
appointing a special rapporteur to further investigate the
situation.[3]  Since the SLORC coup in 1988, Burmese opium
and heroin production has doubles, now accounting for 60% of
the world supply.  Some Senators have gone so far as to
connect this drug trade to Burma's purchases of a billion
dollars of military goods from China.[4]

	Continued trade with Burma has particularly negative
implications given the economic bent of the military
government.  The military has not only taken the reigns of
power over the state, but it is pillaging the country's
natural resources. Since the military coup in 1988, the rate
of clear cutting has increased five fold, and is proceeding
at a rate that will exhaust Burma's precious teak forests in
15 years.[5]  Especially significant from a GATT standpoint,
the U.S. Department of State has recognized the military
government's practice of using corvee and prison labor in
export oriented sectors.[6]  Corvee labor is a practice
where a portion of a local population is forced to work
without pay on a government project, a practice which is
hardly distinguishable from prison or slave labor in that it
is extracted under duress without compensation.  Prisoners
are forced to harvest sugar cane and construct roads.[7] 
Forced labor is being used to build a 112 - mile long Aung
Ban-lai Kaw railroad into Eastern Burma, reportedly
conscripting one person from every household through which
the railway passes.[8]  The use of forced labor in zones of
combat with insurgents has resulted in many deaths.[9] 
These activities violate Burma's international obligations
as Burma is a party to the Slavery Convention[10],
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of
Genocide,[11] and ILO Conventions 29 and 87.[12]  

	In 1988, the last year for which figures are available,
Japanese, German and United States trade with Burma totaled
$8,908 billion, making up 8 percent of Burma's exports and
36 percent of its imports.  Today, few countries maintain
trade above the table. China, Japan, Thailand and other
ASEAN countries continue to maintain trade with Burma. U.S.
bilateral aid has been cut off and there are claims that
multilateral aid slowed on September 1988.[13]  The U.S.
claims trade has become minimal.[14]  But the export
oriented economic changes made by the SLORC government have
increased international trade at the same time.  Since the
takeover, seven foreign oil companies are reported to have
paid at least US $5 million each in signing bonuses
alone.[15]  Overall, diplomats estimate that Burma secured
at least U.S. $1 billion from foreign investment after the
coup in 1989.[16]	

	ASEAN considers the military regime in Burma to be the
country's legitimate government and rejects calls by major
western trade partners to publicly push the Burmese
government to improve its human rights record.[17]  They
prefer to continue to engage in a policy of constructive
engagement towards the SLORC regime.[18]  In July 1991,  at
ministerial meetings in Kuala Lumpur, the ASEAN countries
announced their wish to avoid cutting Burma off from
international economic aid, but rather to prod it towards
change slowly, using economic contacts as a bargaining

	The U.S. claims it cannot use sanctions or full embargo
against Burma because it would be against obligations under
GATT.  Burma was among the original GATT members in 1947,
though it was not an independant nation.  Under the GATT, as
a "separate customs territory possessing full autonomy in
the conduct of its external commercial relations and of
other matters," it was able to become a contracting
party.[20]  Consistent with the doctrine of successor
governments, Burma will continue to be considered a GATT
contracting party until six months after it gives notice of
withdrawal to the U.N. Secretary-General.[21]  Therefore, it
has recourse to full rights under the agreement.  

  	While this factual situation poses strategic questions
beyond the scope of this paper, it raises many issues of the
law of international trade sanctions.  


[1].Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights
Practices for 1991, Report submitted to the Senate Committee
on Foreign Relations, 102nd Cong., 1st Sess., 786-97 (1991).

[2].See, Department of State, Country Reports on Human
Rights Practices for 1988, Report submitted to the Senate
Committee on Foreign Relations, 100th Cong., 2nd Sess., 740-
750 (1988);  Department of State, Country Report (1991),
supra note 7, at 786.

[3].138 Cong. Rec. H. 3941, 3942 (1992).

[4].Comments of Senator Jesse Helms, 138 Cong. Rec. S 4961,
4961 (1992).

[5].Financial Times, June 21, 1990, at 6, quoted in Hufbauer
et. al., Economic Sanctions Reconsidered:  Supplemental Case
Histories 615-6 (2d. ed. 1990)[hereinafter ESR II].

[6].Department of State, Country Reports 796 (1991).

[7].Department of State, Country Report, at 788 (1991).

[8].All Burma Student's Democratic Front, Burma Focus, March
1993, available in PEACENET, in cdp:reg.seasia.

[9].Department of State, Country Reports 790 (1991).

[10].46 Stat. 2183, entered into force  Dec. 7, 1927.

[11].78 U.N.T.S. 15, 21 U.S.T. 1418, T.I.A.S. 6900, entered
into force Jan. 12, 1951.

[12].Department of State, Country Reports 1652 (1991).


[14].U.S. trade was described as minimal in 1986-1987, at 11
billion Kyat.  Figures are not available since 1987. 
Department of State, Country Reports on Economic Policy and
Trade Practices, Report Submitted to the Committee on
Foreign Affairs of the U.S. house of Representatives 176-177

[15].ESR II, supra note 11, at 615.

[16].Id. at 615.

[17].United Press International, ASEAN Says Burmese
Government is Legit, July 27, 1992, available in ECONET,

[18].Coban Tun, Asian Report, B.U.R.M.A., November 1992,
available in, PEACENET, in cdp:reg.seasia.


[20].John H. Jackson, The World Trading System 46 (1989).

[21].GATT, art. XXXI