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BurmaNet News September 24, 1995
- Subject: BurmaNet News September 24, 1995
- From: burmanet@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 24 Sep 1995 04:53:00
------------------------ BurmaNet ------------------------
"Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"
The BurmaNet News: September 24, 1995
Noted in Passing:
It is ironic that people are put into prison and persecuted
simply because they are asking the government to keep their
promise. - Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (quoted in BKK POST:
SUU KYI ASKS BURMESE JUNTA TO KEEP PLEDGE)
PROGRESSIVE: BURMA IN CHAINS: U.S. COMPANIES PROFIT FROM SLAVERY
S.H.A.N: HEAVY FIGHTING BETWEEN UWSA AND MTA
BKK POST: SENATE OKS TOUGH SANCTIONS ON BURMA
BKK POST: SUU KYI ASKS BURMESE JUNTA TO KEEP PLEDGE
NATION: LETTERS - SPIES EVERYWHERE
NATION: LETTERS - NO RELATION AT ALL
BPF: THE BURMESE DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT AT THE UN
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BURMANET SUBJECT-MATTER RESOURCE LIST
BurmaNet regularly receives enquiries on a number of
different topics related to Burma. The scope of the subjects
involved is simplytoo broad for any one person to cover.
BurmaNet is therefore organizing a number of volunteer
coordinators to field questions on various subjects. If you
have questions on any of the following subjects, please
direct email to the following coordinators, who will either
answer your question or try to put you in contact with
someone who can:
Arakan/Rohingya/Burma- [volunteer needed]
Art/archaeology/: [volunteer needed]
Campus activism: [on summer vacation]
Boycott campaigns: [Pepsi]
Buddhism: Buddhist Relief Mission,
Chin history/culture: plilian@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
History of Burma: zar@xxxxxxxxxxxx
Kachin history/culture: 74750.1267@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Karen history/culture: 102113.2571@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Karen Historical Society
Mon history/culture: [volunteer needed]
Naga history/culture: Wungram Shishak,
Burma-India border [volunteer needed]
Pali literature: "Palmleaf"
Shan history/culture: [volunteer needed]
Shareholder activism: frdc@xxxxxxxxxxx "Attn. S.
Tourism campaigns: bagp@xxxxxxxxxx "Attn. S.
World Wide Web: FreeBurma@xxxxxxxxx
[Feel free to suggest more areas of coverage]
PROGRESSIVE: BURMA IN CHAINS: U.S. COMPANIES PROFIT FROM SLAVERY
October 1995, pp.32-35 By Brad Miller
The Border Area Development Program is close to reaching the goals set
forth under the Master Plan," drones a wax-like figure on the television
news. It is her mouth that moves, but it is the numbing propaganda of the
State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), Burma's repressive
military regime, that seeps from the T.V. The "news" is supplemented with
footage of the army, training amid staged explosions and folk music. The
SLORC-controlled television stations and newspapers--the only news sources
the government allows--say the border regions are being developed to
"strengthen unity and friendship among national brethren."
But on the border, in the homeland of the Karen, Mon, and other
ethnic minorities, there is no folk music song track as the army drives out
the tribal people to clear a path for foreign investment.
Padauk and pyinkado trees rise out of the jungle and disappear into
the fog more than 100 feet above the ground. Below, in a clearing, two Mon
refugees hold onto a pale pink pig, his head on a stump. The screaming
starts when they smash his skull with a sledgehammer. The pig doesn't die,
but runs into the jungle, followed by some growling dogs and laughing Mon.
More screams float from the jungle, and then it is quiet, as four Mon
emerge from the fog, carrying the pig, one man holding each pink leg.
Later, twelve men and two women gather in a large hut. They are
among the 700 refugees who have arrived at this border camp within the last
two months, adding to the 2,000-plus people already here. The recent
arrivals left their homes and walked for four days across the mountains.
Some did not make it. They were shot by the Burmese army, called the
Tatmadaw. The government troops had been forcing them to work on the
Ye-tavoy railroad, an extension of the "Death Railway" constructed by the
Japanese Army during World War II.
To build the "New Death Railway," the Tatmadaw takes one person per
Mon and Tavoyan household, often holding them in guarded labor camps. If a
family can't provide someone to work, it must pay a fine. The workers are
not paid, and are not given food. Sometimes they must rent their
construction tools. They are given neither medicine nor rest if they are
sick. If they stop working, the soldiers beat them. Sme work in chains
for twenty four hours straight. Young and old, women and men are treated
One man in his mid-thirties was arrested for being a suspected
rebel and put in wooden stocks for four days, beaten, and then forced to
work for six months.
Another man fled after his twenty-one-year-old cousin, a mother of
two, was tied to a pole and raped by three Tatmadaw soldiers. They poked
her with a bayonet and then raped her again. Then they took all her
belongings, including her earrings.
A sixty-year-old woman had to pay the SLORC because her family
could not provide a worker. When she ran out of money, she had to leave.
Only forty-five of ninety families were left in her village. The rest had
fled their homes and farms.
The Karen and other rebel groups living in Burma's border regions
have been battling the government since 1948. After a generation of
murders, disappearances, and starvation, National League for Democracy
leader Aung San Suu Kyi led students and monks in massive, nonviolent
demonstrations in 1988. The protests ended as 10,000 people were shot down
in the streets and thousands more were detained and tortured.
The State Law and Order Restoration Council seized control of
the government and changed the country's name to Myanmar, imposed martial
law, and placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.
The Burmese people continue to be bludgeoned by the military junta.
And although the U.S. government has declared its support for the
democratic movement, it has done little to put that support into practice.
Meanwhile, the U.S. corporations have eagerly embraced Asian and European
companies' policy of "constructive engagement" in Burma.
Using the invested dollars of companies like Unocal, Texaco, ARCO,
Total, CALTEX (a joint venture of Chevron and Texaco), and Pepsi, the
Burmese government carries out environmental destruction and genocide. The
SLORC has an embassy in Washington and retains its seat at the United
Nations. The U.S. embassy is open for business in Rangoon, with a DEA
presence and a commercial attache available to provide companies with
advice on how to invest in Burma.
Since the SLORC's creation in 1988, oil companies have provided
between $400 and $500 million to the military regime. Between 60 to 80
percent of this money is used to arm the Tatmadaw.
Recently, Secretary of State Warren Christopher has hinted that the
United States may take an even more conciliatory stand with the SLORC. The
release of Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest on July
10, 1995, may give the State Department a reason to relax its posture on
Burma, and fuel corporate propaganda that says "constructive engagement" is
In early February of 1995, the government's Myanmar Oil and Gas
Enterprise signed a $1 billion contract with the consortium of oil
companies, including the United States' Unocal, France's Total, and the
Petroleum Authority of Thailand, to supply natural gas through Thailand via
a pipeline through Mon and Karen land. As politicians celebrated the deal
in Bangkok, the Tatmadaw drove 10,000 more people acorss the Thai border.
Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest came shortly after the
Burmese ambassador returned to Rangoon from Washington, D.C. to brief the
SLORC leaders on the mood of the Congress and on possible sanctions against
the junta. It came shortly before a conference of the Association of the
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the announcement by Senator
MitchMcConnell, Republican of Kentucky, that he would introduce a
trade-sanctions bill in Congress that would ban U.S. companies from trading
with or investing in Burma. While the SLORC has attempted to create a
positive image of itself by releasing Aung San Suu Kyi, it has launched new
military offensives against the Karens and the Karen National Union (KNU).
Aung San Suu Kyi herself has criticized foreign corporations for
"coming to do business when it is a matter of life and death for all of
us." If Unocal and Total proceeded with their pipeline construction, a
200-foot-wide scar will be cut from the Andaman Sea through the rain
forest, twenty-seven miles to Nai et Taung, wetlands, riverbeds, and
farmland will be destroyed, and the offshore section will damage fragile
coral reefs and fishing grounds.
The Tatmadaw has started to relocate the inhabitants along the
pipeline route, forcing them to set up refugee camps along the Thai border.
In a Karen camp south of Nai et Taung, Than Min, the village doctor, draws
a map in the dirt to show the flight of the people.
"First the SLORC army forced us into Thailand," he says. "Then the
Thai military burned our village. They did it twice. Now we must move
Thailand does not recognize Than Min's people as refugees, and the
Thai army has been cutting off medicine and rice supplies provided by
non-governmental organizations. The shortages are designed to force the
fleeing villagers back into Burma and pressure the rebels to sign ceasefire
agreements with the SLORC.
Than Min believes his people are being moved around to make way for
"It will come out of Burma at Nai et Taung and pass right near
here," he says, pointing to the forest-covered mountains. "Tomorrow more
families will leave here for Burma. They will walk twenty kilometers.
This is not good. Fisrt we need the fighting to stop, then we can go back
to Burma. In that order."
But it is unlikely that fighting will stop any time soon.
"As the pipeline is built, the fighting will follow it," says Ye
Kyaw, who runs a Karen refugee camp inside Burma. Many of his camp's
residents arrived from the pipeline area. They left because they were
tired of being forced to construct roads and military installations for the
The SLORC has recently moved seventeen battlions into the area to
clear out rebel resistance, using the unwilling aid of villagers. Amnesty
International has issued a report that the Tatmadaw has been using
civilians to carry weapons and ammunition into combat zones. They also
use them as human mine sweepers.
The pipeline's path through the rainforest will bisect the Karen's
territory, allowing the Tatmadaw to carry out its "Four Cuts Strategy":
depriving the rebels of information, food, finances, and recruits.
Insurgent groups like the Karen National Union amd the New Mon
State Party have vowed to sabotage construction of the pipeline, and, if it
is completed, to turn it into a "snake of fire."
The New Mon State Party signed a cease-fire with the SLORC in late
June. But there have been a number of violent deaths related to the
pipeline. On March 8, 1995, five Total employees were killed in a KNU
attack near the village of Kanbauk, Burma. The KNU's Fourth Brigade
attacked a surveying crew after issuing a statement condemning the pipeline
project and related human-rights abuses. The rebels were also upset over
recent comments by Unocal president John Imle insinuating that the Karen
and Mon were to blame for increased SLORC repression.
The All Burma Students' Democratic Front, a rebel group associated
with the Karen and Mon, also maintains a presence in the area.
Meanwhile, the clearing of the forest is clearing up new fields of fire.
Many refugees believe that the forced construction of the "New Death
Railway" is related to the gas pipeline, since it crosses the pipeline's
route, and could be conveniently used to transport materials and soldiers.
The SLORC claims that its forced labor policy is actually a form of
voluntary labor--that it is an old tradition for people to work for "the
good of their villages."
But the villages are being abandoned, the farms seized without
compensation, and the people are in refugee camps far from their homeland.
Unocal and Total have conceded that the SLORC is using slave labor,
and claim they will not use the railroad because of it.
The companies would not risk the damaging public relations
connected with paying their workers nothing. Minimal wages are a different
matter. Total claims to have 20o employees involved in the surveying
process, all of whom are being paid. But the Tatmadaw takes more than half
of their wages. Total executives are aware of the wage skimming, but say
they can't be held accountable.
"But they are accountable," says Faith Doherty of the Southeast
Asian Information Network, "because they are dealing with the SLORC."
Unocal and Total knew in advance whom they would be dealing with in
Burma. Reprecht von Arnim of the United Nations High Commision for the
Refugees in Thailand made a public statement in Spetember 1994 that the
SLORC would most likely to use slave labor on any infrastructure projects.
Besides the Ye-Tavoy railway, the military junta has used slave
labor on a number of tourism-related projects in connection with its "Visit
Myanmar '96" promotional effort.
Doherty has been meeting with villagers and rebels in the pipeline
area, exchanging information on Unocal/Total construction plans.
"You can't just look at the issue of corporations using forced
labor or not," she says. "This is an investment issue. They should not be
Many environmentalists and human rights advocates in the United
States agree. The Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network,
and the Bay Area Roundtable have been organizing boycotts against the oil
companies and Pepsico, including its subsidiaries Pizza Hut, Taco Bell,
Frito-Lay, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has warned Unocal that under
U.S. tort law, the company could be legally liable for any death or
destruction associated with its operation.
This kind of pressure has produced some results. Levi Strauss, Liz
Claiborne, Eddie Bauer, and Amoco have pulled out of Burma, although Amoco
claims its withdrawal was for financial reasons only.
In February 1995 the city council of Berkeley passed a resolution
barring the city from buying goods or services from companies operating in
Burma, and in August, Madison, Wisconsin, followed suit. A statewide ban
has passed the lower house and is currently before the Senate in
Massachusetts. Simon Billenness of Franklin Research Development in Boston
says he expects similar "selective purchasing" laws to be introduced in ten
new cities by the end of the year.
Unocal says it has been monitoring the situation and will not
tolerate human-rights violations in any of its project areas. But Unocal's
fact-finding mission consisted of a one-day helicopter tour. So far, the
company has ignored the requests of the KNU to conduct interviews with
refugees who have fled the pipeline area, and Unocal representatives have
not met with Karen or Mon leaders.
Unocal claims to be a "good corporate citizen" and, in a
stockholders' report, CEO Roger Beach says the company conducts all its
"business activities--in any country--ethically and responsibly, or we
don't do business there at all."
Small fires burn around the monastery, increasing the heat of the sun.
San Moe cuts bamboo poles to use as supports for the makeshift building. He
used to be a monk, until he joined the All Burma Students' Democratic Front
and was shot in the femur at the Battle of Sleeping Dog Hill. A scar marks
his thigh at the bullet's point of entry. A tattoo of a demonic ogre
called a Bilu decorates his back.
The thirty families in the camp where San Moe lives have been
forced to move three times since the beginning of 1995, after the All Burma
Students' Democratic Front abandoned the base called Dawn Gwin, north of
Each time the families have attempted to establish a community,
with a school, a hospital, and a monastery, they have been told to relocate
and have had to survive with nothing more than plastic sheets for shelter.
The SLORC has recently intensified its military operations against
the rebels here in order to secure the area for timber and hydroelectric
In 1993, the junta discontinued its contracts with Thai loggers,
saying they would be renewed only after the border areas were secured.
Eager to begin logging again, the Thai government has helped the Tatmadaw
to secure the border, initiating a program to keep hill tribes out of
Thailand, removing those who arrived after 1991. The Thais have also
proposed a plan to combine all sixteen Karen refugee camps into two
locations and police them with soldiers.
The Thais have allowed the Tatmadaw to cross the border. In May
1995, the Thai army began raiding Karen border camps to seize weapons and
appease the SLORC. The Thai troops operate with the Joint U.S. Military
Advisory Group, which gives foreign armies counterinsurgency advice.
The Rainforest Action Network estimates that Burma's teak forests
will be eliminated in two or three years. The SLORC, the Thai government,
and U.S. teak importers like Dean Hardwoods and Teak Imports International
stand to profit, and the jungle and its inhabitants face probable
One of the jungle's inhabitants walks along a stream toward a hut
where a wedding is being held. The girl wears a T-shirt that says, "Save
the Salween--Damn the Dams," a reference to the SLORC's plan to build a
hydroelectric dam on the Upper Salween River, reportedly financed by Chase
Manhattan Bank. It is another way to increase the flow of money into
Burma--and the flow of refugees into Thailand, adding to the 80,000 already
After a Buddhist monk performs the wedding, the girl and some of
her teen-aged friends gather around a battery-operated boom box and dance
in their dislocated home in the jungle.
Back in the city, a Burmese student, Ea Nang, looks up from her
glass of Pepsi. "After the attack on the Total workers in Kanbauk, my
friend had to carry one of the bodies off the plane in Rangoon. The man
killed was married. He had a six-week-old baby."
As long as the corporate war goes on, the bodies will continue to
stack up at the airport in Rangoon.
At the same airport, soldiers climb into a Huey gunship, which
shudders and heads off to put in its eight-hour shift, cutting a swath
through the jungle, tearing through forests, villages, animals, and people,
leaving behind profits and skeletons.
S.H.A.N: HEAVY FIGHTING BETWEEN UWSA AND MTA
September 20, 1995 Muangmai
The long awaited ` D-Day ' attack by the Wa troops against the Shans in the Yawn
valley, north of Mai-ai District,Chiangmai Province of Thailand, began yesterday
morning, according to Shan high command.
The Was opened up their biggest-ever attempt to chase the Shan rebels from the
area by generous shelling of their fire bases which lasted for four and a half
The attackers, which included, apart from the Wa, contingents from the
Palaung,Kachin and Lahu member-groups of the so-called Peace and Democratic
Front, followed the heavy shelling by charging the heavily defended Shan
stronghold.They however gave up their fruitless human-wave charges which
produced no more than several casualties - and quarrels as well - among
themselves. Exact figures of losses on both sides are , at the time of this
reporting, still not available.
Meanwhile, the Shan monks of Thailand, meeting in Chiangrai on 14 September,
again callled on both the Mong Tai Army and the renegade ` Shan State National
Army ' of Major Karnyord to refrain from using violent means to settle their
BKK POST: SENATE OKS TOUGH SANCTIONS ON BURMA
September 23, 1995 Washington, AFP
IN a challenge to the Clinton administration, the US Senate has
approved tough sanctions against Burma that would ban all US
trade with, investment in, and travel to the Southeast Asian
Senator Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky and chairman
of a key funding panel, sponsored the sanctions amendment to the
1996 foreign aid bill, which was approved by the Senate by an
overwhelming 91 to nine late Thursday.
The Senate bill must now be reconciled with comparable
legislation in the House of Representatives. A final compromise
version would then be sent to President Bill Clinton for signing
before it can becoming law.
McConnell also secured authorization of two million dollars in
funding for democracy building activities in Burma, according to
a spokesman for the senator, Kyle Simmons.
The sanctions would ban all US trade with, investment in, and
travel to Burma _ in which the United States is among the top
investors _ and suspend aid to countries selling arms to the
ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).
The Clinton administration has said little on Burma in recent
months but has made clear that it opposes the sanctions
legislation, on grounds that they would limit the ability of the
administration to set foreign policy.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific
Affairs Kent Wiedemann said September 7 sanctions would be
"counterproductive" following the junta's release in July of
Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent six years under house
Testifying before a congressional committee, Wiedemann cited a
lack of international support for sanctions against Burma and
called for continued US support of UN aid.
BKK POST: SUU KYI ASKS BURMESE JUNTA TO KEEP THEIR DEMOCRACY
September 23, 1995 Rangoon, Reuters
OPPOSITION leader Aung San Suu Kyi said yesterday that Burma's
military rulers, who grabbed power in 1988 promising the nation a
return to democracy, should now keep to their word.
"The State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) promised
democracy. We would like them to keep their promise. It's as
simple as that," Suu Kyi, who was released in early July after
nearly six years under house arrest, told Reuters in an
"It is ironic that people are put into prison and persecuted
simply because they are asking the government to keep their
promise," the 1991 Nobel Peace prize laureate said.
Thousands of people were killed or imprisoned before seven months
of student-led pro-democracy demonstrations across Burma were
finally crushed on September 18 1988, when the military set up a
new ruling body _ the SLORC.
The leader of the SLORC at the time promised the nation the
military would hold multiparty elections and return the country
In a general election in May 1990, Suu Kyi's National League for
e swept more than 80 percent of the seats. But the SLORC ignored
the result and instead launched a massive crackdown on all
opposition in the country.
Since her unexpected and unconditional release on July 10, Suu
Kyi has repeatedly called on the SLORC for dialogue and national
reconciliation but has been ignored.
Earlier this month, senior SLORC generals told the US ambassador
to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, during a visit here
that they were considering talks with Suu Kyi. But nothing formal
has yet happened.
Suu Kyi, who has been meeting frequently with her NLD colleagues
since gaining her freedom, said she believed her release may
encourage others in Burma to be more open in their struggle for
"Perhaps they can afford to be a bit more frank... partly because
my colleagues in the NLD are working together very openly and
very unitedly," she said in the interview at her lakeside Rangoon
A pressing issue ahead for the NLD and Suu Kyi is the next
session of a SLORC-organised national convention which has been
been meeting since January 1993 to draw up guidelines for a new
The military-dominated gathering, which has already
agreed on a clause to give the army a leading role in future
politics, has been roundly criticised by dissidents in exile and
by Suu Kyi herself in the past.
Suu Kyi declined comment on what position she and the NLD would
take on the convention and also on her efforts to engage the
SLORC in dialogue.
Reflecting on the events after the SLORC took power, Suu Kyi
said: "It's amazing what people have gone through. It's not
surprising that they are afraid... (but) they should be able to
do what they think in spite of their fears.'
Amnesty International alleged in a report yesterday that
thousands of political prisoners in Burmese jails endured
appalling conditions, including torture, prolonged shackling and
a lack of medical care and food,
The London-based human rights group said its findings followed
new information which was consistent with a previously documented
pattern of human-rights violations, including torture and
The regime has faced regular criticism for alleged rights abuses
since it was formed in 1988 after the military crushed a
SLORC rejects the charges saying Western concepts of human rights
do not apply i Burma.
"Torture has been routine Myanmar's prisons for man years, and
has increased dramatically since the imprisonment of thousands of
political prisoners beginning in 1988,' Amnesty charged.
"Political prisoners are evidently subjected to torture during
both the initial interrogation period and after they have been
sentenced," Amnesty said;
"Torture techniques include beatings, sometimes to the point of
unconsciousness; being forced to crawl over sharp stones- and
being held in the hot sun," the report said.
"Such practices are used by Myanmar's security forces to punish
and intimidate prisoners," it said.
The rights group said it had recorded the deaths of 15 political
prisoners since 1988, many of whom had died from disease after
inadequate medical attention.
"Amnesty International is concerned about recurrent reports of
death in custody," the group said.
Conditions for common criminals in labour camps were even worse
than those endured by political prisoners and many had died
because of ill-treatment, the group said.
NATION: LETTERS - SPIES EVERYWHERE
September 23, 1995
As one who fled Burma in 1992 because of Slorc's suppression, I
went to Thailand with the hope of organizing a democratic
movement against the military junta. I've been to several Dlaces
and provinces bere an'd one- thing I've discovered is the
overwhelmingly large number of Slorc spies who monitor the
movements of their countrymen.
These spies reported to Slorc our plan to stage protests in front
of the Burmese embassy, the meeting of Burmese students in
Ramkhamhaeng, the outcome of the KNU congress and other
activities. These people were seen taking notes and pictures and
asking strange questions during gatherings. It also seems that
they have certain privileges. For example, they are always
released immediately after they are arrested.
Those aiming to establish a democratic government in Burma should
watch out for these people.
An Exiled Burmese Student
NATION: LETTERS - NO RELATION AT ALL
September 23, 1995
This is to clarify a report (Bangkok Post, Sept 19) about the
Myanmar (Burma) government and the Red Cross mission.
The office of the International Committee of the Red Cross was
opened in Myanmar to implement the terms and with the hope of
organizing a democratic conditions stipulated in the memorandum
of understanding signed by Ministry of Defence and the ICRC on
the Orthopaedic artificial limbs project. The terms of the
project as provided in the MOU came to an end in the middle of
1995 and this resulted in the subsequent closure of the ICRC
office in Rangoon.
The proposal put forward by the ICRC for the signing of another
MOU, commonly known as "MOU on Prison Visit" is but a separate
issue. At the moment Myanmar is not in a position to sign the MOU
as proposed by the ICRC. But the government did not say that it
will not sign the MOU. The dialogue with ICRC on this issue can
continue and that in the future when the conditions in the
country are different, it may be able to agree to the provisions
of the MOU. This was clearly explained to the concerned officials
of the ICRC. There was no linkage whatsoever between the two
Embassy of the Union Of Myanmar
[This letter also appeared in the BKK POST in the letters to the
Editor section under the title of "Embassy clarifies".]
Typed by the Research Department of the ABSDF(MTZ) 23/9/95
BPF: THE BURMESE DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT AT THE UNITED NATIONS, 1991-1995
(abridged: for the full text please contact David Arnott <darnott@xxxxxxxxxxx>)
by David Arnott
Secretary, Burma Peace Foundation,
Coordinator, FREE SUU KYI, FREE BURMA
18 August 95 (Reposted 21 Sept 95)
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's resistance to SLORC has been
complemented by the international work of the NCGUB and
representatives of non-Burman nationalities. Since 1991 this work
has taken them to international conferences, national capitals,
and the United Nations. Their presence at the UN has made a
significant contribution towards strengthening the resolutions on
Burma. The growing condemnation of SLORC contained in these
resolutions has been a major factor in maintaining the de facto
sanctions imposed in 1988 by the international community. In this
and in other ways the Burmese Democracy Movement has been able to
act internationally to increase the pressure on SLORC.
Since 1989 I have attended most sessions of the principal UN
human rights meetings, namely the 3rd Committee of the General
Assembly (GA) in New York, and the Commission on Human Rights
(CHR) in Geneva. My task has been to monitor the meetings and
provide diplomats and UN officers with documentation and analyses
on the human rights situation in Burma. In the early years,
especially in Geneva, I also helped the delegations from the
Burmese Democracy Movement and the non-Burman nationalities meet
diplomats and UN officials, and provided technical assistance in
preparing interventions and drafting language for the
resolutions. As the delegations became more experienced in these
areas, I was able to concentrate more on documentation and
With this introduction to my credentials as an informed
commentator, I would like to describe the UN-related activities
of the NCGUB and representatives of the non-Burman peoples. While
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been on enforced retreat, the
delegations led by the NCGUB have been working away at the
international level, and with considerable effect. Their
activities have of course not been limited to UN work, but since
this is what I have seen at first hand, it is all I will
THE UN AND BURMA
How can the UN protect human rights in a country like Burma,
where the traditional Buddhist values of love, compassion and
non-violence have little impact on the day-to-day conduct of the
military, which apparently lacks any understanding or respect for
the very idea of human rights?
One way is to expose governments, SLORC in this case, to
international scrutiny and criticism by means of public reports,
speeches and resolutions. The annual sessions of the GA and CHR
are a period of intense humiliation for SLORC, which finds itself
publicly dissected and universally condemned. This damages SLORC
both politically and economically:
Politically, the condemnations undermine the image of legitimacy
SLORC seeks to project within the country. One has only to read a
few issues of "The New Light of Myanmar" to see how hard the
generals work at presenting themselves as legitimate rulers: they
speak of themselves as "the legal fold" to which the "rebel"
groups return; they engage in highly-publicised devotions to
senior Buddhist monks; they stride around opening roads and
bridges; they even claim legitimacy from Burma's membership in
the United Nations, though UN membership belongs to States, not
governments. "A Fascist Disneyland" is how one Western diplomat
in Rangoon described SLORC rule.
The ever-stronger condemnation of SLORC's human rights record in
UN reports and resolutions, and the UN demand that power be
transferred to the elected representatives, are well-known to the
Burmese people, who listen to the Burmese service of the BBC, VOA
and the Democratic Voice of Burma. The discepency between the
international assessment and the image the generals seek to
project undermines SLORC's status and thus its internal political
Economically, UN condemnation of SLORC is one of the main reasons
why the de facto sanctions imposed after the bloodbath of 1988
have not been lifted. There have been no World Bank or IMF loans;
UNDP assistance has been reduced to small humanitarian
programmes; and bilateral assistance from donor countries has not
been renewed, apart from minor (but symbolically important) aid
from Japan. Since economic mismanagement by the military has
driven the country from the position of "ricebowl of Asia" to
being one of the poorest countries in the world, with a growing
polarisation between rich and poor, SLORC is in desperate need of
international assistance, in spite of Chinese and Singaporean
SLORC has sought to soften UN criticism by making "gestures"
or "concessions" on the eve of the human rights meetings. For
instance the "unilateral cease-fire" against the Karen was
announced during the 1993 GA session. The timing of Aung San Suu
Kyi's release may have involved additional factors, but certain
mischievous folks are already betting on the date that talks
begin between the NLD and SLORC.
FACTORS WHICH HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO STRONG UN RESOLUTIONS ON BURMA
1) Lacking popular support or economic competence, the generals
have ruled by military coercion and terror, involving severe
and widespread human rights violations. These violations have
been widely and accurately documented and fed into the UN human
2) The diplomats leading on the Burma resolutions (Sweden at the
GA and France at the CHR) have been very skillful.
3) The NCGUB, led by Aung San Suu Kyi's cousin, Dr Sein Win, has
been particularly effective in Geneva and New York. Under its
leadership, delegations of elected parliamentarians and
representatives of non-Burman nationalities have lobbied the GA
and the CHR since 1991. At last year's session of the GA, for
example, the Delegation visited more than 70 country missions to
argue for specific wording to be included in the resolutions.
Their legitimacy as representatives of the Burmese people is
tacitly recognised by diplomats, who are very open to the NCGUB
proposals concerning the resolutions.
4) Unlike China, Burma can't hit back.