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Subject: BURMA: HR SUB-COMMITTEE REPORT OCT 1995 # 1. (fwd)

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Date: Tue, 20 Feb 1996 07:58:49 +1030
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/* posted Tue 20 Feb 6:00am 1995 by DRUNOO@xxxxxxxxxxxx(DR U NE OO)
                                                in igc:soc.culture.burma */
/* -----------" BURMA HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT, OCT 95 (1.1-1.15) "---------- */
Following materials are reproduction from the findings of Human Rights
Sub-Committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence
and Trade of the Parliament of Australia, published in October 1995.
Anyone wishing to inquire about the book may contact Ms Margaret
Swieringa, Secretary, Human Rights Sub-Committee, Parliament House,
Canberra A.C.T. 2600, AUSTRALIA.
Best regards, U Ne Oo.
CHAPTER ONE: (1.1 - 1.15)
The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia
Joint Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

IN BURMA (MYANMAR)     October 1995

Background to the Inquiry

1.1  Burma  is a large, strategically placed country between South Asia and
South east Asia. It has borders with India, China, Bangladesh, Thailand and
Laos. All othe these countries have a vital interest  in  what  happens  in
Burma.  For  Thailand  Burma is a source of resources in timber and natural
gas. It offers a trade route to China from the hinterland into  South  East
Asia,  the  Bay  of  Bengal and ultimately the Indian Ocean. It is itself a
large potential market and rich in natural resources - in gems, timber  and
natural  gas.  Today  its  estimated  population   is around 43 million and
growing at an estimated rate of 2.2 per cent per year, although no accurate
census figures are available. It is an  ehtnically  mixed  population:  the
dominant  Burma  group  comprises  60-70  per cent of the population; other
major communities include the Shan approximately eight per cent, the  Karen
about  ten  per  cent, the Chin over two per cent, the Arakanese over three
per cent. It is claimed there are over 100 indigenous languages. The  major
religion  is  Theravada Buddhism although Christinity and Islam are adhered
to by significant groups of people.

1.2 Like many former colonial states, Burma is an  artificial  consturction
encompassing  very  different  groups of people whose hostilities have deep
historical roots, often  exacerbated  by  their  colonial  experience.  The
challenge for Burma, as for many of the mordern post colonial states, is to
find  a  means  of  including  all  thier people in the polity in ways that
recognise  their  aspirations  for  cultural  expression  and   give   them
confidence that they will be treated justly and equally.

1.3 Quite late in the nineteenth century, in 1886, Burma became part of the
British  Empire  when the British, after a series of wars, finally defeated
the Burman Empire. British control was wrested from them  by  the  Japanese
who promised independence to Burma and consequently gained local support to
drive  out  the  British. Formal independence under Japanese protection was
given to Burma by the Japanese in August  1943  but  Japanese  'protection'
proved  onerous  and unacceptable to the Burmese who rejoined the allies in
March 1945. Burma was  finally  decolonised  in  January  1948.  The  early
attempt  at  a federal and democratic constitution with significant support
from the ethnic minorities was thwarted by the military coup in 1962.

1.4 When Australians think of Burma their first thought is likely to be  of
the Burma railway where Australian prisoners of war, caught by the Japanese
advance  through  South East Asia, were made to work in horrific conditions
in Thailand and Burma, or of Burmese students brought to Australia to study
under the Colombo Plan. However, in the 1950s, there was a sizeable program
of officer training offered by the Australian army to the newly independent
Burma. Because of the isolationist policies of the Ne Win  Government,  the
gradual  cooling  of  Australia's  political  interests  and  the  lack  of
commercial involvement, contacts declined after the coup of 1962.

1.5 Isolationism meant that news of the crackdown on the democracy movement
in 1988 filtered out to the world very slowly and  much  less  dramatically
than  had  been  the case of the massacre in Tienanmen Square in 1989, even
though many more people appear to have died in  Burma.  At  the  time,  the
reaction  in  the Australian Parliament was muted. There were two questions
on Burma in the Senate in 1988, one drawing attention  to  disturbances  in
Rangoon  and  the  other  asking the Minister for Foreign Affairs about the
likelihood that elections would be held as promised [1]. Despite the  quiet
response,  aid  was  suspended,  although  residual  projects  were  to  be

1.6 In 1989, as more information of what had  happened  reached  Australia,
especially  with  the  escape of students and political activists to to the
borders, and particularly because  of  the  personal  interest  of  Senator
Schacht  who  had  visited  Burma in February 1989, the Parliament began to
take a more active interest. Questions  were  asked,  particularly  in  the
Senate,  about the number of students being arrested, the prospect for free
elections given the apparent arrest  and  persecution  of  members  of  the
democratic  parties  and  the  nature  of  Australia's  dealings  with  the
Government of Burma, especially in the sphere of aid, defence  exports  and
investment. There were also petitions and motions in the Senate calling for
the release of all political prisoners.

1.7  From  1990 onwards the concern became wide, encompassing all political
parties and resulting in unanimous votes in the chambers when motions  were
put  forward  on  Burma.  The  questions,  motions,  petitions  became more
specific, demanding the release of political  prisoners,  particularly  Daw
Aung  San  Suu  Kyi,  the  handover  of  power  to  the National League for
Democracy (NLD), the end to the gross violations of human  rights  and  the
cessation of Australian aid and trade until this was achieved.

1.8  The  dozens  of petitions, questions and motions of the Senate and the
House of  Representatives  increasingly  reflected  the  frustrations  many
Australians  felt  at  the  refusal  of the State Law and Order Restoration
Council (SLORC) to recognize the outcome of the 1990  election  which  they
had  lost  so  decisively.  It  offended  every  notion  of fair play which
Australians value. What was worse, however, was the brutality of the regime
in dealing with its opponents and the arrogance and equivocation with which
it responded to legitimate questions about its actions.

1.9 On 23 November 1993, the Senate passed the following  motion  moved  by
Senator Chamarette:

        That the Senate -

        (a) notes, with concern:

        (i)  the  lack  of  progress towards democracy and the human rights
        situation in Burma;

        (ii) the failure of the State Law  and  Order  Restoration  Council
        (SLORC)  to  respect the wishes of the people of Burma as expressed
        in the election held in 1990; and

        (iii) indications that the SLORC is seeking  to  push  through  the
        National  Convention constitutional proposals, which would entrench
        the military's role in politics, despite clear opposition to  these
        proposals from delegates representing major opposition parties; and

        (b) encourage the Government:

        (i)  to  continue  to  urge all parties to the conflict in Burma to
        resolve their difference through negotiations;

        (ii) to continue its endeavours, in concert  with  other  concerned
        countries  at  the  United  Nations  and  elsewhere,  to  promote a
        resolution of the political and military conflict in Burma; and

        (iii) to  work  to  ensure  that  international  attention  remains
        focused on the situation in Burma.

1.10 The President of the Senate, Senator the Hon Michael Beahan, duly sent
a  copy  of the resolution to the Ambassador for Myanmar(Burma), U Saw Tun.
On 24 February 1994, the Ambassador replied to the President of the  Senate
in the following terms:

        Dear Mr President

        I  wish to refer to your letter dated 24 November 1993 by which you
        have transmitted to me the text of the resolution  adopted  by  the
        Senate  of  teh  Commonwealth  of  Australia  on  23  November 1993
        concerning the developments taking place in the Union of Myanmar.

        In this connection I am constrained to express my deep regret  that
        the contents of the above-mentioned resolution to the Senate do not
        reflect  the true situation prevailing in my country. Consequently,
        in reference to the said resolution I would like to brief  you  and
        the  distinguished  Australian  Senators as follows on the relevant
        developments taking place in Myanmar.

        Firstly, it was alleged in the resolution in  question  that  there
        was  a lack of progress towards democracy and in the field of human
        rights in Myanmar. This allegation clearly cannot hold water at all
        since it can be easily seen from what have been taking  place  over
        the  last  few years in Myanmar that considerable progress has been
        achieved in various areas, including democracy and human rights. To
        cite a few examples  in  this  regard,  the  State  Law  and  Order
        Restoration  Council (SLORC) Government which has temporarily taken
        over the responsibilities of State in order that a  repeat  of  the
        chaos  of  the  1988  disturbances will not occur, has successfully
        held a free and fair election in 1990. It is  currently  overseeing
        the  holding  of a National Convention attended by the delegates of
        all strata of society, including the representatives elected in the
        1990 general election and which will draw  up  a  constitution  for
        future  multi-party  democracy as well as a market oriented economy
        in Myanmar, the SLORC Government has  been  conduction  talks  with
        under  ground armed groups to secure peace, it is also planning and
        implementing projects for achievement of progress of national races
        and border areas, it is combating the menace of narcotic druges  on
        national,  sub-regional  and  international  levels.  Moreover,  it
        should be mentioned here that hundreds of  persons  who  no  longer
        pose a threat to the security of the State have also been released.
        Incidentally,  the  government  has  been  compelled  to take legal
        action against some persons,  including  a  few  delegates  to  the
        National  Convention,  not  because  of their political beliefs byt
        because of their actions which, if left unchecked, would derail the
        constitutional process. Furthermore, the Government has  agreed  to
        and received the visits of responsible high-ranking UN human rights
        officials to my country.

        As to the general election held in 1990, I would like to inform you
        that  the  authorities of the Union of Myanmar have stated time and
        time again that the objective of the election was the drafting of a
        new Constitution based on the broad principle of national consensus
        and  not  for  the  formation  of  a  government  by  the   elected
        representatives.  Thus  the  question  of  the SLORC government not
        respecting the wishes of the people of Myanmar, as mentioned in the
        resolution, does not arise at all. The  Government  has  reiterated
        several  times  that  it  will  transfer power to a firm government
        established in accordance with a sound constitution which is yet to

        Finally, contrary to what has been stated in  the  relevant  Senate
        resolution  about  the  role  of  the Tatmadaw (the Myanmar Defence
        Services ) in the political life of Myanmar, it has been agreed  at
        the  very  outset  of  the  ongoing  National  Convention  that the
        participation of the Tatmadaw  in  the  leading  role  of  national
        politics  be  one of the six objectives of the Convention in laying
        down basic principles for the drafting of a  constitution.  Such  a
        role  is  in  keeping  with  Myanmar's  historical  traditions. the
        Tatmadaw has invariably been a source of great strength in times of
        crisis. It has constantly been above  party  politics  and  it  has
        always  shouldered  its  primary  responsibility  of  ensuring  the
        non-disintegration of the Union, the non-disintegration of national
        solidarity  and  the   consolidation   of   national   sovereignty.
        Additionally, at the  current national convention itself, through a
        rpocess  of  free  and open deliberations and mutual accommodation,
        significant progress has been made and a consesus is now in sight.

        Having explained the issues raised  in  the  Senate  resolution,  I
        would  like  to  express  the hope that my above explanations would
        help  the  distinguished  members  of  the  Australian  Senate   to
        understand  our viewpoint regarding the complex issues obtaining in
        our country.

        Yours sincerely
        (Saw Tun)

1.11 This letter, signed by the Ambassador, was  copied  to  all  Senators.
Senators  did  not  find  the  Ambassador's  explanations  satisfactory and
consequently passed the following resolution, moved by Senator Reid,  on  2
March 1994:

        That  the  following  matters  be  referred  to  the  Human  Rights
        Sub-Committee of the Joint Standing committee on  Foreign  Affairs,
        Defence  and Trade for inquiry and report: The Senate resolution of
        23 November 1993 relation to human  rights  and  lack  of  progress
        towards  democracy in Myanmar and the letter from the Ambassador of
        the Union of Myanmar responding to the resolution.

1.12 This inquiry was deferred by the Sub-Committee until the then  current
inquiry  into  Australia's  efforts to promote and protect human rights was
completed in December 1994. Nevertheless, it was advertised in the national
press on 10 September 1994. The Sub-Committee received 36  submissions,  46
exhibits  and conducted 8 public hearing in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne and
Perth between 24 February and 17 August 1995.

1.13 The inquiry was characterised by the number of witnesses who sought to
give evidence in-camera. Most expressed concern about the welfare of  their
families in Burma.

1.14 The Committee was also disappointed by the unwillingness of Australian
businesses  who  were  approached  to  give evidence on their experience of
doing business in Burma to appear  before  the  Committee.  Most  who  were
approached  replied  that  they  had  considered ventures that they did not
pursue; however, the Committee believed there might have been  considerable
value  if those that had decided not to proceed had been willing to discuss
the reasons for their decision.

1.15 To avoid confusion, a word needs to be said at the  outset  about  the
use  of  the  alternate  names,  Burma and Myanmar. The SLORC renamed Burma
Myanmar after they took power. In this report, where the  name  Myanmar  is
used  by  witnesses  or  in documents it has not been changed; however, the
Committee resolved to use the name Burma in all other places.