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Boycott Visit Myanmar Year 1996! (r)
- Subject: Boycott Visit Myanmar Year 1996! (r)
- From: freeburma@xxxxxxxxx
- Date: Thu, 18 Jul 1996 18:54:00
Subject: Re: Boycott Visit Myanmar Year 1996!
coincidently, the company Myo Aye cites below, wrote me an email
a few days ago describing their operation and justification for
continuing to sell tours to burma.
frankly, i don't know how to respond to them, but have enclosed
that email below in case anyone else would like to write them.
Anyone, please send the campaign letters (Boycott Visit Myanmar Year
1996!) to the following travel agency.
Interpid Adventure Travel
246 Brunswick, Fizroy VIC 3065
Ph: (61) (03) 9416 2655.
Fax: (61) (03) 9419 4426.
> An advertisement for travel to Burma
> - -
> - BURMA -
> - ***** -
> - -
> - See for yourself why Burma holds such special appeal -
> - for us at Intrepid - the fantastic sights, amazing -
> - history, stunning scenery and the incredibly friendly -
> - people: despite all they have endured. Samll groups, -
> - Australian leaders, frequent departures, unbeatable -
> - value. Call Intrepid for your brochure now on 1800 335 -
> - 401. -
> - -
> - [INTREPID, South East Asia.] -
> - -
> [ Travel, The Weekend Review, The Australian, 6-7 July 1996 ].
Travel to Burma
Thur, 11 Jul 96 03:18:27 -1000
Intrepid Travel <seatours@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Hi there. Impressive site. For those searching for the latest news and
views on traveling in Burma (as we are) it's a great source.
We are an Australian based company running small group tours to South
East Asia. Groups of 12 max, local transport, small guesthouses and
staying with local families where we can, western leader, a "soft
adventure" element. Over 5000 passengers from all over the world
expected in 1996. We're getting big.
Ethical and responsible travel has been a guiding goal from the
company's inception 8 years ago. We now find ourselves well involved in
the Burma debate as we have been running groups to Burma for the past
year or so. I notice we make the list on this site of investors in
brutality. Alot of correspondence has passed between us and various
human rights organisations in relation to our Burma trips, as there
seems to be a tendency to condemn any travel organisation visiting Burma
without first checking the extent that they may have considered the
issues. We have. We are not convinced that a travel boycott of Burma
is the most effective method of influencing change in the country. We
feel that as a small group tour operator we can play a more
constructive role in actually going to Burma, and educating the
I attach below a draft note that I am preparing. It will be sent to
all passengers who express an interest in going to Burma on an Intrepid
trip. It enables all passengers to make an informed decision on whether
to travel to Burma or not, and also gives a bit of a summary of how we
are travelling there. Sorry about its length - there is a fair bit to
say. I'd be interested in your comments on what we are doing, and the
draft too if you have any specific thoughts. I'm also preparing a list
of "alternative" sites and actions to be handed out to our passengers in
Burma, along the lines of "Striders" suggestions on this site.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Tom. Intrepid Travel.
The Ethics of Travel to Burma
Thank you for your interest in travelling to Burma with Intrepid. Our
trip in Burma has quickly become the most talked about trip in our
South-East Asia program, due to both its attractions and the continuing
debate on whether travellers should boycott Burma as a destination while
it is ruled by the military regime currently in power. The attractions
of Burma are summarised in our brochure and trip notes; here we want to
focus your attention on the ethical delimna facing the traveller. They
are issues which we have thought about long and hard before commencing
our operations in Burma, and we review our stance on tourism in Burma
regularly. We believe that in respect for the people of Burma every
potential traveller should also carefully consider the ethical
implications before visiting the country. We have summarised below the
main arguments both for and against going to Burma, and the reasons why
Intrepid has decided to run trips there. We want you as a responsible
traveller to make your own assessment.
Arguments against travelling to Burma
The State Law and Order Restoration Council.
Burma is ruled by a military dictatorship known as the State Law and
Order Restoration Council, or SLORC. SLORC has evolved from a period of
more than 30 years of military rule in Burma, during which time the
economy steadily declined and the country was cut off from the rest of
the world. In 1988 the people of Burma held public demonstrations
against their military rulers, demanding democracy and the upholding of
basic human rights. The response of the army was swift and brutal, with
an estimated 10,000 people being killed throughout the country in a
crackdown against the democracy movement. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who had
emerged as the leader of the democratic opposition, was placed under
house arrest in Rangoon in 1989. Despite her imprisonment her National
League for Democracy still managed to win 82% of the vote in a general
election held in 1990. However SLORC refused to hand over power to the
elected candidates, and is still in power today. The political
situation has stabilised somewhat since 1990, with the release of Daw
Suu Kyi in June 1995 seen as a positive step towards a move to
democracy, but the repression of free speech and other human rights
1996: Visit Myanmar Year
SLORC needs foreign investment to boost Burma's ailing economy, and has
encouraged tourism as a major source of foreign funds. Visa and travel
restrictions have been eased, foreign hotel and tourism corporations
welcomed and 1996 has been declared "Visit Myanmar Year", with a target
of 500,000 visitors to the country. Travellers to Burma are indirectly
supporting SLORC's tourism policy simply through their presence in the
country. Regardless of the attitude of the traveller or the method of
travel adopted, some amount of foreign exchange will end up in the
government hands, whether it be through hotel "pay-offs" and taxes, the
use of public transport systems (however bad they may be!) or fees for
visas and entrances. Travelling to Burma also gives legitimacy to SLORC
regime. SLORC are asking tourists to visit and accepting the offer can
also been seen as accepting the offerers.
Reports of International human rights groups such as Amnesty, Human
Rights Watch/Asia and the Australian Council for Overseas Aid have
documented the widespread and increasing use of forced labour throughout
Burma. Estimations as to numbers involved vary but it is clear that
SLORC has forcibly ordered thousands of civilians to labour on
infrastructure projects such as roads and railways . On one view the
provision of labour is a substitute for the payment of taxes on projects
that benefit the entire community, and this occurs in many countries.
However the people of Burma have been forced to work for weeks and
months on projects, and human rights abuses by the army which overseas
civilian labour is reported to be endemic. Many of the forced labour
projects can be linked to tourism, whether it be through the indirect
use of roads and railways or the restoration of tourist sites such as
The "beautification" of tourist sites
Part of SLORC's push to encourage tourism has been the "cleaning-up" of
the country's main tourist sites. The most prominent example of this is
the relocation of thousands of families from areas of Rangoon, Mandalay,
Maymyo and most notoriously Pagan, where 5,200 people were forced to
pack their belongings in 1990 and move to a site 7km away. Compensation
for such relocations is minimal (if paid at all) and those relocated
face diminished emplyment prospects due to the distance they are moved
from the cities. Some residents of main tourist areas have also been
forced to replace their wooden or bamboo fences with brick walls so the
facades will look more impressive to international visitors. An
associated concern is the cultural destruction caused by this
"beautification" process as the military overseas a program of rapid
The opinion of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has become the figurehead of the people's fight for
democracy in Burma, and she has stated that this is not the time to be
strengthening ecomonic and diplomatic ties with Burma. She has asked
that travellers stay away until Burma is a democracy. "As long as new
money is coming in SLORC is under less and less incentive to change",
Daw Suu told The Times newspaper in March 1996.
Arguments for travelling to Burma
Boycotts are not effective
The record of SLORC is atrocious and unarguable - the facts listed above
are ample demonstration of this. What is debatable is whether a boycott
of Burma by travellers is the best way to protest against the regime and
assist the Burmese people in their struggle for democracy. It is
questionable whether boycotts work. Trade boycotts have not helped Iraq
rid themselves of Saddam and they were of questionable benefit in
installing democracy in South Africa. Gadaffi is still in Libya, Castro
is still in Cuba. The ordinary people of the country are usually the
ones who suffer most from an international embargo with a decrease in
living standards, while the corrupt regimes which are the subject of the
protest continue in power.
Keeping Burma under international scrutiny
A boycott on foreign investment and travel to Burma would see the
country isolated from the international community once again. Isolation
puts a protective cacoon of silence around inhumane regimes, and the
close scrutiny of SLORC from the international press and human rights
groups would become more difficult in the event of a tourism boycott of
the country. SLORC's desire to be accepted at an international level
means that the presence of foreigners in Burma acts as a deterrent to
the mistreatment of it's people, at least in the areas where travellers
Personalising the issues
Travelling to Burma allows the individual to gain an understanding of
the country and an appreciation of its people. It is unlikely that the
traveller will experience the political tension in the country, as
popular tourist locations show no sign of conflict and the Burmese are
reluctant to talk about political issues for fear of persecution.
However by meeting the wonderfully warm Burmese people and making some
sort of personal contact the traveller is far more likely to become
active in supporting human rights issues in Burma on his or her return
home. Travelling to Burma (and even considering a trip there and
deciding not to go) encourages discussion of the issues affecting the
country and raises the general level of awareness of what is occurring
Providing the Burmese people with economic and moral support
Well designed tourism can result in a cash flow into the pockets of
ordinary Burmese people. The Burmese have sufferred declining living
standards for 40 years and tourism can help arrest these trends. There
are now private guesthouses, restaurants and transport services in Burma
and the traveller who supports these enterprises can help improve of
the standard of living in the country. A middle class has developed in
urban Burma and tourism has helped create this private wealth. All
tourist operators must be licensed by the government, so the concern
about a percentage of all dollars ending up in the hands of the military
is real, but it is now possible to travel outside the state owned
system. The traveller can also offer moral support to the Burmese in
their fight for democracy by letting them know they have international
support for their cause.
South-East Asian perspective
It is an unfortunate reality that most governments in Asia have low
standards on what the West regards as important human rights issues. If
the traveller was to boycott Burma because of the treatment of its
people there is a strong argument that Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and
China should be boycotted as well. No country in South-East Asia - with
the possible exception of Thailand - is a democracy as we know it.
While this is not a reason in itself for travelling to Burma it does put
the debate into perspective .
Intrepid's decision to run trips to Burma
Until mid 1994 Intrepid did not go to Burma. We felt that to travel to a
country with such fundamental abuses of basic human rights was not
right. At about that time we came in for some criticism for our policy
along the lines that it was the people of Burma who suffered most from a
boycott. It was also about this time that travel regulations in Burma
were relaxed to allow independent travel and arrangements through
non-government agencies. As a result we undertook a revaluation of our
policy. We talked to Burma writers, other ethical tour operators, our
staff, and people who had travelled extensively in Burma. As a result of
these discussions we decided to run trips to Burma, operating in the
? Intrepid small group adventures operate outside the government
as far as possible. We use privately owned hotels, trains and vehicle
transport. While we can never be sure some "backhanders" are not paid,
we attempt to minimise the flow of funds to the SLORC regime.
? Intrepid operate completely independently of Burmese tour
After consultation with a number of political and human rights groups
and commentators we felt that we could not be sure that tour operators
were beyond reproach in regard to SLORC connections.
? We do not knowingly use any infrastructure project that has been
or maintained by the use of slave labour. We do however point out in
Mandalay that the moat - now looking so pristine - has been restored
through the use of slave labour.
? As part of Intrepid's policy of "giving something back" we have
to establish aid projects at a local level in Burma. A project has been
set up in the first half of 1996 where schoolchildren at a town in the
Inle Lake region are supplied with a stationery "starter kit" when they
start school. In the 1995/6 financial year Intrepid donated $40,000 to
aid groups. Over the next 12 months we hope an increasing portion of
our aid will be donated to Burma.
As a tour operator we cannot have a lot of influence on the politics of
a given country. That is not our objective and we don't want it to be.
We do however feel that the tour operator can play an important role in
the education of the traveller and in raising the level of awareness
about issues in a particular country. We hope that these notes have
helped in this goal to some degree.
Further contacts and reading -
Australia Burma Council, PO Box 2024, Queanbeyan, NSW, Australia, 2620.
Tel: (06) 297 7734; Fax: (06) 297 7773.
Burma Action Group, Collins Studios, Collins Yard, Islington Green,
London, England N12XU. Tel: 0171 359 7679; Fax: 0171 354 3987; e-mail
bagp@xxxxxxxxxxx "BAG" have written the excellent Burma, the
alternative guide ('96) which covers these ethical arguments and more in
Tourism Concern, Southlands College, Wimbledon Parkside, London,
England, SW19 3NN.
Tel: 0181-944 0464: Fax: 0181-944 6583.
Slave Labour In Burma - an examination of the SLORC's forced labour
policies, May 1996; a report by the Australian Council for Oveerseas
Aid, Human Rights Office at 124 Napier St, Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia
3065. Tel: (03) 9417 7505; Fax: (03) 9416 2746; e-mail:
See also the Free Burma Website at http://sunsite.unc.edu/freeburma for
a comprehensive coverage of the latest develpments in Burma's struggle
for independence. To quote the site "Free Burma is a collection of
software, hardware, documentation, and volunteers, all doing what we're
best at to hasten the replacement of the current military government who
tortures its citizens with one chosen by the people who live there. What
Free Burma has to offer is information, and assistance in its
http://FreeBurma.org is the Burma information starting point.
http://sunsite.unc.edu/freeburma/whatsnew.html <--See what's new