Written by U Ne Oo on 1999-07-31


Following news report by AAP, the Australia's Foreign Minister, Mr Alexander Downer, has secured the visit of Australia's Human Rights Commissioner Chris Sidoti to Rangoon, with a long term view of setting up a national human rights commission in Burma. Mr Downer has obviously talked with U Win Aung to get some promise. The local press dubbed as "a small break-through" in Australia's effort to promote human rights in Burma.

Noticeably, it is quite true this will be the first time Australian Human Rights Commissioner is visiting Rangoon. Nevertheless, I wouldn't put to it exactly as "a breakthrouactly as "a breakthrough" in Burma's human right that has been delivered by the efforts of Australialian government. But it may be more of a "breakthrough" in current conservative government's attitude to human rights situation in Burma. I would say, it is the first critical initiative on Burma by Australian government in past few years.

One thing that everyone must be aware when conducting SPDC/SLORC and its foreign ministers is that the words by junta's officials do not readily translate into action. The military junta principally consider politics

and political actions as merely politicans playing with words. Whenever our politicians from EU/US/Aus try to raise issues with Burmese Foreign Minister, a relatively experienced diplomats like U Win Aung will simply

try to get away with some non-critical issues. And be sure, nothing of substance will happen in Rangoon, even such non-critical issue. Prospect of a visit by UN Assistant-Secretary Alvaro de Soto will be important,

if UN has anything of substance in term of politics to deliver. But the viver. But the visit is hardly an SPDC/SLORC concession: it's a delaying tactic by SPDC/SLORC so as to sober down some reckless press and activists. In my personal veiw, it is better to expel SPDC/SLORC representative from the ASEAN meetings than to get some non-critical promises.

By this, I do not mean the setting up of an independent human rights commission in Burma being unimportant. It surely is important for the long term. However, some pressing and urgent issues such as voluntary return of refugees or gaining access for the indethe independent humanitarian organisation, especially the UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur, to Burma being much more important. If we spend our times on the side issues, it will simply amount to playing into the tactic of SPDC/SLORC. Greater energy should be put on more essential issues.

Anyway, for any Australian officials going to Rangoon, we won't be complaining so long as they meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and the leaders of NLD. The Australian Human Rights Commissioner is certainly a very busy man and must have a hard time defending the rights of refugees and boat people in Australia under this government. Perhaps, this sort of experience he can certainly share with Burmese democracy leaders.

With best regards, U Ne Oo.



By Karen Poglaze

SINGAPREE, July 28 AAP-- AusREE, July 28 AAP-- Australia has scored a small breakthough on human right with Burma's military rulers, sedcuring their agreement for Australian Human Rights Commissioner Chris Sidoti to visit next week.

Australia has spent the past year negotiating with the South-East Asian nation's hardline rulers since this initiative was first raised as a long shot by Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer.

In a bilateral meeting here today with Mr Downer, Burmese , Burmese Foreign Minister U Win Aung agreed that Mr Sidoti could visit to discuss with officials there early steps towards establishing an independent national human rights commission.

"The have a real interest in this propossal," Mr Downer told a media conference.

"I have no illusions. It's first step and it will be an incremental process.

"But we want to do what we can to see an improvement in humment in human rights in Burma."

Australian officials had talked to leading opposition figure National League for Democracy(NLD) head and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi about the proposal to set up the commission.

Her view was that it was unlikely to be independent, Mr Downer said.

Mr Downer was encouraged by the fact the the Burmese government could see that there was a point in having a national human rights body.

Despite this step, and the fact that Burma had agreed to allow United Naitons special envoy on Burma, Alvaro de Soto, to visit in September, Mr Downer acknowledged there was still a long way to go and dialogue between the military regime and the NLD was still a long way off.

"I don't get that signal that a dialogue is about to happen, he said.

An issue of key concern to the international community was the development of a constitution for Burma that would pave the way to a more open and democratic future.

The military regime continually said that progress on constitutional reform was underway.

"But they never tell you where it's at or wher it's going," Mr Downer said.

"They never seem to have a convincing story about their road map.

"I put it to them that we really want to hear about a road map for constitutional reform."

Mr Downer said that he perceived that Burma;'s regime was unlikely to be swayed by promises of a resumption of internaitonal aid as it was more focused on dealing withits internal security and political problems.

The foreign minister leaves Singapre today after attending a series of meetings related to regional security security bodies and bilateral meetings with his counterparts from teh Asia-Pacific.

He flies to Jakarta for meetings with President BJ Habibie, Armed Forces Commander in Chief General Wiranto, jailed East Timorese resistance leader Jose Xanana Gusmao and presidential front-runnder Megawati Sukarnoputri.

On Friday Mr Downer will visit EASt Timor before heading on Saturday to Papur New Guinea.

AAP kjp/bd/hu/br

Is it called "Breakthrough" ?