Written by U Ne Oo on 2001-02-25

I am glad that Mr Sidoti atleast try to consult with Aung San Suu Kyi about that human rights training course. However, it is totally inappropriate, in my view, that he took sponsorship from the private company like Premier Oil. As I understand, the Australian Government had allocated enough budget through Monarch University specifically to run that project. The seeking of donation from Premier Oil doesn't make any sense.

It is even more illogical if one view the Human Rights training in Burma was negotiated by and operates under auspices of the Australian Government; then the people who run program went out and seek the private funding - this is a foolish thing to do. We can all remember in 1999 that the Intrepid Travel(?) had to withdraw its contribution scheme to Amnesty International Australia because of possible conflict of interest with its Burma Tour operations. Same rationale is applied here and the recklessness of Premier Oil must be noted and should have to be dealt with.

Unfortunately, the Australian Government initiated Human Rights Training program so far does not contribute in any outstanding way to the Burma democracy movement. Since the project's inception, the only thing it does is distracting our movement. What I gathered also is that the suggestion for that training program was proposed to the government by the Australian diplomat in Rangoon, along with Chilston Plan. Little wonder the plan became an irritant to many and a mis-direction of valuable resources.

Regards, U Ne Oo.

Related Items:

BBC Summary of World Broadcasts on Mr Sitoti's visit to ASSK (22/2/01)

Melbourn Age News report on Mr Sidoti's visit (20/2/01)

BBC Summary of World Broadcasts

February 22, 2001, Thursday

Australian visitor reports Aung San Suu Kyi in optimistic mood

SOURCE: Source: Radio Australia, Melbourne, in English 1005 gmt 20 Feb 01

Text of report by Radio Australia's Asia Pacific programme on 20 February
[Presenter Kevin McQuillan] Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is reported to be optimistic the military regime is softening its approach to pro-democracy forces. Former Australian Human Rights Commissioner Chris Sidoti has just returned from Burma, where he met Suu Kyi. He was there to conduct a series of human rights seminars for government officials. His previous courses on behalf of the Australian government were criticized for legitimizing Burma's military regime, which has a reputation for human rights abuses. Mr Sidoti told Anita Barraud he believes Suu Kyi, however, approves the courses.

[Sidoti] I certainly found her well, quite relaxed. She said that she was well. And I detected in her a sense of looking forward, of seeing some resolution in the impasse that has been so damaging to Burma over the last 10 years, and perhaps even giving thought to a transition and how it might work and how she might rule Burma.

These are impressions, because she was very, very careful and very proper as to what she discussed with me, and so I'm just forming conclusions from the atmosphere of our meeting, her cordiality, her style. And what she did say to me was [that she was] someone who has learnt patience over the years.

[Barraud] Now, she expressed some scepticism about your human rights courses.

[Sidoti] Yes. Back in 1999 she expressed pessimism and was not supportive of the courses. That was one of the reasons that I was anxious to have an opportunity to explain to her what we were doing and why. She was certainly quite warm in her response to me, and I asked her what I could say publicly about her views on these courses. She indicated that I could say that we discussed them in a very positive way.

[Barraud] She asked you what were the courses and why. Can I ask you the same question?

[Sidoti] The courses that were run last year were sponsored by the Australian government. The one that we conducted last week was not sponsored by the Australian government but by a private corporation, the Premier Oil company. They provide basic information about the law - where human rights come from what the international human rights legal system is - and then we also focus on particular issues.

The International Committee of the Red Cross joined us in delivering some of the sessions, talking particularly about humanitarian law for which the Red Cross is responsible, with
the situation of humanitarian law in armed conflict zones. We dealt with forced labour, we dealt with torture, particularly in relation to arrest, interrogation and detention. And then we asked the participants to look at their own work environments and work out how they could make, themselves, a direct contribution to better human rights performance through their own work.

The current course, the one we ran last week, included people from the Home Affairs Ministry, which includes police and prisons, the Supreme Court, Attorney-General's Office, agencies the premier deals with such as the Energy Department, the Labour Department, the Immigration Department, the Health Department. We made it right from the start very clear that we really need to get these courses out, on the ground, dealing with people who are dealing with people.

[Barraud] There has been some criticism about these courses, that they effectively legitimize the military regime. How do you respond to those kinds of criticisms?

[Sidoti] Well, I must acknowledge it's a risk. It's always a risk. I was worried about that right from the start, but thought the risk was worth taking because of the potential good to be done.

And I'm both pleased and relieved to say that the military government there has not sought to make propaganda value out of these courses.

In my discussions with Aung San Suu Kyi I described my view as saying that there is a very, very big jigsaw puzzle that is the situation in Burma today. We only have one very small piece of that, our human rights training programme. It is a piece, though, that we do have, that because the government there is prepared to accept these training programmes it's a piece that provides an opportunity for us to make some small contribution to the construction of this big jigsaw puzzle which will be the democratization process in Burma.



The Age, Tuesday 20 February 2001
Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has softened her opposition to Australia hosting human rights seminars for officials of Burma's military regime, according to former Australian human rights commissioner Chris Sidoti.

Mr Sidoti disclosed yesterday that he met Ms Suu Kyi for nearly twoandahalf hours last Thursday at the Rangoon home where she is under detention.

"The way I interpret it is that her views have developed and that relates to the changed circumstances in Burma at the moment," Mr Sidoti said, referring to the emerging dialogue between Ms Suu Kyi and the Rangoon regime.

Mr Sidoti's involvement in the Australian sponsored courses has come under fire from human rights groups and academics in Australia.

When the courses, backed by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, began last year, there were claims that summary killings and other rights abuses continued unabated while the regime used the seminars for propaganda.

"I asked her what I could say publicly and could I say she was not opposed but remained sceptical," Mr Sidoti said.

"She said: 'We can do better than that - you can say we discussed the courses in a very positive way'."

Although under house arrest since September, Ms Suu Kyi has for the past four months been involved in a dialogue with Burmese military leaders.

The military refused to accept the result of 1990 elections, which Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won overwhelmingly. Harsh political repression has continued since.

Mr Sidoti this month collected a consultant's fee from Britain's Premier Oil to run additional humanrights seminars for Burmese officials separate from the Australian financed seminars.

The British Government last year called on Premier Oil to withdraw from a big natural gas project in Burma on the grounds that it was propping up the military rulers.

The company has denied complicity in alleged torture, rape and forced labor by the military during construction of a gas pipeline.

Mr Sidoti, who finished as human rights commissioner last year, said Premier Oil hoped its sponsorship of the seminars would help it develop a more positive image. He declined to disclose the fees paid by Premier Oil.

At their meeting, Ms Suu Kyi said the seminars should not be used to avoid other moves to improve human rights, as human rights problems occurred "90 per cent from will and 10 per cent from ignorance". "I agreed and said we wanted to deal with the 10 per cent due to ignorance, but that the courses could also have an impact on the degree of will," Mr Sidoti said.

Australia plans to finance four more seminars this year.

Mr Sidoti said Ms Suu Kyi had thanked Australians who supported the democracy campaign in Burma.

Note on Mr Sidoti, Human Rights training and Premier Oil