Written by U Ne Oo on 2001-02-13
ADELAIDE VOICES FEB/MAR 2001[Adelaide Voices is a local, independent news journal published every two months. Following is an edited/condensed version of my October 2000 report to UNGA. Thanks to the Editors of AV who have done a good job trimming down that long article to fit into one A3 page without losing main points. Subscriptions to Adelaide Voices are A$10.00 per year (6 issues) including postage; MAIL: The Editor, Adelaide Voices, PO Box 6042, Halifax Street, SA 5000, AUSTRALIA.]
OPPRESSION CONTINUES IN BURMABy Dr U Ne Oo
Over the past year Burma has experienced a political stalemate between the National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition party and the ruling military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). In spite of the pressures and persuasions of the international community, the junta leaders show no signs of moving towards reconciliation with the opposition and ethnic minorities.
Despite the ethnic minority rebels offering to enter a cease-fire, the junta intensified its military campaign to wipe out the rebels. Crackdowns on the NLD, winner of the May 1990 general elections, have continued throughout the year.
At the time of preparing this report the members of the Committee Representing the People's Parliament (CRPP), a parallel parliamentary authority set up in 1998 by the NLD party, have been put under house arrest.
As in earlier years the junta continues to ignore the appeal by the Commission on HUman Rights and the United Nations General Assembly to implement their annual resolutions. The recommendations by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Commission of Inquiry into the practice of forced labour have also been ignored. The persistent refusal by the junta to cooperate with the UN agencies has prompted the ILO to issue an ultimatum to end forced labour in Burma "in law and in practice".
As the political stalemate continues, living conditions for the people are deteriorating. The rapid militarization of the state apparatus by the junta has brought an unprecedented food scarcity. Social welfare, including health and education, has deteriorated to a point where experts warn of a "silent emergency" and the abject poverty of the general population is directly threatening social stability.
The food insecurity and consequent malnutrition of children have been threatening to undermine future developments in Burma. An HIV/AIDS epidemic is spreading out of control and threatens the people of Burma as well as that of neighbouring countries.
Because of the dysfunctional judicial system, corruption within the Government has become common, with many military officers as well as the rank and file reported to be heavily engaged in illicit drug production nd trafficking.
Burma is the second largest producer of opium and heroin in the world. Studies show that the production and trafficking of heroin has risen significantly since the military junta struck a ceasefire with various rebel groups in 1989.
The UN and international community's failure to solve the problems in Burma have prolonged the suffering of the country's displaced people. The 22,000 Rohingya minority refugees, who have been in UNHCR administered camps in Bangladesh, have languished for another year without any viable solution in sight.
In thailand the estimated one million Burmese workers, together with 120,000 ethnic minority refugees, have been struggling for a further year. On Burma's western border the Indian authorities routinely round up and deport Burma's ethnic Chin refugees who are fleeing from forced Labour and religious persecution.
The Burmese military mounted an offensive on the Karen National Union throughout the year in order to wipe out the rebels. This is another indication of the junta's inclination to use military action against ethnic minorities.
The major destabilising factors in Burma are the continuing political oppression and the deteriorating humanitarian conditions.
The international community and the UN must take steps to tackle the problems in a comprehensive manner.
The junta's budgetary emphasis on the expansion of the military has caused a decline in spending on social welfare. A recent report by the World Health Organisation graded Burma as 190th in the overall health system performance of the 191 countries it surveyed.
According to the World Bank's study in 1999, Burma is one of the poorest countries in the world. Life expectancy at birth is 60 years and the infant mortality rate is 79 per thousand births, double that of the rest of Asia. Acute poverty exists within the urban population which is reported to be living on a one-meal-per-day basis.
BURMESE JUNTA IS GUILTY OF A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY
In September 1998, the representatives elected in the May 1990 general
election formed a parallel parliamentary authority, the CRPP, in accordance
with internationally accepted norms. The CRPP has the power to act as Burma's
parliament until an actual parliament can be convened, with a mandate including
- The elected parliament ( when it comes into force) is expected to review and revise as necessary all laws, orders and decrees that were promulgated by the SPDC (formerly SLORC).
- The elected representatives of May 1990 are expected to take charge of framing the new Burmese constitution.
The junta's increasingly unreconciliatiory stance against the opposition in recent years can be understood in the following context. As the people's movement at home and abroad has strengthened its resolve to restore democracy in Burma, the military junta has less and less political space to manoeuvre.
The junta's legitimacy to stay in power has been eroded because its political plans, such as framing a pro-military constitution and building a free market economy, have increasingly been undermined by the opposition movement. The military has never been interested in sharing political power with the opposition, but only now is the uncompromising stance by the junta coming into the full view of the public as the opposition articulates its negotiation plans.
The political repression and lack of real engagement in political dialogue with opposition groups are the main source of the tragedy in Burma today. As for the international community, it is unrealistic to assume that the Burmese military regime will move away from the military solution and voluntarily engage in political dialogue with the opposition.
By the same token, it is unrealistic to expect the Burmese people to forget about the result of the election held in May 1990 and for the momentum of democratic opposition to dissipate with the passage of time.
The best and most efficient way to improve the economic, social and cultural rights of the population is through an open government which is accountable to the population.
In the absence of a democratically elected government in Burma, the next option is to work directly with grass-roots communities to remedy these problems.
To this end, the UN General Assembly and Security council must demand that the Burmese junta grant unhindered access for all humanitarian organisations wishing to work in Burma.
The emergence of dialogue between the junta and opposition groups will be the key to a peaceful settlement in Burma. With the CRPP mobilising to write a federal constitution, one can see the way to end Burma's long standing ethnic inequality problem.
The recent arrest of the members of CRPP has temporarily dashed hopes of the junta entering into dialogue with the opposition. Despite this setback, I believe that dialogue and a peaceful political settlement are in sight, with Burma eventually attaining reconciliation.
It is time for the international community to put forward a concerted effort to end the political and humanitarian crises in Burma.
Reconciliation for Burma will not come about voluntarily, but only through international solidarity and the effects of the democratic forces. To this end, the democratic governments of the world, along with the UN organisations, must make sincere and genuine efforts.
In particular, the UN General Assembly must:
- Note that Burma's non-cooperation wit the UN human rights mechanism is in violation of UN Charters 55 and 56.
- Withdraw the voting rights of the Burmese military delegation at all UN forums, including the General Assembly.
- Impose an international investment ban until Burma satisfactorily improves its human rights and cooperates with the UN.
- Request that the UN Security Council impose an international arms embargo on Burma.