Written by U Ne Oo on 1999-08-29

Dr U Ne Oo

18 Shannon Place

Adelaide SA 5000

29 August 1999

Hon Alexander Downer

Minister For Foreign Affairs

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2601


Dear Mr Downer

re: Burma situation and Human Rights Commission

Since last July ASEAN meeting in Singapore, I have been watpore, I have been watching with interest about your proposal to give assistance to Burmese military government to set up their own independent commission of human rights. Firstly, I sincerely appreciate your effort that is made in the spirit of breaking this human rights and political stalemate in Burma. However, I believe that current political climate is not conducive for Australian officials to meaningfully assist the Burmese people to set up their own human rights body.

I have also read your article in International Herald Tribune, in wne, in which it sounding the legally elected National League for Democracy would be to watch from a sideline for setting up of such human rights body in Burma. I ask your government and Australia firstly give some measure of recognition to the Committee Representing People Parliament (CRPP) and, then, go forward with plan to assist in such matter.

One unfortunate thing in dealing with SPDC/SLORC is that Burmese military consider any initiative for improvement of human rights in Burma simply as either (1) a politically motivatedotivated attack on them or (2) a propaganda opportunity to promote themselves to the world's community. There are numerous examples about SPDC/SLORC's genuine lack of commitment to the improvement of human rights situation in Burma. The Burmese government over the years consistently fails to comply recommendations made especially by the United Nations Human Rights Special Rapporteur and International Labour Organisations. I just have enclosed with this letter a summary of exchange of communication between the Burmese military ilitary government and ILO Governing Body on the issue of Burma complying ILO Forced Labour Convention. In that document you may find that how Burmese military disregard the concerns of ILO Governing body and how the junta has dragged its feet to move forward on human rights. If Australia were to engaged in this proposal, your official are sure to face with this kind of treatment by the Burmese military government.

Most important factor in this proposal is Australia's eventual lack of leverage on Burmese military. Australia doesia doesn't simply have enough influence on the junta to see through a possible plan for properly setting up of a human rights body. A better approach for Australia is to try to go through United Nations and UNSC to get unhindered access for human rights and humanitarian organisations into Burma.

Burmese military has shown apparent interest to set up a human rights committee simply because of National League for Democracy, in last few months, had been able to regularly put out information concerning human rights violations withons within Burma. Burmese junta is thus looking for ways to legitimately counterbalance what they considered to be the "opposition propaganda". You are therefore not to simply believe that SPDC/SLORC has some respect for the concerns of the Foreign Minister of Australia.

At a time when the unhindered access to Burma for all human rights and humanitarian organisation become possible, there will be many Australian NGOs and Burmese Expatriates (including one Burmese Refugee) ready to contribute to the advancement of human righman rights and humanitarian situation in Burma. I earnestly ask you and Australian Government push hard at the United Nations to achieve such objective.

In closing, I thank you for your attention to this matter. We, the Burmese people, continue to appreciate the support from Australia for our democracy and human rights movement.

Yours respectfully and sincerely


International Herald Tribune

August 23, 1999

A Start to Help Set Burmese on the Road to Human Rights

By Alexander Downer (the Australian foreign minister)

The question of Burma has vexed the international community for the entire 11 years since the current military-backed government assumed power in Rangoon. Australia believes that now is the time to engage the regime in a serious dialogue on the protection and promotion of human rights in Burma.

Such a dialogue is one way of improving the lot of ordinary Burmese. It is also a means of drawing the regime into a discussion on issues that have caused great concern outside Burma. To do nothing is to fail to confront the problem.

Simply shouting from the sidelines has apparently achieved nothing. It is one thing to criticize the Burmese government - and we have done a great deal of that - but we are also looking at other iother initiatives to help alleviate the plight of the people in Burma.

That is why two months agoI suggested to the then Burmese foreign minister, U Ohn Gyaw, that Rangoon consider setting up an independent national human rights institution, as Indonesia did some years ago under the regime of President Suharto. I believed that such an approach would provide a way through which Burma could work to guarantee human rights within its own jurisdiction.

I pursued my proposal with the present foreign minister, U Win Aung, when I met him in Singapore late last month at the annual post-ministerial conference of the Association of South East Asian Nations. It was in this context that Australia's human rights comissioner, Chris Sidoti, visited Burma this month to discuss with officials there the possible role of an independent human rights institution.

Prior to Mr. Sidoti's visit, two middle-ranking Burmese officials visited Australia in mid-July for an introduction to the Australian approach to national human rights institutions, and for broad discussions on human rights.

Australia's experience has been that work toward the establishment of national human rights organizations by governments seeking to respond to the concerns of the international communitmmunity can make a positive impact over the longer term.

The fact that the Burmese government can see the point of such a body, although it has yet to make up its mind about how it would work, is a good step forward.

I have no illusions. This is a first step in what will be an incremental process. But we want to do what wewhat we can to encourage an improvement in human rights in Burma.

Ultimately, setting up a national human rights institution will need a firm commitment from the Burmese themselves.I am well aware that the development of a genuinely independent body, if indeed that is possible, would take a considerable length of time. It would also have to be established according to internationally accepted standards. ont>

To be blunt, if the Burmese were to construct a bricks and mortar institution next week, it would not be credible. Our immediate objective is to engage the key figures in a process of dialogue to better promote and protect human rights.

I know that there are those who do not accept that it is possible to talk to the regime about human rights issues. The opposition National League for Democracy led by Nobel Pobel Peace laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said that our proposal is ''misguided.'' But human rights are a matter of international concern, and as their protection is the responsibility of the national government, we have to deal with the government. We have kept the league informed about developments concerning the proposal, and will continue to do so.

The Australian government's policy on Burma remains focused on the key goals of advancing the ng the cause of democracy and promoting greater respect for human rights. I have consistently called on the Burmese government to enter into substantive discussions as soon as possible with the league and ethnic minorities, leading to genuine political reform.

We owe it to the Burmese people to find creative ways to encourage reform and reconciliation in their country.

Letter to Hon Alexander Downer, Foreign Minister