Written by U Ne Oo on 2000-09-18

Dr U Ne Oo
18 Shannon Place
Adelaide SA 5000

18th September 2000

Hon. Alexander Downer
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Facsimile: (+612) 6261-3111

Dear Mr Downer:

Re: The Human Rights Training Program in Burma
I am sending you the copy of my analysis report which was delivered at the International Society for Human Rights Speaker's Forum in Melbourne on September 7, 2000. As has been noted, it may be more realistic for Australian government to wind up its involvement of the Human Rights training program in Burma.

I understand that Australian government launched the training program as a bilateral initiative between Australia and Burma without consultation with United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The Australian government, at least on the surface, should be congratulated for "doing something" instead of "doing nothing" regarding with the desperate situation in Burma. May I also say, on this note, that the suffering of the oppressed Burmese people could be prolonged if the international community choose to do ineffectual way without substantive political commitments. I do believe the time is right for Australian parliament to properly recognize the Committee Representing the People's Parliament (CRPP) in Burma.

Regarding with Australian Parliament support to CRPP, a reference was made earlier this year by your department to the position of European Union and other like-minded countries. I enclosed the European Parliament resolution on Burma on 14th April 1999 in which it expresses recognition and support for CRPP. Further, the government of Belgium has also recognized the CRPP. In Australia and in Canada, the state government bodies such as the Legislative Councils of NSW and Legislative Assembly of the Province of British Colombia had recognized CRPP. Within this context, the Australian Federal Parliameneral Parliament recognizing CRPP will not be out of step with other like-minded countries.

I should also emphasize that, along with the recognition of CRPP, the Australian government actions on military leaders, drug traffickers and money launderers can contribute a substantial progress towards restoration of democracy in Burma. I believe these initiatives are well within the parameters of which Australian government can undertake by its own capacity.

In closing, thank you for your attention to these matters

Yours sincerely

(U Ne Oo)

Documents enclosed with this communication:

1. An analysis on The Human Rights Training Program in Burma, 7 September 2000.

2. Letter from the Hon Kathy Sullivan, Parliamentary Secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister, 10 February 2000.

3. The Resolution by European Parliament on 14 April 1999.


prepared by Dr U Ne Oo for
International Society for Human Rights Speakers Forum
Melbourne Victoria
7th September 2000

Human rights training program in Burma: why is it controversial ?

Today, Burma is under an opaque government that seeks to isolate the country from outside influences. Therefore, Burma democracy campaigners considered that obtaining direct and independent access for international human rights and humanitarian organisations to the population of Burma as one of their one of their main objectives. Over the years, the Burmese military junta refuse to allow the visit of UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur and the delegates of ILO Commission of Inquiry to Burma. The humanitarian agencies, such as UNHCR and other non-government organisations, are also interested to get unhindered access to several part of Burma. Within this climate, one may asks as to why a human rights training program in Burma initiated by Australian government is considered by Burmese democracy campaigners as controversial.

Domestic Political Factor
Everyone is aware about the current Australian government's overt hostility towards domestic human rights institutions. Furthermore, in terms of electoral considerations, the current government sees no obligation to respond to the domestic human rights constituents. On various international human rights issues, such as East Timor and Fiji, the government for its credit has responded according to its swinging moods. Nonetheless, it is unlikely the Australian government may be trying to advance the cause of human rights per se in Burma, as stated by Mr Downer in his article in International Herald Tribune on 23 August 1999. We must look for other explanations.

Is this an initiative for half-way solutions ?

Burmese democracy campaigners preferred all human rights/humanitarian organisations to enter Burma, whenever possible, under the terms and agreements made by the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. On the one hand, SPDC/SLORC last year had voluntarily invited ICRC to operate in Burma on junta's own terms. Although the presence of ICRC in Burma is universally considered as positive one, we must also remember that SPDC/SLORC has "removed the premise" or soften the ground on which an international humanitarian intervention might be justified. Thus, by accepting Australian government's human rights training program, the SPDC/SLORC will be looking for ways to remove/soften international community's concern on human rights in Burma. The democracy campaigners fears that, by providing the human rights training program, the Australian government may be facilitating Burmese military government to implement half-ways solutions regarding with gettarding with getting unhindered access for human rights monitors to Burma.

Two phases of program implementation
As an observer, the human rights training program in Burma may be implemented in two phases: (1) a human rights education program and (2) setting-up a national human rights institution. To my view, the first phase of educating human rights to the Burmese people, if carried out in proper manner, will be harmless to the movement. However, as things stand, implementing the second phase will be detrimental to the democracy movement.

On assessing the value of the human rights education program, i.e. first phase, should be based on whether that program has unrestricted access to a wider Burmese population  not only to a Burmese audience hand-picked by the Burmese military government. Unfortunately, Australia will soon find out that the SPDC/SLORC will not give permission to use the press or public media for human rights education program.

The second phase of the program, namely setting up a national human rights commission, cannot be seen in a positive light. Regarding this matter Mr Downers in his article stated, "[setting up of national human rights commission] would provide a way through which Burma could work to guarantee human rights within its own jurisdiction". In fact, the human rights situation will not improve simply by erecting an [independent] national human rights commission. Other important factors such as the existence of independent judiciary, a free press and a national parliament, possibly, are necessary institutions for a human rights commission to work effectively. With the absence or under utilisation of these other institutions, setting up a human rights commission in Burma will become a fraudulent scheme to provide military government with a shield against international scrutiny.

Australia's real motive: diverting attention of the democracy movement

It is possible that, by initiating the human rights training program, the Australian government may be attempting to divert attention or, worse, trying to intimidate Burmese democracy movement in Australia. To my assessment, the Australian government wishes to discourage  our moves to provide CRPP with some form of international legitimacy. I can recall that in late May 1999, I had been making initiatives for the Australian Federal parliament to recognise the Committee Representing People's Parliament in Burma. Then at ASEAN meeting in July/Aug 1999, Mr Downer and Burmese foreign minister U Win Aung agreed to set up human rights training program in Burma. Our requests to the Australian government to consult with NLD/CRPP on any such move had been responded with "We have to  work with the (military) government", "We don't need Aung San Suu Kyi's permission to do the program", etc. These messages were duly interpreted as Australia's non-readiness to lend credibility to the CRPP.

The Australian government, though not ready to lend credibility to CRPP, would like to prove it has been doing everything it can to improve human rights situation in Burma. Mr Downer may have had prior discussion with Burmese foreign minister about  such program. However, the move to set up human rights training program appeared to have been accelerated by these considerations. In this context, one can understand why the leaders of NLD in Burma openly expressed some "misgivings" about Australian government's human rights training program.

Keeping in silence

Although I have such suspicions on the motive of Australian government,an government, and disappointed at the Australian government's unwillingness to lend credibility to CRPP, I kept in silence so far for good reasons:

  1. Providing human rights education to Burmese civil servants and people at large is definitely a positive one;
  2. The first phase of program will be harmless to the democracy movement as long as the operation keeps low media profile ans low media profile and especially kept away from the manipulation of the other side (the other side has now began to manipulate the program);
  3. To staunchly reject such program would be "too unreasonable" for democracy movement and especially Suu Kyi (note there are people from certain quarters trying to discredit democracy movement/Suu Kyi et al as unrealistic, and often un-reconciliatory.)
/* ----- */


  1. Australian government should wind up current human rights education program unless the program can get access to a wider population;
  2. Australian government may not support to set up a national human rights commission in Burma until the Australian Federal Parliament has recognised the CRPP;
  3. Any initiative on human rights in Burma by the Australian government must not be allowed to use as propaganda tool by SPDC/SLORC and its supporters, especially at the UN Human Rights Forums.


Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Date received: 10 February 2000

Dr U Ne Oo
18 Shannon Place

Ref. No:PMF2000/00110f

Dear Dr U Ne Oo

Thank you for your letter dated 10 January 2000 to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Alexander Downer MP, concerning the UNHCR and NGO access to Burma. Mr Downer has asked me, as Parliamentary Secretary  for Foreign Affairs, to reply on his behalf. I apologise for the delay in responding to your letter, which was caused by delays in your letter reaching my office.

Australia works with other like-minded countries in multilateral fora, such as the United Nations General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights, to produce tough consensus resolutions on Burma. We have urged the regime to allow Daw Aung San Suu Kyi freedom of movement and have called for the immediate release for members of teh parliament-elect  who have been imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their political views. We will not resile from cirticising retrogressive steps and lack of movement toward reform.

Australia has a limited program of humanitarian assistance delivered through NGOs in Burma. The Government regurlarly consults with and listens to the views of Australian-based NGOs on Burma.

In regards to the Committee Representing the People's Parliament, the Australian Government is supportive in so far as the Committee is  able to offer an alternative vehicle for dialogue with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

Other governments have taken a similar approach. For instance, the EU upon the formation of the Committee, released a statement which did not make a specific reference to the Committee, but rather urged the Burmese authorities to take steps towards democracy and national reconciliation., and called for the convening of Parliament, the adoption of a new democratic constitution and the holding of free and fair electionsd fair elections as essential steps towards democracy. These sentiments are shared by the Australian Government.

It remains our hope that the Burmese government will open a genuine dialogue on political reform, which must include the NLD and representatives of the ethnic minorities. It is Australia's very clear view that this is an essential step forward for Burma. We owe it to the Burmese people to find creative ways to encourage reform and reconciliation in their country.

I appreciate your supportive remarks about the trail attachment of an AFP officer in our Embassy in Rangoon. As Burma is the source of 80% of the heroin entering Australia, the Government believes it is important to support domestic and internaitonal anti-narcotics activities there. The officer, who commenced duty on 23 January, will be attached for a six-month period, at the end of which a review will be undertaken. The extent of the cooperation by the Burmese authorities will be one factor considered in the review.

Thank you for bringing your views to tank you for bringing your views to the attention of the Government.

Yours sincerely
Sd. Kathy Sullivan.

Click here for the European Parliament's Resolution on 14 April 1999 .

Letter to Mr Downer re: Human Rights Trainig in Burma