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Burmese PM in exile says country in dire need of democracy

by Archives December 1, 2004

Burmese Prime Minister in exile, Sein Win, says the political situation in Burma is dire, and urges Canadians to get involved by raising the issue with the Canadian government to help Burma to freedom and democracy.

The McGill Burma Solidarity Collective, in collaboration with the McGill Human Rights Working Group, invited Win as well as Bo Hla-Tint, MP-elect of the National League of Democracy in Burma, Zaw Oo of the Burma Fund in Washington, and Daw Khin Ohmar of the Burma United Nations Offence, to talk about the current political situation in Burma last Monday at McGill’s Moot Court.

Burma has been living under the military rule of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) -formally known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council- since 1962. The Burmese junta is said to be one of the worst human rights abusers in the world. Under this regime, women in ethnic minorities are raped and sexually abused by the military, child soldiers are frequently used, and forced labor and drug trafficking of opium and heroin are rampant.

In 1990, an election was held; the popular National League of Democracy (NLD), headed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, won by an 81 per cent landslide but has been denied power to this day. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been living in and out of house arrest since 1990. Currently, she has spent 3323 days of her life in detention, and the Burmese junta has extended her house arrest for another year.

“We want a real solution where we have an open and sincere dialogue,” said Sein. “We are pushing this agenda in the international community and the UN.”

According to MP-elect Bo Hla-Tint, the call for an international involvement must be stronger. “Within the UN mechanism, there have been 12 UN general assembly resolutions calling for the respect of the will of the Burmese people after the 1990 election and the release of all the political prisoners immediately and unconditionally.”

Unfortunately, all calls from the international community have been denied by the ruling SPDC. Hla-Tint added, because of the army, the UN secretary general’s special envoy to Burma is unable to enter the country.

According to Oo, director of policy and research programs of the Burma Fund, the military has maintained power through foreign investment. “Popular leaders like Aung San Suu Kyi [have] been calling for pressures against the regime,” he said.

“The U.S. government has already imposed sanctions and the European Union has also followed suit…We’re also very much in favor of extending moral sanctions on the regime because the nature of foreign investments going into the country are not really helping the population.”

These investments are capital intensive which, according to Oo, are not facilitating any income-generating jobs for the local population. There have been instances where foreign companies hire local contractors who use forced labor to build the necessary infrastructure for oil pipelines.

Many of the resource exploitation sectors are owned by the state, and because Burma is under military rule, 50 to 60 per cent of the government’s budget goes into military spending, according to Oo, and less then 10 per cent of the state’s budget is allocated to health and education.

Sexual abuse is also rampant. “The women in Burma, we too have the right to security,” stated women’s rights advocate Khin Ohmar.

Khin Ohmar recounted the story of a Burmese woman who was gang-raped by seven soldiers and left unconscious to die. Although this woman lived to tell her story, Khin Omar says women in Burma are at greater risk because of their gender and ethnicity.

As a UN member, Burma’s military government must be held accountable for its crimes against humanity, said Khin Ohmar.

Oo called on the international community to work with student groups, consumer groups, and foreign firms that are doing business in Burma to promote awareness of the situation in the country.

Burma Solidarity Collective’s Michelle Lee says that the group is trying to persuade McGill’s Board of Governors to divest itself from companies that work in Burma through a petition. A permanent committee on selective purchasing is in the works at McGill.

For more information on the Burmese situation and what the collective is doing, you can email freeburmamcgill@hotmail.com

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