Toward Democracy, Human Rights and Federalism

Friday, February 3, 2012

Dr Sein Win Accepts MAGI Award 2009 for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

Wednesday, July 22 2009, 01:31 PM EDT

Speech delivered by Dr Sein Win at the MAGI Award 2009 Presentation Ceremony held at the City Hall of Durban, South Africa, to accept the award on behalf of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great honor for me to join with you on this auspicious occasion; the awarding of the prestigious "MAGI Award 2009" -- "Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Reconciliation and Peace" -- to our leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

On behalf of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma, let me express our heartfelt gratitude to the Gandhi Development Trust and the people of South Africa for expressing your solidarity with us.

The special meaning of this award is not lost on me. The fact that MAGI Award is given to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi -- a strict follower of Gandhi's Principles and a strong advocate for peaceful, non-violent change in Burma -- is indeed a very proud moment for us. While we are meeting here on a joyous occasion, a mind-numbing reality of today's Burma is that our leader is not only being denied her basic freedoms but also being tried and held in Insein Prison under charges which are preposterous.

This moment, therefore, gives us cause to consider both the strength of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and to face the dreadful reality of today's Burma.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's strength is perhaps best epitomized in her unwillingness to compromise her principles even at the expense of her personal safety. Citing that she had the legal right to be present at a certain town, she led a march in front and soldiers who were aiming to shoot at her, let her proceed. When security personnel were using water cannon on her supporters, she climbed aboard the fire truck with water cannons and stopped them from being used against the people. The military junta in Burma has allowed her to leave Burma at any time. But she chose to remain in her country spending 14 of her last 20 years under detention. She pays the price to share the suffering of the people as all leaders should. She knows that once she leaves, she will never be allowed back. Her ties with her beloved country would be severed. So, she will not yield, will not renege.

She knows that her people are indeed suffering. The reality of Burma is indeed an awful thing to confront.

Burma has been for a decade a so-called 'Silent Emergency' as characterized by UN agencies and international humanitarian organizations.

More than 40% of the population is living below the poverty line and concerns over food security have become chronic, not without reason.

One out of three Burmese children under five is suffering severe malnutrition.

Burma has the second highest child mortality rate in Asia. Up to 150,000 children die every year, mainly from preventable diseases.

Despite the desperate situation, there are no initiatives or programs put forward by the regime to help the people cope. The global economic crisis, a palpable threat to the lives of so many Burmese, is hardly acknowledged in the planning of the generals.

Yet, already, Burmese migrant workers who were employed in labor intensive industries in neighboring countries are going back home, broken and penniless.

This ersatz government, sitting in its Potemkin capital, refuses to provide or plan for any alternative employment, nor to even consider basic social welfare.

Burma's rich agricultural sector, so long the backbone of its economy and the likely location of its immediate economic future, is in ruin due to the military's self-centered, often ad hoc policies to limit inputs, disrupt transport, control sales quotas and restrict staple crops.

Extrajudicial killings, lootings, forced labor, and recruitment of children as child soldiers continue unabated and Burma around 70,000 child soldiers, the highest number anywhere in the world.

Ethnic nationality communities are regularly, brutally, uprooted in the interests of the military's meandering mindset. The valuable socio-cultural fabric of these communities has been torn irrevocably. Their unique cultural inputs are now lost. Burma's army continues its hostile military operations in areas where ethnic nationalities are based, in the interests of quashing dissent and of consolidating its control.

People have been fleeing to Thailand to escape from the persecution of the military and as of January this year, the number of refugees at the Thai-Burma border has gone over the 140,000 mark.

Nearly one million Burmese have been internally displaced. Ninety percent of Burmese live on less than $US1 /day. Average household incomes are roughly 5% less than the average cost of feeding a family.

By our count, 2,114 political prisoners including 11 elected members of parliament remain in prison in appalling conditions. Since 1988 at least 137 political prisoners have died in jail.

These prevailing hardships and gross violations of human rights by the Burmese military are continuing to fan the flames of civil war and heightening the democratic aspirations of the people. Ongoing underground movement for change and surging wave of dissent among the people are a mark of the reach of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's influence and commitment. Even though she is formally disembodied from the body politic, the democracy movement of Burma still sees her as the central, driving force and its leader. She knows, as do we all, the road to freedom is arduous and strewn with obstacles.

Presently, the military junta is planning to hold elections under a constitution that it has drafted and passed through a unilateral process so that it will be able to legitimize military rule in the country. The constitution embodies stipulations which ensure the domination of military in the future political life of Burma. No major political party, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's party -- the National League for Democracy -- supports the constitution.

Furthermore, the 2008 constitution is designed to exclude any substantial role for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. It institutionalizes the rejection of her right to be elected for the ridiculous reason that she was married to a foreigner.

Burma is, therefore, once again facing a constitutional crisis. As such, finding a solution to the political, economic and humanitarian crisis in Burma is clearly a matter of urgency.

In that respect, the international community can play a vital role. The South African Government is particularly important via its influence.

We believe a concerted effort to bring democracy to Burma in the coming 12 months will yield positive results.

The people of Burma are inspired and they are willing to work for freedom. The people of Burma still seek to embody the spirit of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma and the National League for Democracy fully supports the United Nations Secretary-General's strong advocacy for Burma and we continue to seek reinforcement through strong and committed Security Council action.

We have championed the UN Secretary-General's five-step blueprint for the Burmese military: to release all political prisoners; to begin a substantive and time-bound dialogue; to move towards a transition regime; to improve socio-economic conditions inside Burma and; to formalize the United Nations good offices role through, for instance, a permanent presence in Burma.

We have a long-standing backing for full, open and unconditional dialogue between the NLD and the military.

Similarly our views on economic sanctions remain: there should be no adjustment or review of punitive economic measures without a parallel process of unprecedented and intensive diplomatic action.

But, clearly we need more. This is a time to step forward. To this end we have aligned Burma's various interests – ethnic groups, the religious communities, civil society, and the democracy movement both in Burma and abroad – to strike a new course for democracy.

The whole Movement for Democracy and Rights of Ethnic Nationalities has developed a program of action to address such pressing concerns as constitutional reform, steps to take for national reconciliation, economic reforms, and, the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons.

With this program, we are ready to sit down and to dialogue with the military on a peaceful transition toward democracy and development in Burma.

We seek the support of South Africa and African countries, democratic nations, the United Nations, and other international actors. We are encouraging action at the UN Security Council to bring about peaceful change in Burma.

The international community is given cause to focus its collective mind on Burma and on the need to end the nightmare. So we are here today, doing just that.

I would like to convey the appreciation Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would no doubt convey to you, our friends in a time of need.

She would want to say we all have a role to play, whether it is sending letters to your local member, becoming active in the struggle for Burmese democracy and to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or just by sending a prayer.

As The Lady herself has said, please use your own liberty for the liberty of the people of Burma.

I believe, one day soon, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, will be able to visit Durban and to celebrate the triumph of democracy in Burma together with you all.

Thank you.

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