Toward Democracy, Human Rights and Federalism

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dr. Sein Win's speech at AIPMC and Japanese MPs Joint Session

Tuesday, May 22 2007, 01:46 PM EDT

"...if the incumbent military regime decides to go ahead with its plan to write a constitution which will make the entire civilian population subservient to the military, the current issues concerning democracy, rights of ethnic nationalities, and the socioeconomic and political crisis can only worsen beyond salvation..." (Dr. Sein Win, Prime Minister of NCGUB, May 22, Japan)

The Way to Democratize
International Conference of Japanese Diet Members and ASEAN Parliamentarian Members

Speech by Dr Sein Win, National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma
The Struggle of Burma -- New Perspective, May 22, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished guests:
I am honored to be here today and also very grateful to have the opportunity to inform you about the ongoing struggle for democracy in Burma.

Presently, political, socioeconomic and humanitarian conditions are rapidly deteriorating in our country. In some parts of Burma -- a country once known as the rice bowl of Asia -- people cannot even afford to buy rice and are surviving on rice gruel. The Burmese generals, however, are continuing to take an indifferent approach to these problems. As a result, more and more people are joining the ranks of those living below the poverty line and there are no indications that that trend is about to reverse. There are only signs of frustrations among the people. People are now publicly taking to the streets to stage protests over prices and electricity shortage, individuals are openly challenging authorities over the socioeconomic state of affairs, farmers are writing letters to regime leaders to return their confiscated farmland, HIV/AIDS positive persons are publicly demanding medical treatment, and so forth.

These challenges to authority are now taking place frequently and the regime notorious for its brutality in suppressing dissent has not changed. Only recently, members and supporters of the National League for Democracy (NLD) who were bound for places of worship to pray for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi were arrested and interrogated by the authorities. Many remain under detention in Burma.

But, as frustrations grow people have begun taking greater risks. Many people who unofficially designate themselves as "human rights defenders and promoters", legal aid groups, and unregistered self-help civil society groups have emerged.

Former pro-democracy student leaders of 1988 who now go under the name of '88 Generation Students have risked their personal safety and continuing their efforts. In the past year, they have successfully launched mass campaigns -- petition calling for the release of political prisoners, "White Expression" campaign in which people wear white clothing and praying en masse at religious sites, mass letter writing campaign sending appeals to Senior General Than Shwe to help resolve the socioeconomic problems, and ongoing "White Sunday" campaign in which people gather every Sunday to visit the homes of political prisoners to encourage their families.

Unable to deal with growing dissent, the military has resorted to using members of its affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Association as well as its "Brown Shirt" thugs, who are designated as "Swan Arr Shin" or "The Strong Ones", to physically assault people.

Recently, these thugs violently assaulted two human rights defenders and promoters at a village in Henzada Township while they were visiting it to talk about Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One of the defenders survived because he feigned death. Both of the human rights activists had to be hospitalized for treatment. Presently, the attackers who are also the local authorities have now legally charged the two defenders allegedly for disrupting public tranquility.

The military's "Swan Arr Shin" were the same people who also launched a murderous attack on the NLD entourage led by U Tin Oo and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at Kyi Village in Depayin Township in 2003. After the attack, U Tin Oo and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi were imprisoned and later detained under house arrest. They continue to be detained now.

The Burmese generals have also kept leaders of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) in prison, some of them sentenced to more than 100 years. Persecution and harassment of NLD members are continuing all over the country, many of them being coerced into resigning. Businesses of NLD members and their close relatives are closed down without any reason and even their children are discriminated at school. Prison terms of well known political prisoners, including elected representatives, continue to be extended every time they complete their sentences, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi whose fourth year of house arrest will expire on 27 May.

Nobel Peace Laureate and NLD General Secretary Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has already spent more than 11 years. Her freedom is long overdue.

The tolerance shown to the Burmese generals by the international community, particularly neighboring countries, ASEAN and Japan, should end now. These countries should no longer remain complacent and their demands to the generals to release political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, must be made in such a way that the Burmese generals will not refuse.

Presently, the Burmese generals are continuing to pursue their dream of installing military rule in Burma. They have been doing it through their seven-step roadmap. The first and vital phase in their roadmap is to get the military's "Main Objectives" and "basic principles" endorsed by the so-called "National Convention".

The "National Convention" could have been a very significant venue if it was aimed at tackling the problems facing the country. It could have discussed constitutional principles that would resolve the crises that the country has been facing throughout history. But, the convention excludes the election winning parties -- NLD and SNLD -- and is attended mainly by an overwhelming majority of delegates selected by the Burmese generals. Participants to that convention, not selected by the regime, represent a very small minority that is denied the right to publicly propose their suggestions or to discuss against the principles proposed by the military because panels of junta-affiliated officials tightly control the proceedings of the convention.

In other words, the convention is designed only to approve what the military leaders want. The convention has now already approved the right of the military to play a leading role in the political future of Burma and other principles which will legitimize military rule in the country.

These principles will be embodied into a state constitution which will be written by a commission that the junta's convention will form.

I would like to take a moment to draw your attention to some issues at this point. There have been some political forces as well as some governments which argue that having a constitution in Burma is better than none.

I would beg to differ. Throughout history, all the major problems in Burma, particularly those related to ethnic nationalities, originated because of the failure of Burma's constitutions to address the inherent problems in the country.

For instance, the 1948 Constitution was drafted with the focus to regain independence from Britain than to address the problems in the country. The country almost collapsed after independence because of a myriad of problems, particularly issues linked to rights of ethnic nationalities which remain unresolved to this day. The Burmese military ultimately staged a coup in 1962 which started a military dynasty in the country.

The 1974 Constitution had many weaknesses because it was designed for a single-party rule. It deprived the people of democracy and made more ethnic nationality forces to engage in armed struggle for their rights.

Likewise, if the incumbent military regime decides to go ahead with its plan to write a constitution which will make the entire civilian population subservient to the military, the current issues concerning democracy, rights of ethnic nationalities, and the socioeconomic and political crisis can only worsen beyond salvation.

That is the reason why all political forces in the country are calling on the military for a dialog to resolve the problems. Unless the Burmese generals' convention is transformed to make it more democratic and inclusive, so that delegates can openly discuss issues of democracy, ethnic rights, and the future of the country, we have no option but to totally oppose any outcome derived from the convention. In other words, we cannot endorse a scheme which will make the military rule our country for ages. We are also calling on all regional countries not to accept the outcome of this convention.

All political forces in the country have consistently been urging the Burmese generals to resolve Burma's problems together with all the political stakeholders in the country. We firmly adhere to the belief that dialog is the best way of resolving our problems and that critical issues must be resolved through peaceful means to ensure that peace is long-lasting in our country.

As mentioned above, we also believe that there are two major underlying problems in Burma -- the problem of the lack of democracy and problems associated with unresolved rights of the ethnic nationalities. Both the issues must be resolved simultaneously if genuine peace is to prevail in the country. The Burmese democracy movement considers the issues of "democracy" and "ethnic rights" of equal importance and has therefore brought "tripartite dialog" to the fore at international forums and with governments.

Development of democracy could resolve many of the pending issues concerning the question of rights and self-determination of ethnic nationalities in Burma. However, several important ethnic issues can only be resolved through constitutional arrangements agreed upon by all stakeholders.

We have been advocating a federal arrangement that guarantees equal rights, opportunity, and self-determination to all nationalities living in Burma will end the hostilities at home and ensure harmonious relations among all the people in Burma. The current political environment inside Burma does not provide opportunities to explore the matter in depth. Many studies and inter- and intra-ethnic discussions have been ongoing outside the country for a number of years and are continuing.

We know that given the opportunity we can resolve all existing problems in our country. It was for that reason we tried to open up opportunities for dialog through UN mechanisms. We wanted an environment conducive to dialog in Burma and, therefore, sought a binding resolution at the United Nations Security Council. Our desire was for the UN Security Council to strengthen the mandate of the UN Secretary-General so that he would be able to facilitate talks in Burma. That endeavor failed because of veto by China and Russia on technical grounds.

Democracy forces in Burma state that human rights violations have worsened inside the country since the Burma resolution was vetoed at the UN Security Council.

We have often heard of our friendly Asian countries accusing us of being too close to the Western democracies. We have this answer for those Asian friends. We want the problems in our country to be resolved by Asian countries and we believe that it can be done. But, we need a committed and devoted approach from our Asian friends to achieve that goal.

We are totally convinced that if regional countries like Japan, China, and ASEAN work together a substantive political dialog can take place in our country. We are hoping that they do.

We are, therefore, appealing to the honorable Members of Parliament in the Japanese Diet, our friends in the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), and to our fellow elected representatives in Asia and the world in general to extend your help to the people of Burma by urging regional governments to support the efforts to democratize Burma.

Thank you.

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