Toward Democracy, Human Rights and Federalism

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Remarks by Bo Hla-Tint, NLD MP-Elect at John Hopkins Univ

Friday, October 12 2007, 02:17 PM EDT
Following the peaceful activities jointly initiated by the 88 Generation Students and NLD, many unofficially formed civic groups became active. The “Justice Validation Organization" was formed by law students in Rangoon with the aim of helping people understand their responsibilities and rights under the legal system, Human Rights Defenders and Promoters groups were emerged nationwide to educate people on human rights, "Guiding Star" law group and NLD legal teams provided free legal and other assistance. The NLD also publicly recruited new members and explain to its members that they do not need to yield to pressure from the authorities to resign from the party. (NCGUB)


Public Event
Jointly Sponsored by
US Institute of Peace and John Hopkins University
School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)
Southeast Asia Program
Thursday, October 11, 2007
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Distinguished Guests, Friends of Burma, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, I am very grateful to the US Institute of Peace and SAIS for jointly sponsoring this important and timely forum to discuss the recent mass demonstrations led by the Buddhist monks and the people, the brutal crackdown by the military, and the steps needed to overcome the military stranglehold and restore viable democracy in Burma.

In order to understand the recent events in Burma, we need to look at the socioeconomic and political situation in the country prior to the mass movements taking place.

Assessing the Background

Despite the increases in revenue from oil and gas exports, Burma's socioeconomic conditions have been deteriorating for the past several years as a result of rampant corruption, bad governance, and mismanagement by the Burmese generals. Although Burma has no official poverty line, recent reports from London based Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) and other credible international institutions indicate that around 35 % of Burma's population lives below the poverty line.

A study by Burmese economists stated that in 2006/2007, Burma's GDP growth was only around 3.0 even though the military junta had been claiming a double digit growth. Per Capita Income is 164 US$ which is even lower than the poor countries in our region like Laos and Cambodia. Inflation is rated at 53% and the majority of the people spend 71% of their household income on food alone.

Despite the situation, the junta spends around 60% of the total budge for the military as compared to 7% and 3% on education and health, respectively. Many youths are disappointed with the failure of the education system and the lack of future prospects. The deteriorating socioeconomic conditions exacerbated the frustrations of the general populace as well as democratic organizations and individuals who were galvanized into taking bolder steps to reverse the prevailing conditions.

Since 2006, the 88 Generation Students with the support of the National League for Democracy (NLD) had launched mass campaigns—such as collection of over 500,000 signatures from the citizens in written appeal to the generals for reconciliation and which were handed over to UN Special Envoy, Mr. Gambari during his last visit in November 2006, the 'White Expression' (collectively wearing white), and mass prayer sessions. The campaigns were very peaceful and carefully designed in order to avoid intervention by the authorities and provide the general population to join mass activities without serious repercussion. These "apolitical" activities also enabled NLD members at different levels to work with the grassroots without being accused of politicking against the regime.

Following the peaceful activities jointly initiated by the 88 Generation Students and NLD, many unofficially formed civic groups became active. The “Justice Validation Organization" was formed by law students in Rangoon with the aim of helping people understand their responsibilities and rights under the legal system, Human Rights Defenders and Promoters groups were emerged nationwide to educate people on human rights, "Guiding Star" law group and NLD legal teams provided free legal and other assistance. The NLD also publicly recruited new members and explain to its members that they do not need to yield to pressure from the authorities to resign from the party.

In some instances, the campaigners were attacked, manhandled, and abducted to interrogation centers by the Swan Arr Shin ("Ones with Power") who behaved like “Brown Shirts” of Nazi Germany. The Swan Arr Shin are members of the combat wing of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), an organization founded and funded by the junta. However, despite the casualties, the campaigns continued unabated.

The later campaigns also coincided with completion of the junta's National Convention, through which the junta had forcibly laid-down basic principles and objectives to draft a constitution that would legitimize and perpetuate military rule. It is well known fact that junta’s National Convention was ended on the 3rd of September 2007, without participation of 1990 election winning parties like the NLD and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD).

In August 2007, NLD members were already conducting mass prayer sessions -- marching in public wearing T-shirts bearing Aung San Suu Kyi's photos and visiting temples and pagodas for mass prayers. Later, after fuel oil prices were hiked without prior notice to the public, 88 Generation Students and NLD members organized peaceful marches against the hikes.

Under those circumstances, the Myanmar Development Committee led by an activist, known as Htin Kyaw, then called for nationwide strikes to lower the fuel prices. The 88 Generation Students echoed the call after several of their top leaders were arrested. Monks in Pakokku responded to the call and became the first organized group to start a protest march on August 5, 2007, which later spread nationwide after monks were beaten, kicked and manhandled by soldiers. Since the first protest in Rangoon on September 19, more than a million people took to the street, taking part in 227 demonstrations in 66 cities across the country.

In short, the ongoing protests are the consequence of political discontent, anger over the soldiers manhandling of monks, and impoverished conditions in the country as well as an expression of opposition to prolonged military rule by the junta under its prospective constitution.

Despite the brutal and vicious crackdown that has resulted in the killing of an estimated 200 demonstrators and 3,000 arrests (including about 1,400 monks and nuns, more than 200 NLD members including 15 MP-Elects), the undercurrent of dissent is still very much alive in Burma and opposition against the junta has become deep rooted in the minds of the people.

The outcome of the protests

In my opinion, the present mass demonstrations will have a lasting impact on Burma in several important ways.

• They transformed the once nonchalant young Burmese generation who were children when the nation-wide mass uprising took place in 1988, into a potent dissident force which will continue the struggle for democracy.
• The protests exposed to the world the true ruthless features of the Burmese military junta who are out to preserve their power at all cost, killing several monks if need be.
• The protests have all but wiped out what little legitimacy the junta's National Convention had and the junta's plan to permanently install a military dictatorship in Burma is now in jeopardy.
• The protests have unified overseas Burmese communities and the people inside the country in their opposition against the junta

Bringing Democracy Back on Track

There has never been media coverage of people being gunned down on the streets during the 1988 mass uprising or of soldiers killing Karen villagers and burning down Karen villages, or committing rape in ethnic nationality areas. The world this time has witnessed the atrocities committed should thanks to the photographic evidence, video clips, and written reports filed via Internet by the courageous and relentless youths inside Burma.

Despite the claim by the generals that the situation is back to "normalcy", I would like to emphasize here that the situation in Burma is not nor will it ever be back to normalcy as long as the people continue to be silenced with brute force in the name of security and stability. Without fulfilling the people’s desire for freedom, democracy, and human rights and solving the poverty and socioeconomic hardships, there can never be stability in the country and the vicious cycle of brutal suppression and mass struggles for democracy is bound to occur from time to time.

We are, however, encouraged that the world now has become keenly aware of the blatant violation of human rights by the military junta. Our focus should now be on how to help to end the long-suffering of the people of Burma with the help of the international community and efforts of the people inside the country.

If you listen to the slogans being chanted by people, it is obvious that they are only seeking a peaceful solution to the political stalemate in the country or are endorsing the policy of NLD and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for a negotiated political settlement. The Burmese people have never demanded that the military be dismissed outright; they want a compromise solution to achieve national reconciliation and eventually democracy.

The main obstacle today is unwillingness of the Burmese generals to hold talks with the democratic and ethnic leaders. Of course, Senior General Than Shwe recently said he would personally have talks with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi provided she meets certain conditions, including a promise not to cause "utter devastation" to the nation and agree to stop support for international sanctions. In a statement following that announcement, the NLD said the junta was asking Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to admit to acts she never committed in the first place.

In the meantime, the junta has announced that former *Maj Gen Aung Kyi, deputy minister for labor, has been appointed to speak on behalf of the junta in its talks with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the United Nations. For optimists, the junta is seen as preparing for further talks with the democracy leader and the United Nations but, on a negative note, the state-run press of the same day made it evidently clear that the military junta was proceeding with its constitution drafting process and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would not be released before the constitution came into force. In other words, talks with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will not include discussions on the military constitution or the future of the nation. Likewise, Mr. Gambari on his next trip in November will most likely only meet a "junior" official like Maj Gen Aung Kyi who does not have decision-making powers.

The conditions set for talks with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the appointment of a spokesperson mean that the senior generals are preparing to ward off pressure from the international community and not really ready to engage in a dialog with the democracy movement.

Hence the solution to Burma's problems should be a multi-prong approach -- persuade the generals to enter into meaningful negotiations and dissuade them from pursuing the goal of installing a military dictatorship in the country while stepping up support for the democracy movement.

Persuasive Approaches:

1. A concerted approach by the international community in supporting Gambari's efforts for meaningful political dialog in Burma and giving stronger mandate to the UN Secretary-General to act on Burma

2. Assuring generals of their continued role in national affairs for a certain period of time, the length of which is to be negotiated, if a dialog takes place with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic leaders.

3. Presenting to the generals different flexible proposals that the democracy and ethnic movements have been offering so that the junta can come up with counter proposals. For instance, a proposal sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by 92 elected representatives on 1 August 2007 for "National Reconciliation and Democratization in Burma" suggested modifying the military-proposed road map and promote a meaningful political dialogue so that the process will become inclusive, democratic, and transparent. In the dialogue, various national issues and procedures and time frame to implement the rest of the road map, as well as the role of elected representatives from the 1990 elections during the transitional period can be discussed and agreed. We can provide details of the proposal by the 92 MPs later if anyone is interested.

Dissuasive Approaches:

1. Rejecting the junta-organized National Convention and its outcome, including the constitution, unless the convention includes all stakeholders -- the NLD, SNLD, and other ethnic parties -- and is modified to make it more democratic and transparent.

2. Calling on the junta to fully cooperate with the United Nations in finding a political solution in Burma

3. Continuing demands for the immediate release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners, including the recent monks and other detainees

4. Calling on the military regime for the early lifting of restrictions placed on political parties, the early release of those placed under detention and effective dialogue between all parties concerned

5. Calling on the military junta to provide immediate and unhindered access to all parts of Burma to UN agencies and other international humanitarian organizations so that they will be able to supply emergency needs to the people

Tools to Make the Approaches Work:
• Freezing assets of key members of the Burmese junta, their families, associates, and businesses
• Banning all new investment and financial transactions in Burma
• Banning imports of key commodities from Burma, such as metals, gems, and timber
• Increasing sanctions to further isolate the junta economically
Supporting the Democracy Movement

Given the restrictions imposed by the junta on businesses and livelihood of known political activists, financial support is vitally needed for political parties, organizations, political activists and groups as well as nascent civic organizations inside and outside Burma if the movement for democracy is to be sustained inside the country. Political funding is desperately needed to keep the movement alive and funders should also consider fulfilling that need instead of restricting funds to capacity building exercises, academic forums, conferences, and other similar events.

The multi-prong approaches used with the right tools by the international community are bound to make the Burmese generals rethink their policies. It is imperative for the international community to act concertedly if the military is to end its violations and viable democracy is to be restored in Burma.

Thank you.

(*Maj Gen Aung Kyi is the author of the "People's War Strategy" published by the Ministry of Defense which ludicrously claimed that United States was preparing to invade Burma and that the aggression must be defended by people's war strategy. He was reported to have requested for the posting at the Labor Ministry to counter charges at the International Labor Organization)

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