Right Person, Right Place
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Right Person, Right Place

By Thar Nyunt Oo AUGUST, 1999 - VOLUME 7 NO.7

Recently, the Australian government has proposed the establishment of an independent human rights commission in Burma. Thar Nyunt Oo takes a look at the Burmese government human rights record and history of its concessions to the West in his exploration of the prospects of the proposal. On the first week of August 1999, two different news stories came out about Burma: First, the 3-year-old daughter of a pro-democracy activist was arrested by Military Intelligence as a means of forcing him out of hiding and, second, Australia’s human rights commissioner, Chris Sidoti said that the Burmese regime had expressed interest in establishing a human rights body in Burma. The junta denied the former story, while the international community was surprised by the latter. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer first proposed the idea for a human rights watchdog a year ago. In the July Asean foreign ministry level meeting, Mr. Downer raised the issue again with Win Aung, foreign minister of the Burmese regime, and Chris Sidoti, Australia’s human rights commissioner, was able to visit Burma through a favor by Win Aung. Upon return from a three-day visit to Burma, Sidoti said he had been surprised by the expressions of support at several meetings with Burmese officials over setting up a national human rights body. This became popular news amongst Burma watchers and diplomats. However, neither story surprised me. While I was hiding inside Burma just after the 1996 students’ movement, my father was called by the Military Intelligence Services (MIS), who were looking for me. They forced him to phone my colleagues and placed a small microphone on his shirt collar. Because of their use of intimidation against him, he had to do as they ordered. Then he was detained for three days at interrogation center. In a similar story, one of my colleagues from the Delta region was sought for arrest, but his father, who was over 50 years old, was arrested first by the MIS, who tortured him. Such incidents are matter-of-course in our community, and we joked about them to defuse our tension about these bitter experiences. We activists know well that our families also have to sacrifice their lives and their interests if we are involved in democracy and anti-government movements. So while the world was shocked by the news of a 3-year-old’s arrest, it wasn’t so surprising for Burmese activists. Such human rights violations committed by the regime are simply a matter of routine. The junta still commits widespread human rights abuses, including arrests, torture, intimidation, harassment and forced labor. Despite this litany of human rights abuses committed by the military government, the regime has expressed interest in establishing a human rights commission as a result of Sidoti’s visit. Some activists have dismissed this news as meaningless, but others have concluded that it is a positive sign for Burma. The military government always promises to do what the international community and the Burmese people desire, and they show good intentions whenever they are faced with a critical situation. But everyone should remember the promises made by the regime when they took power in 1988. They vowed to hold an election and to transfer power to the elected body. An electoral commission was formed in order to supervise the election. While the government announced the election results in 1990, it hasn’t followed through on its promise to honor the them. Moreover, it has interfered in the activities of political parties and their internal matters. The government exists above the electoral commission, which is unable to prevent the junta’s interference. Though the electoral commission was established for the multi-party democratic system, it could not operate in a democratic way. It became a hollow shell of the junta’s promise of a multi-party democracy system. Many NLD members have been pressured to resign by the government. Rather than resign to the NLD they are forced to resign to the electoral commission. Other empty actions include the junta’s establishment of a Burmese women’s association, an entrepreneurs’ organization and some technological institutions. They were formed after the lack of civil society and free institutions became a popular issue. But these are all totally controlled by the regime and have become props for the military. These organizations work to strengthen military rule and implement the government’s policies. Actually, the military regime doesn’t want independent institutions nor an empowered civil society. But they need international recognition and support for their rule, so they set up these associations under their control and to get support and legitimacy through them. However, they are stubborn about the human rights situation, because they have executed widespread human rights abuses in every sector of society in order to solidify their military power.

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