108th Congress (2003-2004)
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BURMA'S ICON STILL NEEDS HELP -- (Senate - May 04, 2004)
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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, if my colleagues doubt that the pen is mightier than the sword, they need to take 5 minutes to read Rena Pederson's May 2 Dallas Morning News column entitled ``Burma's Icon Still Needs World's Help.''
When it comes to continued repression in Burma, and a largely muted world response, Ms. Pederson hits a bullseye.
She is right to demand the U.S. Congress to expeditiously renew sanctions against Burma, which I fully expect us to do over the next few weeks, and to take the United Nations to task for its weak and tepid response to the State Peace and Development Council's, SPDC, recalcitrance to implement U.N. General Assembly and Commission for Human Rights resolutions.
I share Ms. Pederson's disbelief that the U.N. Security Council has yet to bring the Burmese crisis up for debate and sanction. We already know that Burma poses an immediate and grave threat to its neighbors, whether through refugees fleeing persecution, the spread of HIV/AIDS or the proliferation of illicit narcotics.
Unfortunately, the U.N.'s misguided ``wait and see'' approach serves to further exacerbate a regional crisis that is a direct result of these undesirable Burmese exports and that neighboring countries, out of political expediency, refuse to face. Thailand, China, India and other regional neighbors can only bury their heads in the sand for so long.
As three Burmese were recently sentenced to death for merely talking to
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Further, Ms. Pederson's concerns with U.N. envoy Ismail Razali's business dealings with the SPDC comes at time when the corrupt ``oil for food'' program in Iraq is under investigation. It is only fair to ask if principles are similarly being discarded in Burma for the sake of personal profit.
I suspect that the closer we get to the May 17 constitutional convention, the louder the din from the SPDC and its advocates in Thailand will become on ``progress'' being made in Burma. I have little hope that the convention will serve as a catalyst for anything but an attempt by the SPDC to bestow legitimacy upon itself and its abusive rule. The director of the Burma Fund, Zaw Oo catalogued these concerns superbly in an opinion piece entitled ``Don't Help Burma's Generals'' in the May 6 issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review.
My message to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy could not be more clear: you are in a position of strength because of the principled stand you continue to make in support of the struggle for freedom in Burma. The people of Burma should know that America stands with them and will continue to do so until democracy and justice triumphs in Burma.
I ask unanimous consent that a copy of Ms. Pederson and Mr. Zaw Oo's articles be printed in the Record following my remarks.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
Don't Help Burma's Generals
As I write this, the Burmese military junta called the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC, is expected to soon free pro-democracy leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and Tin Oo. But it will do this solely for ulterior reasons. The SPDC is seeking some measure of international credibility. Releasing Suu Kyi will get Asean off its back. Next, by also pretending to seek a road map towards some form of ``disciplined'' democracy, the SPDC gives Asean the cover to accept Rangoon's chairmanship of the group in 2006. But in a vicious circle, the SPDC is strong-arming the democratic opposition by using any legitimacy it gains abroad to force the opposition into accepting its road map--which will only strengthen its position as a regime. The generals don't plan to retire from politics any time soon.
The SPDC is rushing to implement its seven-point road map towards ``democracy'' by reconvening on May 17 a national convention to prepare a new constitution. The original convention was aborted in 1996 after the SPDC expelled the National League for Democracy for complaining that the convention was being manipulated. The new convention will just as likely be manipulated. First, holding the meeting in a remote town called Mhawbi is meant to isolate and intimidate opposition delegates. Moreover, the convention commission will be made up only of SPDC officials, who will completely control the agenda and procedures. The junta could also use its notorious military rule, ``Order 5/96,'' to suppress those who oppose its wishes. Certainly, that was what it did the last time around.
The junta's hand-picked delegates are expected to ram through 104 constitutional principles laid down in 1996 before the last convention was scrapped. Those principles include setting aside 25% of parliamentary seats for the military, indirect election of the president through an electoral college, the requirement that presidential candidates have military experience, and total autonomy for the military. They are a comprehensive list of military prerogatives that make a mockery of any modern notion of constitutionality. Thus, through a ``guided'' convention, the SPDC's road map will lead to a ``disciplined'' political form: a constitutional military autocracy.
Clearly, the SPDC's version of ``reform'' will continue to be a disaster for Burmese. Its vision of democracy with dual power centres in the form of a military commander-in-chief and the president could easily become unstable because of the intermittent power struggles that emerge within the military. Its economic model won't bolster investors' faith. (Even the Chinese have become frustrated with Burma's appalling economic policies.) Dreams of Thai industrialists relocating manufacturing plants to Burma will remain just that: fantasies. And the continuing gross neglect of Burma's social capital and a likely failure to stem the lucrative drug trade will export instability from Burma to its neighbours.
A year ago, at a gathering in Bangkok of like-minded individuals from 10 countries, there was the promise of a start to building an effective regional strategy towards Burma. The gathering, called the Bangkok Process, could have sent a clear signal to the SPDC that its intentions were unacceptable Sadly, the meeting chose to build on the earlier constructive-engagement policy. Still, the damage could have been minimized if the process had crafted a larger international strategy by inviting the participation of the United States, and provided the United Nations a stronger mandate to mediate and enforce a democratic settlement in Burma.
Today, only a democratic breakthrough can stop the looming confrontations in Burma. Suu Kyi has been consistent in offering a reasonable role for military leaders in jointly transforming Burma into a democratic country. In 1990, the Burmese military organized an election and supervised it; the NLD won but the military refused to honour the results. Now is the time finally to resolve this impasse. The key is to assist negotiations in Burma for implementing this as-yet unrealized national mandate in a way that provides shared responsibility between the NLD, the military and ethnic leaders. Compromise is needed to allow for a sharing of power and responsibility in managing a democratic transition. All this is clear. But what would not be helpful is for Burma's neighbours to help efforts by the SPDC to strengthen and prolong its rule. This would not be in the interest of anyone in Asia, let alone Burma.
Burma's Icon Still Needs World's Help
Back in 1995, Madeleine Albright went to Burma to visit Aung San Suu Kyi, who was being held under arrest. Though jailed in her own home, the Nobel Peace Prize winner showed her respect for visiting secretary of state in a touching way. She scrubbed the walls and floor of her house by hand and washed and ironed the curtains by herself.
It is a good bet that few Nobel laureates have had to do the same.
But, then, there is no one quite like Ms. Suu Kyi, the brilliant Oxford graduate who continues to risk her life to bring democracy to Burma.
Last week, Ms. Albright returned the favor. She joined Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona in calling for a renewal of American sanctions on the Burmese junta because the murderous generals are keeping Ms. Suu Kyi under heavy guard in her house yet again.
Fourteen Nobel literature laureates--including Gunter Grass and Toni Morrison--recently joined Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, in calling for the release of Ms. Suu Kyi and other imprisoned writers in Burma.
Like Ms. Albright, Mr. Havel has been inspired by Ms. Suu Kyi's astounding courage and has been pressing for her release for more than a decade. What is little known is that he was considered the shoo-in for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 after the ``Velvet Revolution'' in Czechoslovakia, but he threw his support to Ms. Suu Kyi and forfeited his own chances. Hers, he explained, was the greater example.
What we need is similar gallantry from Congress, which should waste no time extending economic sanctions. What we need is similar courage from the United Nations, which has stood by while the Burmese generals slyly have made a fool of Secretary-General Kofi Annan by reneging time and again on promises of reform.
If Mr. Annan doesn't have enough problems with corruption in the ``oil for food'' scandal in Iraq (which may include payoffs to his son), his credibility is going to be damaged even more when people start investigating his see-no-evil attitude toward the Burmese regime.
Some of the tough questions that need to be asked include: Why did Mr. Annan send an envoy to handle the Burma crisis who was doing business deals with the regime? Mr. Annan's envoy, Razali Ismail, has a contract to provide microchips for Burmese passports. Amazingly, Mr. Annan has ruled that the sweetheart deal isn't a conflict of interest because Mr. Ismail was only a ``part-time'' envoy.
That's the diplomatic equivalent of passing the canapés. Pray tell, why doesn't Mr. Annan bring the Burmese crisis up before the Security Council? why has he merely purred that the junta may allow democracy in 2006?
While Mr. Annan blinks and purrs, the horrific crimes of the Burmese dictators continue without relief. Reports of war crimes continue to seep out of Burma: The rape and torture of women. The destruction of villages. Forced relocations. The laying of new land mines. The murder of Muslim minorities.
To make matters even more disturbing, the Far Eastern Economic Review has reported that North Korea may be selling missiles or nuclear technology to Burma. A Christian cemetery near the Rangoon Airport reportedly was bulldozed last fall to make way for the missile base.
It isn't a good time to keep passing the canapes.
As Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison put it last week, ``The brutal tactics adopted by Burma's military rulers are reprehensible. The Free World must be unequivocal in demanding the junta release Aung San Suu Kyl and change its ways.''
There was a slight flutter of hope last week that the Burmese generals might be edging toward a transition because they allowed the reopening of the headquarters of
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But 1,300 remain in prison. and the top two leaders, Ms. Suu Kyi and Tin Oo, remain under house arrest.
The junta's recent charm efforts couldn't mask the fact that behind the scenes, the generals slapped life sentences on 11 league members who are in prison. That is tantamount to a death sentence in the grim Burmese gulag. The nine weren't allowed to speak in their own defense. Their only crime was witnessing an attack on Ms. Suu Kyi by government thugs last May 30.
Even if Ms. Suu Kyi is released, she may be in greater danger outside her home if the junta imposes a constitution at gunpoint that leaves it in power. Congress must keep sanctions in place until there's certifiable change. As Margaret Thatcher would say, this is no time to go wobbly.
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