In Burma, Junta Controls

Burmese generals continue to limit democracy and human rights

AS the year 1992 came to a close, the State Law and Order Council (SLORC) government of the Burmese generals continues to hold on to power. Responding to the Dec. 4 resolutions of the United Nations, the rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Commission, Prof. Yozo Yokota, was allowed to visit Burma on Dec. 7 for the second time to observe human rights conditions.

As before, his visit was allowed under strict restrictions, defying the UN's call for full cooperation with the rapporteur and a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi and other detainees. The Burmese generals not only staunchly refused the UN's request for "the unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi," but also defiantly stated that "we can put her on trial anytime we like."

Meanwhile, to ease international pressure and condemnation, the military junta made a number of ostensible moves toward democratization: holding a meeting with pre-selected winners of the May 1990 multiparty election for the convening of a National Convention to draw up and discuss possible transfer of power in 1993; lifting the martial law imposed since 1988 along with the dissolution of military tribunals; opening universities that were shut down for more than three years; temporarily halting military campaigns against the political rebels at the Thai border; and negotiating bilaterally with the Bangladesh government for the repatriation of 270,000 Muslim refugees.

The National Convention was held on Jan. 9. in Rangoon. Delegates were under tight security. Members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), which won the May 1990 multi-party election by a landslide, were warned against any disruptive activities.

The number of NLD delegates allowed to attend the convention was only 88 out of the total of 392 winners of the election, the majority of whom are either under arrest or removed from the roster of winners of the election.

Prior to holding the convention, the generals established a safety net for power entrenchment by announcing that "the military shall have a leading role in any future political development of Burma."

The meeting was denounced as a sham by dissidents inside and outside Burma. Warnings and restrictions imposed upon the delegates created an atmosphere of dissatisfaction and unrest among the dissident delegates. A few dissident students also began distributing pamphlets, denouncing the convention as a sham. Sensing the danger of another political uprising, the SLORC abruptly adjourned the convention after only two days of meeting, postponing it to Feb. 1.

The SLORC further ordered the delegates to study some 150 different constitutions from around the world during the interim period before the next convention. It also reaffirmed its decision of not releasing Ms. Suu Kyi for fear of inciting unrest in the country, along with the standing offer of her freedom if she leaves Burma. Thus, singing the same old tunes and playing the same games of drawing up the mythical constitution to hold on to power, the so-called democratization process of SLORC in Burma is back to square one - the illegitimate military regime retaining power and the legitimate winners of the May 1990 election remaining powerless. Results of the next convention, held as scheduled on Feb. 1, remain to be seen.

Against this background, a serious question is what the UN and international community will do next, now that the SLORC continues to defy requests to release the foremost opposition leader, Suu Kyi and stop relentless human rights abuses? Thus far, empty rebukes and resolutions against the SLORC made by the UN, the United States, and a host of international human rights groups have not been effective in persuading the Burmese generals to relinquish their stranglehold on power and opposition.

In the current context of international politics and relations, the major source of the junta's claim to legitimacy comes from the UN itself and various countries around the world.

The UN has allowed Burma to continue its membership. It has sponsored official visits and contacts with the SLORC and accepted the change of name from Burma to "Myanmar" and the application of the least-developed country status. Up to now, some of its affiliated agencies - UNDP, IDA, ILO, FAO, UNICEF and WHO - have funded certain projects of the SLORC. These activities amount to a de facto recognition of the Burmese military regime as the legitimate government of Burma.

Activities of the private, corporate world have had similar effects. Next to Thai companies which had secured the majority of logging and fishing rights, US corporations, represented by Unocal, Texaco, Amoco, and Pepsi-Cola, are the largest direct investors in "Myanmar." Multinational corporations of the European Community countries have also invested heavily in Burma. Former communist states of Eastern Europe and the geopolitically more important neighboring Asian countries follow similar policies of re cognizing and dealing with the Burmese military regime. Harsher sanctions are needed against the defiant military junta which has held the democracy movement of Burma at bay since 1988.

The 1991 Nobel Peace Laureate, Suu Kyi remains the focal point of democracy and the human rights movement in Burma. She has also been the center of international attention as Burma's "Symbol of Peace and Freedom from Fear."

Most recently and encouragingly, a group of Nobel Peace Laureates, including Rev. Bishop Desmond Tutu, Ms. Mairead Maguire, Sr. Adolfo Perez Esquivel, His Holiness Dalai Lama and the 1992 Nobel Peace Laureate, Sra. Rigoberta Menchu, sponsored by the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development of Canada, initiated a peace mission plan of visiting Thailand and Burma in mid-February.

Thailand accepted their request to meet with King Bhumibol Adulyadej and visit some refugee camps, while the SLORC refused their request to visit Burma and meet with Suu Kyi.

The chance of restoring democracy in Burma remains at best a forlorn hope.

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