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  Issue No 106 Official Organ of LaborNet 10 August 2001  

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Human Rights

A People Besieged


Labor MLC Janelle Saffin, an active supporter of the pro-Democracy movement in Burma, sets out the issues behind the ILO sanctions.

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To travel to Burma, is as some say, to enter a time warp. It is a beautifully enchanting country, a land of golden pagodas, the most famous Shewdagon, which dominates the capital, Rangoon. Covering 56 acres it is a constant hive of activity, providing sustenance to many and solace for all, who live in fear of Burma's military rulers.

Justice Rajsmoor Lallah, previous United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Violations in Myanmar (the name that the military changed it to) said in his report to the 41st session of the United Nations General Assembly 1999: "...at the very worst, we are faced with a country which is at war with its own people, at the very best, it is a country which is holding its people hostage..."

Burma is flanked by Thailand, India, Laos and China, stretching to the Cocos Islands in the Andaman Sea. It is mountainous, heavily forested, has a huge delta area, abundantly fertile, awash with natural resources, and home to a people with 135 language groups. Ethnic nationalities people comprise over 30 per cent of the nation's 50 million people.

Burma's armed forces, the Tatmadaw, in one guise or another have ruled Burma since the 2nd March 1962 when General Ne Win Army Chief seized power. Burma has been racked by civil war since independence (1948) with the military Burma's greatest obstacle to peace and prosperity. General Ne Win, now over 90 years, still psychologically dominates Burma's politics. Apart from the SPDC's troika of Senior General Than Shwe, General Maung Aye and Lt-General Khin Nyunt, and international mouthpieces Lt-Colonel Hla Min and U Win Aung, the other most dominant political force is Burma's internationally respected Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Nobel Peace Laureate and a member of the Companion of the Order of Australia.

So feared is she by this macho military, they keep her prisoner in her home. She doesn't have guns, or an army of over 450,000 men, or 10 newly acquired MIG 29s, or military support from China, Singapore, Israel, Pakistan, and over the years Germany, Poland, Russia, the former Yugoslavia. She has what the military never can; the love and the respect of the people and political legitimacy. The National League for Democracy (NLD) of which she is the General Secretary, in the 1990 elections won 392 seats of the 485. The military backed party, the National Unity Party (NUP) won 10 seats, with the remaining 83 won by democratic and ethnic based parties and independents.

Burma is ruled by a 19 member military elite called the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). The SPDC announced that they will now transmit through MRTV-3, programs designed to show neighbours the true story about Burma.

MRTV-3 won't show the following:

-the country is bankrupt , over half of the primary school aged children are malnourished, Burmese children take 9.5 years to complete 5 years of primary school, universities have been closed for 9 of the last 12 years, infant mortality rate is 79 per 1,000, 2,000 political prisoners languish in gaol, entire villages are forcibly relocated, villagers sometimes shot and killed, women and girls raped and sometimes murdered, half the nation's budget is spent on the military, 85 per cent of heroin on Australian streets comes from Burma, that the military (also known as a narco-dictatorship) stay afloat because of the drugs economy.

They say that the drugs are the work of the insurgents, that it is an international problem, (annual production is around 2,000 tons, with cultivation and production having both risen over the last decade) but it is all done within a framework of political agreements and financial dealings forged by the military SPDC, most notably Lt- General Khin Nyunt, also the boss of the feared and all pervasive 'Military Intelligence Services' (MIS).

Drug barons live in Rangoon, dominating the business and property world, running legitimate businesses, all with the blessing and involvement of the SPDC. Burma has the status of a money laundering nation (see OECD commentary) and is rated as the world's most restricted economy. Not a good signpost to investors, nor is the fact that they nationalised the businesses of 2 foreign companies, Mandalay Brewery is one.

MRTV-3 won't show you footage of slave labour that is systemically carried out by the armed forces, the portering where people are plucked out of their lives, particularly the ethnic peoples in villages, to carry provisions for the Tatmadaw. This barbaric practice gained the attention of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) who for the first time in its history, passed a resolution that called for its member countries to impose sanctions against a member country, Burma.

We know that slave labour is wrong and morally repugnant to humankind, affecting all workers, denigrating our most valued contribution, our labour. We must oppose this practice on each and every occasion we are confronted by it in any form, even in our neighbours backyard where it is most extreme.

So should we visit Burma yet as tourists? The answer is no. It can only help to prolong the rule of one of our region's most harsh and brutal regimes.

If you would like to do your bit to stamp out slave labour and restore the rule of law please contact me on 02-92302235 or 0418-664001 or mailto:[email protected]

Janelle Saffin is a member of the NSW Legislative Council and an Executive Member of the Burma Lawyers' Council (BLC)


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*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 106 contents

In this issue
Features
*  Interview: In Exile
Burmese's government in exile's Minister for Justice U Thein Oo talks about a struggle for democracy that has become a test of international solidarity.
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*  Politics: A National Disgrace
Labor's IR spokesman Arch Bevis gives his take on the workers entitlements issue and its mismanagement by the Howard Government.
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*  E-Change: 2.2 The Information Organisation
Peter Lewis and Michael Gadiel look at how network technologies will change the way organizations operate in the Information Age.
*
*  Media: The Fine Print
Mark Hebblewhite looks at how the major dailies handled the Tri-Star dispute and finds that the story really does depend on the telling.
*
*  Human Rights: A People Besieged
Labor MLC Janelle Saffin, an active supporter of the pro-Democracy movement in Burma, sets out the issues behind the ILO sanctions.
*
*  International: Postcard From Brazil
The CFMEU’s Phil Davey reports on a rural movement that puts our National Farmers Federation to shame.
*
*  History: Indonesia Calling
They needed no resolutions. Soldiers and workers who did not know one another moved together, the black ban started to reach out across the harbour from the noisy, smoke-filled room.
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*  Solidarity: On the Frontline
Australian trade unionists are providing practical help for the Burmese through projects funded by APHEDA-Union Aid Abroad.
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*  Satire: Skase 'Too Ill' to Fly Home for Burial
Spanish authorities have deemed Christopher Skase too ill to return to Australia for his own funeral.
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*  Review: Living Silence
In these extracts from her new book, Christina Fink goes inside Burma to find a world where military repression is slowly crushing a people.
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News
»  Revealed: ABC Censors Industrial Reporting
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»  WorkCover Revisited – Public Sector Laws Rammed Through
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»  Bras First in Burma Boycotts
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»  Tri Star Only the Start of Entitlements Push
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»  New Spying Tactics Hit Work Cars
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»  Howard’s Secret Anti-Worker Plans
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»  Direct Action to Increase Nurses' Worth
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»  High Court: Courier Was Employee
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»  Victory for Academic Freedom
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»  Put A Stop To Acoustic Shock
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»  Builders' Bucks: Payroll Tax Evasion Rife
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»  Tassie Workers Brew Up a Storm
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»  HIH Collapse Hits Arts Industry
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»  Labour for Hire Not Entitlements
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»  Rail Inquiry Into Treatment of Homeless
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»  ACTU Awards To Reward Union Excellence
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»  Activist Notebook
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Columns
»  The Soapbox
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»  The Locker Room
*
»  Trades Hall
*
»  The Soapbox
*

Letters to the editor
»  Botsman Goes Crosby
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»  Left Right Out
*
»  Belly's Shout
*
»  Ode to the New Serfs
*

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