Friday 31 August 2007

What is going on in Burma?

With thanks to Miss P...

There can't be many countries in the world with a worse record of repressing democracy than Burma, yet so little is said about it in the Western world. Is this because Burma is one of the poorest countries in the world? Is it because the increasing numbers of tourists that are being encouraged to visit by the state (and even some pro-democracy campaigners) are kept from seeing the hidden truth? Whatever the reasons, it's criminal that the situation there is so ignored.

Here are some facts:
  • In 1990, or thereabouts, Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD party scored a massive landslide victory in the Burmese national elections, but were denied their place in government by the ruling military junta.
  • Since then, the junta have kept Aung San Suu Kyi under almost continuous house arrest.
  • Other members of the NLD have been imprisoned for supposed political crimes. Even singing a pro-democracy song can get you three year's hard labour....
  • ...and it is this hard labour that is being forced to build new infrastructure to support increasing tourist numbers.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi advocates economic sanctions against Burma, and discourages tourism, effectively saying 'come to my country when it is free.'
  • The junta, and other factions in the NLD, actively encourage tourism on the basis that bringing the outside world in to see what's happening in Burma can only spread the word. They also argue that sanctions hurt the poorest most, not the junta such sanctions seek to penalise.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi's blend of Buddhist philosophy and Gandhian non-violent protest is reliant on national unity for success... yet different ethnic splinter groups are pulling in different directions, demanding freedom through their own independence rather than through democracy for the whole nation.
There's a lot more to it than this. Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts way back in 1991... but she's still under house arrest, and the Burmese (or Myanmar, as they prefer) junta are still in unelected power. I know that such change can take time but have we learnt nothing in recent years? If this was still happening in South Africa, where apartheid postulated similar suppression but on racial grounds, the world would be up in arms. Something has to change in Burma too!

For more information, lots of background reading and ideas on action you can take to support the call for change in Burma, check out The Burma Campaign. I can also recommend Amnesty International. Go on... let's do something about this...