The Situation in Burma
Burma is an ethnically diverse Southeast Asian country of 48 million people, bordered by Thailand, China, Bangladesh and India. The people of Burma currently suffer under one of the world's most brutal and oppressive military regimes. The regime, inappropriately named the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has been cited by the United Nations for gross human rights violations against its own population, including:
Extrajudicial executions, rape, torture, summary or arbitrary executions, enforced disappearances, inhumane treatment, mass arrests, forced labour, forced relocations and denial of freedom of assembly, association, expression and movement.
The government spends about 50% of its revenues on military spending, and less than 10% on health care and education combined. Military brutality has resulted in over one million internally displaced people within the country and hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries. Amnesty International estimated that in 2003 there are still more than 1,300 political prisoners in Burmese jails, and torture in prisons is not uncommon.
Burma has been under military rule since 1962. In 1988, frustrated by the nation's one-party system and isolationist policies, university students organised large non-violent protests against the military regime. Millions of peaceful protesters gathered in major cities to demand a restoration of democracy to the country and an end to military rule. The military government responded by firing into the crowds, massacring thousands of Burmese and imposing even stricter regulations. After the massacre, the National League for Democracy was formed with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as its leader. In 1990, the military government named itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and allowed a national election to take place. The NLD won an overwhelming 81% of the seats. However, they were never allowed to take power. Suu Kyi was put under house arrest and her party members were arrested or forced to flee into the border areas of surrounding countries. All political dissidence was silenced.
Aung San Suu Kyi has spent much of the past 13 years under house arrest. She was released in May 2002, and the SPDC agreed to dialogues with the NLD, facilitated by United Nations. Suu Kyi was granted travelling privileges and began to hold pro-democracy meetings throughout the country. It seemed as the the junta was finally willing to begin real negotiations towards democratic change. This apparent move towards change was destroyed on June 30th 2003, when Suu Kyi's party was involved in a conflict with SPDC troops in Northern Burma and she was arrested yet again. She was held in prison in an undisclosed location for several months, and was granted only cursory visits from the International Red Cross and UN representatives. Suu Kyi has since been released to house arrest, but her political activities are seriously curtailed. This new crackdown demonstrates that the SPDC is not serious about reform and is not prepared to engage in constructive dialogue with the NLD or the ethnic minorities. The SPDC released a Roadmap to Democractic Change this fall, which does not include Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD or the ethnic minorities as partners in the national reconciliation process.
Burma is currently in a state of crisis on the levels of economics, health, education, environment and human rights. Pro-democracy activists continue to work in the border areas of neighbouring countries and internationally to bring peace and democracy to this suffering country. The Vancouver Burma Roundtable supports these actions.