Written by U Ne Oo on 2001-03-01

In early January 2001, the UN Secretary-General indicated there has been a dialogue going on between SPDC/SLORC and detained NLD leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Outside observers, especially the international press, responded positively to this news as break through for otherwise intractable political deadlock in Burma. For its part, the junta had stopped attacking ASSK and NLD publicly; and released NLD leader U Tin Oo together with 80 supporters. Although we should never consider the release of these prisoners to be small gesture, the dialogue itself doesn't seems to have been moving forward from its initial fragile state. For example, there have been no public announcement from both sides - especially inside Burma - about the commencement of dialogue. Nor the substance of the discussion had been disclosed to the public.

To be fair, there may have been some danger associated with announcing publicly about the dialogue initially. However, as enough time has now elapsed since the breaking of that news, the time is appropriate to officially announce the commencement of dialogue from both sides. Unless such public announcement is made especially inside Burma, we must conclude recent news of dialogue as another SPDC/SLORC's ploy to buy more time to avoid international action, especially by the UN/ILO.


Even if a dialogue of substance has began in Burma, we cannot simply expect the human rights and humanitarian problem will be improved over night. For example, Burma trying to eliminate army's exaction of forced labour, solving problems of refugees and displaced people and, improving the deteriorating public health, especially HIV/AIDS epidemic, and combating illicit drugs will need the international help. Obviously, neither the NLD nor SPDC/SLORC government alone will have the capacity to improve these situation in Burma. We must call upon the international community to help alleviate the sufferings of mass majority of the people of Burma. In order to do that, we would need at least the official confirmation by the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi. Otherwise, we must assume no progress made thus far and therefore pursue a policy for further tightening grips on SPDC/SLORC.


Great deal of progress is made, despite many obstacles, by labour rights groups, to improve situation of forced labour in Burma. Ideally, the issue of forced labour in Burma, as with other human rights problems, is to be viewed separate from political dialogue. Because of the (possible) commencement of dialogue, the international action should not be withheld. The Burmese junta must comply with ILO's request to satisfaction. According to last October ILO Technical Mission report, the SPDC/SLORC is agreeable to some form of labour monitoring mission under ILO. Lets hope that report reflect some truth.


With regards to refugees from Burma, it is an appropriate time for neighbouring governments to give UNHCR protection to the displaced Burmese people so as to initiate orderly repatriation. Over the years, Burma's neighbouring governments, except for the Government of Bangladesh, have exhibited the meanness in regards to granting UN protection to these displaced people. Perhaps, the commencement of dialogue can change these neighbouring governments stance on the refugee protection. Major donor countries, such as US, EU, Canada, Australia and Japan over the year have been given generous support to the Burmese displaced people and refugees. We must advocate at this time to be more generous to UNHCR to practically support these Burmese refugees.


On looking at the pressures applied by governments and UN Organisations on the junta, the most of these international pressures are only little more than token gestures. Serious and effective actions such as EU visa ban on junta members last year and, in particular, government of Switzerland's freezing of junta members accounts are of rare events. Never the less, all these pressures in combination seems to be having some impact on junta.It also worth noting that if such amount of pressure is ever applied in democratic countries, the governments in question would have been fallen several times over (on the one hand, such unpopular government as SPDC/SLORC would never be in power in a democratic system). The fact that the military dictatorship behaves differently from democratic government under pressures, there is no room for complacency. We must call for strengthening of international actions on the junta as the need arises.


Our colleagues on this list are fully aware about the way successive UN General Assemblies had watered-down the recommendations made by ILO Commission of Inquiry and CHR. The US action on Burma at UN Security Council in September 2000 is also questionable about its merit: may be mere political posturing by the US (see the posting on October 3, 2000.). Last November resignation of Special Rapporteur Rajsoomer Lallah may also have weakened the chance of successfully implementing these recommendations and many other initiatives at the UN forums, especially at this CHR meeting. Burma has its new Special Rapporteur appointed, but the continuity of action may have already been lost in particular implementing ILO recommendations. We must be on the alert that the UN may be delaying to take appropriate action on the junta.


The SPDC/SLORC is not alone in wishing to delay any possible international action. The businesses, the governemnt of Japan and ASEAN are likely allies in defense against any international action. The democratic governments, including UK & US, also seem hesitant as they try to protect their business interests. Nevertheless, it is time for governments to confront with 'the truth' and take genuine action (no more token gestures or posturing please) in order to pressure the Burmese junta.


Unfortunately, as for the accuracy of news on dialogue, we cannot simply rely on the junta's information outlet, i.e. OSS. The international press, which generally get the feeds from OSS, may also be considered as unreliable in this case. Sources from United Nations are also unreliable because of the influence by SPDC/SLORC's allies. For this reason, we must clearly define a "yard-stick" which constitutes(& which does not constitute) the political progress in Burma. Within this context, if the commencement of dialogue is not publicly announced to the Burmese general public by both sides, we must consider as a 'no progress' and therefore take further action.

Regards, U Ne Oo.

Dialogue and Transparency: A first step