Written by U Ne Oo on 1997-01-06

As the year 1996 ended, it is the time to re-evaluate the current state of movement and to review our policy orientations. Lets focus our attention to the current issues in the Burmssues in the Burma democracy movement: the non-violent struggle, the trade sanction on Burma and humanitarian issues.

The Year 1996

Unfortunately, we cannot end the year 1996 with a high note. Firstly, we are not successful in pushing Slorc to enter dialogue with the Opposition. Throughout the year, the U.N. mediators had been turned away many times by the Slorc: it is now quite clear that SLORC has no intention to resolve the political problem by negotiations. The democracy movement, therefore, should consider tonsider to re-adjust the policy of negotiations and reconciliation with SLORC to the policy to marginalize SLORC and remove SLORC from power.

Policy of Benchmarks and Reconciliation

In early 1994, Senator Gareth Evans, the former Australian foreign minister, proposed sets of benchmarks to improve the situation of human rights in Burma. The wisdom of this benchmarks policy is that the layout of benchmarks on human rights is not only been attractive but also is practical to work on. No one, of course,� is expecting the military regime like SLORC to reform itself by simply setting such benchmarks. Each step of benchmarks can be achieved only by putting pressure on SLORC. The type of pressure can be of two types: (1) the non-violent public/diplomatic pressure and (2) those of which are more direct and substantive in nature.

Over the years, few of the benchmarks were achieved - thanks to the efforts of various pro-democracy groups and diplomatic community. The results, though, are not as good as we would like them to be. The be. The political environment has now changed and therefore time to reconsider our policy orientations. Even Though the democracy movement - especially from outside pressure groups - may have to make some departure from the policy of negotiations and reconciliation with SLORC, the subtle frameworks of benchmarks on human rights may still remains.

As for the National League for Democracy, and also the ethnic nationality groups, they should continue to urge SLORC to enter dialogue. However, one must recognize that the SLORC hasSLORC has no intention to make negotiations and reconciliation with the opposition. Therefore, the opposition NLD should consider to open the possibility of establishing itself as an alternative democratic government of Burma.

Non-violent Pressure

The non-violent actions by the grassroots support groups are effective in many ways: in putting psychological pressure on SLORC and also in diplomatically isolating SLORC from international community.

Organizing protests, writing letters and simply speaking out the "truth" about the situation in Burma are the actions taken by our compatriots and supporters throughout the struggle. One, of course, may not generally see the immediate impact/result of those non-violent actions. It however clear that no human being is impervious to such non-violent pressure. A person may be so successful at practicing deceit upon the others, but no human being can lie his own conscience. A dictator may be able to hide behind a fortress and can escape from the attack of the enemy, but he cannot avnnot avoid the attack by his own conscience and guilt. It is the way non-violent pressures can be brought to bear on the military dictatorship.

Although the non-violent pressure can be effective in certain ways, such pressure cannot normally be expected to brought concessions on fundamental issues. This is because of the way a dictatorship is different from normal politicians. Politicians are open to reasons and listen to the differing views as much as possible. Dictatorships ultimately ignore the differing views from their om their opponents, no matter how genuine and valuable may this view be (Adding factor to this, in the case of Burma, is that the SLORC's lack of intellectual capacity to understand the other views.). Military dictators will certainly be shakened in their minds by these non-violent protests, but still, will not make concessions.

Even Though the non-violent pressure cannot directly force a dictatorship, such as SLORC, to make concessions, it help the movement in more than one ways. Firstly, the non-violent actions can diplomatically isolate the regime from international community ("Isolation of Slorc" here do not means "Making non-contact with Slorc"; it here to means more of "political and ideological isolation"). Few examples at hand - such as recent ASEAN's opinion swings against SLORC and the SLORC's spectacular failure of the "Visit Myanmar Year" - are the kind of isolation for SLORC that has been brought to bear by means of the non-violent pressures.

Secondly, these non-violent actions by the support groups help the oppressed as they las they lend the solidarity. These non-violent actions are also the best way to maintain the momentum of and solidarity within the movement. I always remember, for example, a protest of NGOs in 1993 at a UN forum in Geneva. The representatives of those NGOs put the "Aung San Suu Kyi Mask" on their face, standing silently while SLORC foreign minister deliver his speech at that forum (these representatives were asked to leave the meeting for their un-ruly behaviour, later it was reported.). I personally feel much gratitude towards thords those such people, and certainly their action encouraged me to be more involve in the struggle. This is the way how the solidarity can be communicated via non-violent actions.

To many Burmese, such non-violent actions by international community mean much more than providing the solidarity to them and to their compatriots inside the country. For example, by a simple action of putting rebuttal against SLORC's propaganda on the Internet, you have declared your friendship and solidarity to the Burmese. When you raise your conyour concern about our refugees and the political prisoners, your are to be regarded as of our family. When you write a note about Burma situation to your Congressmen or Foreign Minister, you are considered to have joined the ranks of "Burma-Democracy-Tribe". When you take part in protest actions - even sometimes at the risk of losing your own freedom - then you are considered to be our saviours. These non-violent actions by our supporters, though may not produce immediate results of getting concessions from SLORC, do help us in m us in many ways in our struggle for democracy in Burma.

Direct and Substantive Pressures

The two issues: threat of U.N. humanitarian intervention and the trade and economic sanctions, are more direct and substantive in nature and can force Slorc to enter negotiations. Everyone in the movement are in agreement that there should be some form of intervention from the U.N. and the U.N. to be more active on humanitarian concerns. However, there are some differing views (at least from me) towards trade and econand economic sanctions. We must also look into these issues in some details.

Unfortunately, this year's U.N. resolution do not go far enough in addressing the humanitarian concerns. There is a general statement about the refugee flows into neighbouring countries. It however ignored the plight of internally displaced people. There is one paragraph (16) that specifically urging Burma to solve its refugee problem. The resolution, however, does not raise the concern about SLORC limiting the UNHCR's activity regarding the repatria repatriation of Rohingyas. The UNGA also fails to specifically recommend an unhindered access to be given the UNHCR/NGOs to returnees/refugees.

The resolution recommends the continuation of the Secretary-General efforts in initiating dialogue in Burma (para 7). All of Secretary-General's efforts in last year were wasted because of SLORC simply refusing to see the U.N. representatives. It therefore clear that the U.N. must make move on refugee issues with degree of seriousness in order to broker dialogue in Burma. By now the Gnow the General Assembly is completed, our only chance to get the U.N. moving on this issue is through the U.N. Security Council.

The United States Can Help

The United States can certainly help especially at the level of Security Council. This year, our Burma human rights movement was bullied at the UNGA in the name of consensus (of course, it is easier to built consensus by doing nothing new - most governments will opt to maintain status quo.); we must turn to the U.S. for their leadership.

The U.S. The U.S. engagement to Asia and especially Burma is most crucial to advance our human rights and democracy cause. Since the appointment of Special Envoy on Burma in last July, there has been Burma policy consolidation, particularly, by Burma's neighbouring countries. People within Burma democracy movement are quietly confident about the help from U.S., especially the continuation of the U.S. policy of engagement towards Burma, because of the President Clinton has been re-elected. (What I gathered was that the Republican Candidate, Mdate, Mr Bob Dole, is also a competent foreign policy-maker, though the policy of U.S. engagement to Burma will be maintained is uncertain if he is elected.)

Our highest expectation is on the new U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. Her involvement to Burma situation is well known to all of us. She was the daughter of a refugee-diplomat from Czechoslovakia, from which she has steadily rose to this rank. One report indicates "She does not believe in appeasement and is more than prepared to urge the use of United Stateed States troops to solve international disputes". As the U.N. Ambassador, she has reportedly supported various U.N. intervention of humanitarian in character, including the intervention on Somalia.

The new U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson will also be of a great help to Burma democracy movement. He is the one who firstly suggested to form the U.N. Contact group for Burma. By now with the new initiatives from Canadians, it is quite hopeful that this plan will be materialized soon. We, the Burma democracy movement, will then havthen have less instances of being bullied at the U.N. forums.

We must make our own initiatives

One commonly asked question, especially in the earlier years, was that "Do the Burmese knows what they want ?". Many Burmese, in first instance, may tend to be infuriated by such questions. To get rid of SLORC from power, of course, is what the Burmese people want; but how to do it and how the international community can help are certainly worth pondering. It is not good enough to simply ask for help, but must mut must make our own input to the U.N. and international community about how they can help. The initiatives, and also to show the will to strive for a greater freedom, are needed from the part of oppressed people. The development in recent years, such as various Burma Refugee Committees in Thailand requesting help from UNHCR for voluntary repatriation, can be considered as one such courageous move initiated by the refugees.

(Note on the controversial issue of trade and economic sanctions is to be posted in part-2.)

With best regards, U Ne Oo.

Note on Non-violent Pressures - Pt. 1