United Press International, Asia
April 29, 2009
Burma’s military rulers have repeatedly described U.S. and EU sanctions as an “unjust and inhumane act” that will cause chaos and anarchy in the country. The junta has also said that economic sanctions are unilateral actions taken by big powerful countries against developing countries, ignoring the equality among nations, which the international community accepts.
According to their logic, sanctions imposed by a big country on a developing country, with the ill intention of hindering the economic, trade and manufacturing sectors of that country, are inhumane acts intended to incite unrest and cause the nation to fall into anarchy.
However, Burma’s rogue military regime does not practice self-criticism with regard to sanctions it imposes on its own population.
For instance, one member of Parliament from the National League for Democracy, a physician by profession, was informed by state authorities that he would have to choose between his profession and politics. If he wanted to remain a physician he must resign his political position and party. His family situation compelled him to choose his medical profession.
Numerous NLD members have faced similar threats and intimidation, being forced to choose between their professions and politics. This is one method the regime uses to sanction its own citizens.
The junta also commits atrocious acts against its citizens. One example is the experience of Htay Htay, an executive member of the Ma-gwe Division of the NLD. She was hospitalized for an emergency appendectomy; right after the operation a secret police officer appeared at the hospital and told the chief surgeon to discharge the patient immediately. When the doctor asked how he could interfere with a physician’s care of his patient, the policeman showed his identity card and said the patient did not deserve hospitalization because she was a member of the NLD. The policeman also threatened the doctor; eventually Htay Htay was discharged.
A different type of sanction practiced by the junta is in clear violation of Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An example is the case of a female student who wishes to remain anonymous. Although she passed the test to qualify for further studies in a foreign country, the authorities refused to issue her a passport because her father supports the NLD.
There are numerous such cases with regard to education. Burma is trampled under the jackboots of the army generals who refuse to allow equal opportunity in higher education.
Even the basic right of identity as a citizen is sanctioned by the military intelligence bureau. When a citizen comes of age, he has to submit an application for a National Registration Card. First he must obtain a recommendation from the head of the local ward of the junta’s Peace and Development Council. Then he has to seek a second recommendation from the local police station. The application for an identity card must be filed with these two recommendation letters.
The important point is that in order to get the recommendations the youth must be a member of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, an organization similar to Adolf Hitler’s brown-shirted Nazi storm troopers. Without USDA membership, a high bribe is required to obtain the NRC. A member of the National League for Democracy must either resign from the party or pay a six-digit bribe to authorities. Without the NRC one cannot work or travel.
People from all walks of life in Burma are suffering under various sanctions set up by the military regime that has ruled the country since 1962. The consequences of this reign of violence produce spillover effects in neighboring countries as well. Thailand is the nation most afflicted by Burma’s socioeconomic troubles, which include political unrest, refugees, migrant workers, trafficking in women and children, disease, drugs, prostitution and terrorism.
In the past two decades, it is estimated that more than 1 million illegal workers have fled from Burma to Thailand due to the economic failures of the military-ruled country. This has caused successive Thai governments to face numerous socioeconomic problems.
There has been a massive influx of narcotic drugs, including heroin and methamphetamines, and the trafficking of women and children occurs on a regular basis. These are serious transnational crimes taking place along the 2,400-kilometer Thailand-Burma border. The junta’s negligence of healthcare problems has also produced a new HIV/AIDS flow into neighboring countries.
Another problem that has drawn international criticism is the situation of over 2,100 political prisoners detained in the junta’s prisons, many sentenced to unbelievably long terms of imprisonment. Most of them were intentionally transferred to remote prisons with very poor healthcare.
Most prisoners of conscience have to face terrible torture as well as a lack of nutritious food and little or no medicine. The outcome is that over 100 political prisoners – including members of Parliament, writers and journalists – have already passed away in the regime’s jails. People are therefore deeply concerned about the safety of the 2,100 prisoners of conscience.
All political prisoners were arrested and sentenced due to their political activities involving democracy and human rights. If the generals honestly want to restore democracy and human rights in Burma, releasing these prisoners of conscience would be a sign of their sincerity. If they wait too long without releasing these prisoners, it indicates the generals have no intention of allowing democracy or promoting national reconciliation in Burma.
The military regime speaks loudly about national reconciliation. It sometimes releases a limited number of prisoners in hopes of reducing international pressure, especially sanctions.
The regime should understand that building an appropriate political atmosphere is a basic step toward national reconciliation. This would require the unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, that have been detained arbitrarily and inhumanely.
The release of all political prisoners could cause international sanctions to be lifted and allow the revival of the nation’s economy, which is currently in a state of collapse.
Zin Linn is a freelance Burmese journalist living in exile in Thailand. he is working at the NCGUB East Office as an information director and is vice-president of Burma Media Association, which is affiliated with the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers. He can be contacted at email@example.com