BURMA : Burma Ruled by a Brutal Government: Congressmen

Friday, July 22, 2011
The Irrawaddy
South Eastern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Despite the formation of a new civilian government after last year's elections, recent developments in Burma only indicate that the country continues to be ruled by one of the world's most brutal regimes, several influential US lawmakers have said in arguing for increased sanctions on this Southeast Asian nation.

“The sanctions are critically important to keeping the pressure on the Burmese junta. The government continues to have one of the worst human rights records in the world and routinely violates the rights of Burmese citizens, including the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and child labor,” New York Congressman Pete King said on the floor of the House.

“Moreover, the Burmese regime has more child soldiers than any other country and has destroyed more than 3,700 ethnic villages, displaced approximately 2,000,000 people, more than 600,000 of which are internally displaced, and has taken nearly 2,000 political prisoners,” he argued during a discussion on Burma in the US House of Representatives on Wednesday.

King also urged the Obama administration to call for a UN Commission of Inquiry on Burma to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity. “This Commission is necessary to prevent further killings and to encourage a meaningful political dialogue,” he said.

New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt said in the years following the coup in the early 1960s, the authoritarian regime impoverished the nation and brutalized its people, a pattern that persists today.

“For more than 20 years, the United States government has sought to use its influence to try to create conditions for a restoration of democracy and the rule of law in Burma. One tool has been the use of sanctions,” he said.

“Last November, Burmese elections were clearly illegitimate and not a free expression of the will of the Burmese people. But the continuing international pressure on and scrutiny of the junta may be having some tangible effects,” Holt said.

“As the International Crisis Group noted earlier this year, two senior junta leaders have resigned since the elections, and there is some evidence that pressure has eased on some of the minority ethnic groups in the country,” he said.

There is no question that Burma is ruled by one of the world's most brutal governments, said Congressman Joe Crowley. “Over the past year, we have seen ongoing abuses committed by the Burmese military, including rapes, torture and killings,” he said.

Just last week, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting how villagers are subjected to summary executions, torture and being used as human shields during conflict. “The women in Burma live in constant fear of rapes by soldiers of their own military. For the leaders of the Burmese military, rape is a tactic of war—one used to torment and to intimidate entire populations, not just their immediate victims,” Crowley said.

“In fact, just two weeks ago, on July 5, the Burmese soldiers carried out four more rapes against ethnic civilians. The innocent victims were of all different ages. One of those victims was as young as 12 years of age. That's right. A 12-year-old girl was raped by a member of the Burmese military. As a result of thousands of brutal rapes and other abuses, Burmese villagers continue to flee their homes into the jungle where they live as refugees or internally displaced people,” Crowley said.

Observing that the plight facing the people of Burma remains terrible, Congressman Joe Pitts from Pennsylvania said the ruling party in Burma continues to use the rule of law and government apparatus to deprive minority groups of their human rights and their lives, and it does so with impunity.

“The regime's human rights violations continue to be horrific. The regime in Burma is responsible for committing virtually every human rights violation imaginable. The atrocities perpetrated by the regime range from the use of rape as a weapon of terror, the recruitment of child soldiers, ethnic cleansing, forced labor, political detention, and the list goes on,” he said.

Pitts said he has received firsthand reports in which detail the dictatorship's use of ethnic minorities as human landmine sweepers. “Over 1 million refugees and 500,000 internally displaced peoples have been forced to flee their homes, and 750,000 of the country's inhabitants remain stateless.

Indicative of the times, the regime has now turned to censorship of the Internet, as well as that of individual e-mail accounts and social networking sites, to block the dissemination of evidence related to the atrocities,” he said.

“The Burmese government must realize that such attempts to hide its record of abuse, as well as its dishonest elections and mock constitutional reforms, cannot cover up the junta's war against its own people. Such a record only demonstrates the regime's illegitimacy,” Pitts said.

Congressman Jim McDermott said that in light of the unchanged political reality in Burma, the renewal of America's ban on Burmese imports could not be more urgent. “We must send a message to Burma's new rulers, who turned out to be the same old rulers, that empty promises of democratic reform are unacceptable,” he said.

“Now, there are some who question whether we should maintain our import ban following Burma's election and the formal dissolution of the military junta. Even our European allies have begun to rethink their strategy as EU travel and financial restrictions have been lifted on certain officials in the new government,” McDermott said.

“The problem with that approach, Mr. Speaker, is that meaningful reform has yet to take place in Burma. By opening our borders to Burmese imports, we would only strengthen and enrich the same old regime that maintains a stranglehold on civic and family life in Burma. According to the UN, the new government has failed to make any significant progress on land confiscation, forced labor, the internal displacement of people, extrajudicial killings, and sexual violence against women. The Obama administration affirms this view,” the Congressman said.

“Burma's regime is one of the world's most repressive and continues to oppress democratic movements and humanitarianism,” alleged Congressman Charles Boustany. “The recent election does not represent any kind of shift in domestic Burmese politics. In fact, the political situation in Burma and for the Burmese people has not changed at all,” he said, adding that the human rights situation is no better.