Filming secretly in Burma nine years ago, I came upon what might have been a tableau from Dickensian England. Near the town of Tavoy, in the south, gangs of people were building a railway viaduct, guarded by soldiers. These were slave labourers, and many were children. I watched one small girl in a long blue dress struggle to wield a hoe taller than herself, falling back exhausted, in pain, holding her shoulder. “How old are you?” I asked her. “Eleven,” came the reply.Just as we should not forget the people of Fallujah and Najaf and Baghdad, and Ramallah and Gaza, so we should not forget this little girl, and her people, and their leader, who ask for the most basic rights and deserve our support.
Burma is on the brink, demonstrations of the size now happening and the key involvement of monks in organising the resistance make for a moment that could be a tipping point, before you read on click here to sign a petition in solidarity with the protesters.-
Tens of thousands of people joined around 10,000 Buddhist monks in Rangoon today in the biggest demonstration against the ruling military in Burma for 20 years. The monks were also supported by two of the country’s best-known celebrities…
The number of monks marching through Rangoon in the last six days has been matched or out-numbered by civilian supporters.
Kyaw Thu, a popular actor, joined a comedian known as Zargana, in offering up food and water to monks gathered at the Shwedagon.
“We are Buddhist. All Buddhists have to support this movement,” Kyaw Thu said. “We will do whatever we have to do take care of the monks. They are doing a lot on behalf of the people.”
They are in sync with Aung San Suu Kyi-
A day after hundreds of monks had walked to the house of the imprisoned democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, thousands more returned to the streets in a show of numbers not seen since the pro-democracy marches of 1988. Back then the regime responded with a brutal crackdown, killing thousands of civilians and monks. While yesterday’s march ended peacefully, it was clear that the authorities had increased security in the city and the monks and the other marchers were refused access to Ms Suu Kyi’s house when they tried to repeat Saturday’s extraordinary meeting.
But that first article from The Guardian expected Gordon Brown to make some strong statements in support of the people’s movement, yet Burma was mentioned once and not in specific reference to the current amazing events-
You know, there is a golden thread of common humanity that across nations and faiths binds us together and it can light the darkest corners of the world. And the message should go out to anyone facing persecution anywhere from Burma to Zimbabwe: human rights are universal and no injustice can last forever.
Even though Brown has named Aung San Suu Kyi as a personal hero in his recent book Courage: Eight Portraits (h/t Chicken Yoghurt). Right now the dictatorship will be mulling a crackdown which will mean many deaths and imprisonment and torture for hundreds/thousands. Right now. So are we to assume our noble leaders are doing all the threatening and bargaining behind the scenes? Are they making it clear to the junta that their time is up they cannot get away with another massacre, maybe if they really want a regime change they will be offering to spirit them out of the country. After all that’s the form used when they actually want a change of government, ask Aristide. But…a rather large amount of nothing, a few diplomatic nudges of support for the protesters but no big display to support democracy in Burma. Realpolitik has no interest in the currency of human welfare, human rights, for the moment Total Oil has very good relations with the military dictators. Publicly sanctions are announced all over but away from the audience of the credulous trade with Burma goes on with little moral outrage.
The latest reports show the military are beginning to threaten the protesters-
Burma’s ruling military junta has warned it is ready to “take action” against Buddhist monks leading mounting protests, state media have reported. Brig Gen Thura Myint Maung, minister for religion, warned them not to break Buddhist “rules and regulations” as Rangoon saw the largest march yet. He blamed the protests on “destructive elements” opposed to peace in Burma.
The UK’s man in Rangoon says-
UK Ambassador Mark Canning said Burma’s leaders were now in uncharted territory and he expressed concern about a possible government counter-reaction. “That… would be a disaster, although in terms of probability it, I’m afraid, ranks quite high,” he told the BBC.
That article also says Bush will announce some visa restrictions on Burma, big whoop. China is Burma’s big patron and as trade is not effectively impeded by the junta’s rule or the sham sanctions there are no corporate pressures for change. America trades discreetly and has little imperial interest or ambitions to confront China, the EU shamelessly supports the regime which spends half its income on weaponry-
The junta holds more that 1,350 political prisoners, many of whom are routinely tortured. Up to a million people have been forced from their land. Half the national budget is spent on a brutal, peacock military whose only enemy is its own people, while next to nothing is spent on health; one in ten Burmese babies die in infancy.
Meanwhile, the EU shores up the regime by increasing imports, worth around 4bn dollars between 1998 and 2002.
“None of the EU officials I have met,” says John Jackson, “denies that foreign investment and military spending in Burma are closely linked. In the week the regime received its first payment for gas due to be piped to Thailand from a gas field operated by Total Oil, it made a 130m dollar down-payment on ten MiG-29 jet fighters.”
Jackson points to the farce of present EU sanctions. After as many as 100 of Suu Kyi’s supporters were publicly beaten to death by soldiers in 2003, the EU extended its visa ban to the junta and Germany froze no less than 86 euros of German-based Burmese assets.
Total Oil Company, part-owned by the French government, the largest foreign investor in Burma, where the oil companies’ infrastructure of roads and railway access have long been the subject of allegations of forced labour. Total’s euros allow the junta to re-equip its state of fear.
Writing to Total about their involvement in Burma I got a form response from Jean-François Lassalle (E&P Vice President Public Affairs) that pointed to Total’s website-
Unfortunately, the world’s oil and gas reserves are not necessarily located in democracies, as a glance at a map shows. As a result, oil companies often face criticism and questions from civil society concerning their operations in countries with repressive regimes, their relations with governments, the security measures deployed to protect their facilities, and the way in which host countries spend oil revenues.
Rather than respond to the unwarranted criticism, we want to restore balanced debate on whether a responsible multinational company can contribute positively to the economic and social development of a country that faces sharp internal divisions.
Unfortunately… you’re a bunch of Motherfuckers-
Rape is used as a weapon of the state against ethnic woman and children. Forced labour is widespread, described by the UN’s International Labour Organisation as a “crime against humanity”.
Hey Jean-François, you’re a piece of shit, as Bill Hicks might say- Seriously, just kill yourself. So Burma occupies a limbo where Realpolitik finds it most convenient to support the dictatorship and affluent westerners if they think about it at all, think about it as a holiday destination or an edgy location for a cookery program, but of course they are ‘aware of the issues’ so that’s all right then-
“I definitely respect what Aung San Suu Kyi said, but I felt I had to see the place for myself,” she said. Ms Smale does not regret her decision to go. “It’s the best place I’ve ever been to,” she said. “It’s had a huge influence on me.”
…In fact, according to Mr Farmaner, Burma is unique in that many of its human rights abuses are directly connected to the military’s decision to promote tourism. “Much of the country’s tourist infrastructure is developed by the use of forced labour,” he said. “People have been made to construct roads, airports and hotels, and thousands more have been forcibly relocated to make way for tourist areas.”
Yeah what a great holiday, next year she’s probably going to Fallujah (I’m not a tourist right, I’m a traveler yeah?). So right now it is time to show support, we are at a tipping point, like the man standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square this could go either way, our governments do not seem concerned, they would rather duel with Ahmadinejad. But this is a crucial moment, time Gordon Brown made good on his admiration of Aung San Suu Kyi, while his speech was a pointless avoidance of talking about the wars we are engaged in he could buy back some karma by taking this opportunity to help put an end to the military dictatorship in Burma. Now is the time.