February 9, 2008

The Burma Campaign UK today called on the United Nations Security Council to hold an emergency session to discuss the Burmese regime’s defiance of Security Council and General Assembly demands.

On Saturday 9 February the junta announced that it would hold a referendum on a new constitution in May, and general elections in 2010. However, the constitution enshrines military rule, giving 25 percent of the seats to the military, and also gives the military effective veto power over decisions made by Parliament.

“This is a move away from democracy, not towards it,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of the Burma Campaign UK. “It is public relations spin because they are afraid of stronger sanctions being imposed. They are defying the Security Council by going ahead with this sham process and refusing to hold genuine talks with Aung San Suu Kyi and leaders of ethnic groups. There needs to be a strong international response to say that this will not be accepted.”

By going ahead with the next steps of its so-called 7 stage road map to democracy, the regime is sending a strong message that it is not genuine about engaging with the United Nations in a real process of national reconciliation and reform. The regime has yet to enter into genuine dialogue with the National League for Democracy and Aung San Suu Kyi. It has, in effect, banned UN Envoy Ibrahim Gambari from entering the country. A visit scheduled for December was delayed until January, and then pushed back to April. This prompted the UN Security Council to issue its second Presidential statement on Burma, calling for Gambari to be allowed into the country.

It is no coincidence that the announcement comes at a time when the regime is facing increasing economic sanctions following its brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in September last year. The USA, EU, Australia, and Canada have all announced new economic sanctions. Last week the USA introduced new sanctions targeting business cronies of the regime, and further sanctions are being considered by Congress. The EU is also considering strengthening sanctions when it renews the EU Common Position in April.

The regime’s claims that it is committed to moving towards democracy run completely at odds with the facts on the ground. Since the September uprising they have continued to arrest activists. There are now more than 1,800 political prisoners, an increase of more than 700 from the year before. The regime is also stepping up its campaign of ethnic cleansing in Eastern Burma. The UN has condemned the regime for breaking the Geneva Convention by deliberately targeting civilians in Eastern Burma. More than half a million people are internally displaced after being forced to flee their homes.

The Burma Campaign UK is also warning that the regime will do everything it can to fix the outcome of the referendum and elections. There are serious questions about its ability to hold a referendum in which all people can participate. There are no proper lists of potential voters in the country.  The junta’s definition of a referendum could include forcing people to attend mass public rallies, and then to claim that as a mandate. In addition, political parties such as the National League for Democracy are not allowed to operate freely. It is also illegal to criticise the draft constitution, and to do so is punishable by up to 20 years in jail.

“The regime lost the election in 1990, so just ignored the result,” said Mark Farmaner. “This time we can be sure every stage will be rigged to ensure military victory.”

The Burma Campaign UK is concerned not only about the fact that the process is designed to keep the generals in power, but also about the impact on ethnic people in Burma, and on ceasefire agreements with armed ethnic groups. Their aspirations are for a federal state that would provide a degree of autonomy from central government, and protect their culture and rights. There are no provisions for this in the constitution. This is not only a threat to ethnic people, but also threatens the stability of the country. There appears to be a real possibility that some ceasefire organisations could return to arms, or split, with factions once again taking up their guns. If this were to happen on a large scale, it would not only completely change the current political situation within the country, but also threaten a new human rights and humanitarian crisis, as the regime ruthlessly targets civilians in conflict areas.

“What the regime has announced has nothing to do with democracy,” said Mark Farmaner. “It is about preserving military rule and avoiding economic sanctions. The international community must not be fooled again. The United Nations Security Council must take action. In addition, the UK and EU must impose further targeted sanctions to help force the regime to the negotiating table.”

For more information, contact Mark Farmaner on 020 7324 4713.


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