Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Report from Capitol Hill: Human Rights in Burma

February 7, 2006

The International Relations Committee, chaired by Rep. Chris Smith, met with the joint Subcommittees on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations and on Asia and the Pacific to discuss the current human rights situation in Burma and what the United States and the international community can do to help on Tuesday.
The two panelists addressing the topic were Christopher Hill, Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Barry Lowenkron, Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

“After forty years of brutal military dictatorships, the human rights situation in Burma is frightening,” Rep. Smith said. He added, “That nation’s current military junta, in power for over seventeen years, is an abysmal failure on every conceivable level.”

Rep Smith pointed out some of the United States’ main concerns about Burma, including its current regime, child soldiers, HIV/AIDS, trafficking, political prisoners, torture, systematic rape and corruption.

Assistant Secretary Lowenkron quoted Secretary Rice in his testimony, describing Burma’s military junta as “one of the worst regimes in the world.” The regime is both cruel and destructive and has inflicted tremendous suffering on the Burmese people, Lowenkron said. The South East Asian region has also experienced large refugee surges, which have increased the spread of HIV/AIDS and also the trafficking of drugs and human beings, Lowenkron reported.

Burma has at least 70,000 child soldiers, State Secretary Hill said during his testimony. He also said that the situation in Burma requires the attention not only of the United States but also of the rest of the world, especially by those countries that maintain significant trade with Burma.

Both of the panelists brought up their concerns about the major difficulties within the country, such as the political prisoners which in 2005 numbered about 1,100.
There are an estimated 35 prisons and 70 labor camps in Burma, in which conditions are harsh and life-threatening.

In the end of Mr. Lowenkron’s testimony he quoted President Bush, saying – “The people of Burma live in darkness of tyranny – but the light of freedom shines in their hearts.”

Mr. Lowenkron and Mr. Hill made it clear that the issues within Burma must be addressed seriously, and soon.


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