Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, October 05, 2007

Congressional Human Rights Caucus holds briefing on situation in Burma

The Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC) on Wednesday held a special briefing on the situation in Burma. The witnesses present were: Bo Hla-Tint of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, Than Lwin Htun, the Burmese Service Chief for Voice of America, T. Kumar, Amnesty International’s advocacy director for Asia, and Jennifer Quigley of the U.S. Campaign for Burma.

CHRC Director Hans Hogrefe provided introductory remarks, saying that Burma’s military crackdown on the “utterly and totally peaceful demonstrations” is “totally intolerable to the world community.” On the surface, the situation in Burma seems relatively calm, Hogrefe said, however, the military junta still roams the streets, and has imposed a “silence of the grave.”

The Burmese government reports that only 10 people have died because of the crackdown, however, Quigley said that she is able to confirm that more than 200 have been killed, with another 2,000 arrested. Moreover, she said that at least 50 monasteries have been left empty, and monks are being imprisoned inside other monasteries, where if left for too long, they will die from starvation. She also mentioned that there have been unconfirmed reports of corpses being dumped in the jungle, and that the military has begun using a crematorium outside of Rangoon to destroy bodies.

The current protests reflect those that occurred in 1988, however, Hla-Tint said that these are fundamentally different. He said the Burmese are willing to sacrifice their lives, not because this is something they want, but because there is no other choice. Similarly, Quigley added, “the people of Burma have proven with their blood that they are ready for democracy.”

A major focus of the discussion was on what the international community should do concerning Burma. Kumar gave a stark view of the reality of the situation, saying that if nothing is done, “this will repeat itself.” Neighboring countries, such as China and India, have caused problems in the past by refusing to speak out against Burma, allowing the military junta to feel comfortable killing and abusing the Burmese people. The panel agreed that it is important for the U.N. Security Council to be united on this issue and take strong action immediately. As Lwin Htun said: “The Burmese Foreign Minister’s speech to the United Nations confirmed that Burma will not heed the international community and will continue to seek its own path, no matter what.”

The United States has a major role to play in resolving the situation in Burma, the witnesses said. According to Kumar, the U.S. “is not doing what they are supposed to be [doing].” He also said that the U.S. needs to push China to do the right thing by not vetoing resolutions going to the U.N. Security Council. He believes Burma should be seen as a test case. “The danger we are facing,” Kumar said, is that “if we cannot make a change here, we will not make change anywhere.”

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