Ten Years After Winning Nobel Peace Prize
For Immediate Release
Aung San Suu Kyi urges end to Canadian investment in Burma because of dictatorship’s human rights abuses, collaboration with heroin traffickers
OTTAWA, December 7, 2001. Ten years ago on December 10, Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma’s democracy movement, won the Nobel Peace Prize for her remarkable non-violent struggle against one of the world’s worst military dictatorships. Today, she continues her struggle, while waiting for her chance to take the office she legally won, in a landslide general election, more than a decade ago.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won an overwhelming victory in her country’s democratic elections in 1990. But instead of handing over the reins of government, Burma’s military rulers illegally nullified the election results and kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest where she has spent most of her time since 1989.
In the ten years since then, the military regime has earned continuous international condemnation for its widespread use of forced labour, its violent campaign against ethnic minorities, and its complicity in the multi-billion-dollar heroin trade. As a result, the dictatorship is an international pariah with few friends.
But in spite of these abuses, the dictatorship remains firmly in power. An important reason for this is that only one country, the United States, has imposed sanctions against investing in Burma. With no firm rules prohibiting investment in Burma, companies from most countries, including Canada, are free to choose for themselves.
In a video smuggled out of Burma in 1999, Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the people of Canada, thanking them for their continued support of Burma’s democracy movement. She also repeated her call for Canadians not to do business in Burma, stressing that “investment only benefits the military authorities and their allies…we do not think that investment in our country at this time can do our country any good.”
She has a good point. Foreign companies investing in Burma are usually steered into joint ventures with state-owned enterprises, which are run by the generals. Some Canadian companies have heeded Aug San Suu Kyi’s urging to cut business ties with the Burmese military dictatorship. These companies include Wal-Mart Canada, Sears Canada, and The Bay.
However, many other Canadian companies continue to do business with the Burmese military. One of these, Marshall Macklin Monaghan (MMM) Ltd. of Toronto, helped to build the Mandalay airport, even though the military forcibly relocated villagers who lived near the site, and forced other local villagers to help build the road to the airport.
Another Canadian company, Ivanhoe Mines, which is in a 50-50 partnership with the dictatorship in the largest foreign mining operation in Burma, is a likely beneficiary of the regime’s use of forced labour. Testimony from local villagers indicates that the military forcibly relocated people from a total of eight villages in order to make way for the Monywa mine.
Although the Canadian government officially discourages investment in Burma, in reality Ivanhoe receives generous tax incentives for the Monywa mine operation.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s call for sanctions against the dictatorship echoes that of Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and others, in their successful struggle against the South African apartheid regime. Last November, the International Labour Organization (ILO) called on its members, which include Canada, to review their connections with Burma to make sure they are not helping to perpetuate the system of forced labour there. Reports to the ILO say that it is impossible to carry out business in Burma without benefiting from or perpetuating the country’s distinct brand of slavery to which hundreds of thousands of its citizens are subjected each year.
Although Burma is thousands of kilometres away, literally on the other side of the planet, Canadians pay a heavy-and direct-social price because of the failure to impose comprehensive sanctions against the military dictatorship. According to the RCMP, most of the heroin imported to Canada comes from Burma. In spite of strong international pressure to stop the heroin trade, the Burmese generals allow convicted drug lords to live freely and even to launder drug money through state-owned banks.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, launched fifty years ago, signaled the beginning of the end of Japan’s military expansion in China and Southeast Asia. Four years later, the defeat of the Japanese empire heralded a hopeful new era for the people of the region. And yet, over fifty years after Japan’s defeat, Burma still suffers under a dictatorship every bit as harsh and arbitrary as the Japanese occupation. And, like the Afghan Taliban regime, it is universally known as a corrupt and brutal collection of thugs who condone, and even profit from, the sale of heroin to the west.
As people across Canada prepare to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Aung San Suu
Kyi, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, they will also reflect on the inconsistency of Canadian policy toward rogue states.
At a time when the international community is working to strengthen money-laundering laws to fight terrorism, the military regime in Burma still makes it possible to launder profits from the drug industry. And notorious Burmese drug lords, indicted in the United States, continue to live freely and comfortably under Rangoon’s wing. Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters across Canada call for her immediate and unconditional release, as well as the release of all other political prisoners in Burma. When this happens, there can be tripartite dialogue between the NLD, Burma’s military regime, and ethnic minority representatives.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African Nobel Peace Laureate and a prominent opponent of the former apartheid regime, has urged the international community and fellow Nobel Peace Laureates to salute and support Burma’s democracy leader and the people of Burma in their non-violent struggle for human rights and democracy.
Canadians will join Burma supporters all over the world in marking this important anniversary. There will be celebrations in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Ottawa.
For more information, please contact:
Canadian Friends of Burma, Ottawa, (613) 237-8056.