Burma

What do these well-known organisations have in common? Daewoo, Lloyd’s of London, Maersk, Mitsubishi, Orient Express, Qantas, Siemens, Suzuki, Total and Toyota.

Their trade and/or investment in Burma helps fund the country’s brutal military dictatorship. (For a list of such organisations, please refer to the Burma Campaign UK’s Dirty List web page).

Aung San Suu Kyi in front of an NLD Flag

Aung San Suu Kyi in front of an NLD Flag

Aung San Suu Kyi, a pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, symbolises the struggle of Burma’s people to be free.  Aung San Suu Kyi is currently under house arrest in Rangoon: she is allowed no visitors, her phone line has been cut, her post is intercepted and she is being denied access to regular medical care.

Her message that only by fighting fear can you truly be free is one Burma’s military fears and aims to silence.

In the 1990 election, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won 82% of the seats.  Despite the Burmese people overwhelmingly rejecting military rule, the military dictatorship refused to transfer power to democratically elected leaders and still shows no sign of changing their position.

According to the Burma Campaign UK web site, the Burmese dictatorship currently has about 500,000 military personnel for a country of less than 50 million people but no external enemies.  Based on 2005 data, the NationMaster web site places Burma 14th out of 171 countries with 483,000 military personnel – by contrast, the same source shows the UK is placed 28th with 217,000 military personnel.

The Burmese military dictatorship is responsible for:

  • the widespread use of forced labour;
  • forcing over 1 million people from their homes;
  • at least 2,100 political prisoners, many of whom are routinely tortured;
  • as many as 70,000 child soldiers – more than any other country in the world;
  • rape as a weapon of war against ethnic women and children;
  • spending nearly half the government budget on the military but just 19p per person per year on health (a June 2010  Irrawady article reported the military budget is to increase significantly from the current 40%-60% of the national budget – in contrast, 0.4% of the national budget is spent on healthcare and 0.5% on education); and
  • one in ten babies dying before their fifth birthday.
Refugees from Eastern Burma in the Jungle

Refugees from Eastern Burma in the Jungle

Despite repeated calls from the democracy movement, the European Union has failed to impose sanctions that have had any significant impact on the dictatorship’s financial interests.  Whilst some EU countries – such as Germany, Austria and Italy – have favoured relaxing sanctions, as they put business interests ahead of human rights in Burma, the UK government has at least said they will not support any easing of sanctions in the absence of tangible progress.

On the 27th May 2010, early day motion (EDM) 112 (human rights in Burma) was submitted to the House of Commons.  At the time of writing, the EDM had received just 51 signatures with Caroline Lucas, the Green Party leader and MP for Brighton Pavilion, being one of the signatories.

What do these well-known organisations have in common?  Adidas, British Home Stores, Hewlett-Packard, IKEA, Motorola, Pepsi-Cola and  Reebok.

Whilst they are undoubtedly far from ideal organisations, they at least do not trade and/or invest in Burma.  (For a list of such organisations, please refer to the Burma Campaign UK’s Clean List web page).

David M. Davison

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