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“Meaningless and Undemocratic Exercise” in Burma that will “Not Work on Mars” an Affront to United Nations, Burmese People (click to view PDF)

The Burmese people want real democracy, not a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

For Immediate Release

October 9th, 2006
Contact: Jeremy Woodrum: (202) 234-8022

(Washington, DC) Tomorrow, a “National Convention” re-starts in the Southeast Asian country of Burma that is widely expected to enshrine military rule under the guise of a new constitution. It is comprised almost entirely of delegates handpicked by the ruling military junta. The United Nations has criticized the Convention as a “meaningless and undemocratic exercise” that will not even “work on Mars”.

Said Aung Din, a former political prisoner from Burma and policy director of U.S. Campaign for Burma, “Restarting the sham National Convention in defiance of the United Nations and people of Burma will do nothing to solve Burma’s problems. The Burmese people want real democracy, not a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Afraid of public criticism of the Convention, the Burmese junta arrested five key democratic leaders of a group inside Burma called the “88-Generation Students”. The name derives from the leading role played by its members in Burma’s 1988 nationwide uprising that almost toppled military rule in the country. Those arrested include prominent figure Min Ko Naing, the second most important leader of Burma’s democracy movement after imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi.

The five were arrested two weeks ago by the Police Special Branch, the intelligence wing of the Ministry of Home Affairs, and were forced to read a law making it illegal to criticize the Convention. The law, referred to as “5/96”, says that anyone who undermines, belittles, or causes people to “misunderstand” the Convention can be sent to prison for up to 20 years.

After their recent arrest, the five leaders were forced to sign a statement recognizing this law. When they refused, they were put into detention at an unknown location. US Campaign for Burma has filed urgent petitions to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, as all were severely tortured during previous imprisonments.

The United Nations has slammed the Convention. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, said the Convention is a “meaningless and undemocratic exercise.” He added that, “No persons or organizations are allowed directly or indirectly to violate, instigate, protest, preach, say or write anything, which could disrupt the stability of the state. If the 1,088 representatives attending the National Convention cannot do or say anything, what is the point of holding a convention?” Pinheiro said of the military regime, “if you pursue this path, you will not be successful. It will not work. It will not work because it has not worked in Brazil, in Uruguay, in Argentina, in Portugal, in Spain, in the Philippines, in Indonesia. This way of political transition will not work; will not work on the moon, will not work on Mars [!]”


UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has also criticized the Convention. In a press statement, he said the National Convention does not adhere to the recommendations made by successive resolutions of the General Assembly. He reiterated his call for the Burmese military regime to take steps to make the process inclusive and credible.


Further still, the UN General Assembly has criticized the Convention. Resolution A/RES/60/233, adopted in 2005, slammed the Convention, calling upon the regime to ensure that it becomes genuinely inclusive through the unhindered participation of all political parties and representatives of ethnic nationalities.

In resolution A/RES/59/263, adopted in 2004, the General Assembly called for the regime to ensure that the next session of the Convention is fully inclusive of all political parties and representatives and all major ethnic nationalities not represented by a political party. The resolution also said that participants should be guaranteed freedom of association and freedom of expression and guarantees the safety of all participants. None of these requirements are being met.

Yet, these non-binding and non-enforceable calls by the United Nations have been completely disregarded by the military regime. In part as a result of the failure of the UN system to elicit any changes in Burma, last month the UN Security Council, for the first time in history, put Burma on its permanent agenda. Activists and Burmese democrats hope that members of the UN Security Council will unite to address the situation in Burma as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, inside Burma, in a highly unusual and daring move, other members of the “88 Generation Students” group have collected over 120,000 signatures on a petition demanding both the release of the imprisoned leaders and commencement of a political dialogue among the military, political opposition, and ethnic leaders. The petition drive has elicited major support in a country that voted in a landslide to give 82% of the seats in parliament to the NLD before the ruling military junta annulled the results. Signing such a petition is highly dangerous, as over 1,100 political prisoners have been imprisoned for calling for democracy.

Student activists inside Burma also launched another campaign they call “White Expression”, in which they ask the people of Burma to wear a white shirt to express their support for those in detention and demonstrate their desire for peaceful national reconciliation. 

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