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Three Major Tours to Burma Cancelled (click to view PDF)

For Immediate Release
August 31st, 2004
Contact: (202) 223-0300


(Washington, DC) – The US Campaign for Burma today welcomed the cancellation of three major tours to Burma by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), Smithsonian Institution (Smithsonian Journeys), and Asia Society. Burma’s democracy movement, led by the world’s only incarcerated Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, has called for a boycott of tourism to Burma until there is a irreversible transition to democracy.

“These decisions represent principled reasoning,” said Aung Din, a former political prisoner from Burma and policy director with the US Campaign for Burma, who met with officials of AMNH last month.

“We’re grateful that such respected institutions took a fresh look at the situation in Burma and decided that it is not appropriate to travel to Burma right now.”

On August 30th, AMNH informed USCB of its intent to cancel its “Expedition to Burma” scheduled for October, 2004, three days after the Smithsonian Journeys cancelled its own trip. The Asia Society informed USCB of its decision in a letter dated August 12th.

Tourism is linked to human rights abuses and benefits Burma’s military regime in a number of ways. First, the regime uses forced labor–a modern form of slavery–to develop its tourist infrastructure. The International Labor Organization reports that “the military treats the civilian population as an unlimited pool of unpaid forced laborers and servants at their disposal. The practice of forced labor is to encourage private investment in infrastructure development, public sector works and tourism projects.” As a result of the military regime’s use of forced labor, the ILO has called for international sanctions on Burma, the first time the organization has taken such action in its 80-year history.

Second, thousands of Burmese people have been forced from their homes to make way for tourism developments or as part of so-called “beautification” projects. These people are usually left without homes or shelter, so that tourists can “enjoy” the areas where they used to live. 

Third, Burma’s regime, desperate to get its hands on dollars, milks the tourism industry to maximize government intake. The country’s Minister of Hotels and Tourism, Major General Saw Lwin, admitted that the government receives about 12 per cent of the income even of private tourism services, while the military regime receives much larger sums from visa fees and government-controlled entities.

Many prominent individuals, organizations, and companies have joined the boycott of tourism to Burma, similarly to the 1980s boycott of South Africa’s apartheid government. According to the popular “Rough Guides” travel guide, “There are occasional instances where any benefits (from tourism) are overshadowed by the nature of the social and political climate. 

Apartheid South Africa was an example. Burma, with its brutal dictatorship, state control of the economy and forced labor used to build its tourist infrastructure, is another. As long as the military regime remains in power and elected National League for Democracy – requests that tourists do not visit, Rough Guides will not publish a guide to the country.”