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CDB president's speech at May 2002 commemoration dinner for dishonored May 1990

Good evening ladies and gentlemen -

We are indeed honored today because for the first time we have in our midst a President of the prestigious International Commission of Jurists, the Honorable Justice John Dowd. He has so graciously accepted our invitation to give the keynote address on this very important occasion.

We are honored also because our special distinguished guests have so graciously accepted our invitation and some will speak to us. They are

Justice Marcus Einfeld

The Hon'ble Janelle Saffin,

U Tin Tut. NLD Parliamentary Member elect

U Daniel Aung, Parliamentary Member elect

Social Justice Solicitor, U Andrew Boe from Brisbane.

Laurie Ferguson, Federal Member for Reid

Nina Burridge, Senator Vicki Bourneís representative.

We are honored also because colleagues, friends, supporters of human rights and democracy have graciously joined us in commemorating and celebrating the "Never to be forgotten 1990 Elections".

Unlike other years, this year we have good reason to celebrate because our Mother Courage has again proved that one person can make a difference. The Good News was embraced as if Burma was freed from the tyrannical rule of the military. Friends of Burma and colleagues, I tell you the military still has the country in its grip. All that has happened is that because of international pressure, because of your efforts and mine, we have managed to lift the heel of the oppressor. We need more pressure, more exposure, more strategies to win freedom and democracy and human rights for the 50 million Burmese people who have suffered too long - far too long. Let us jack up those heels permanently.

Daw Suuís release could easily turn out to be nothing more than a desperate attempt by the regime to relieve itself of the relentless international pressure and to divert attention from the worsening economical crisis and rapidly deteriorating social conditions in Burma.

If Daw Suu's release is a genuine move towards national reconciliation and democracy we rejoice.

No matter how optimistic we want to be, the past track record of the regime does not inspire much confidence. A leopard cannot change its spots. Despite Daw Suuís release, the daily life of ordinary Burmese are still highly regulated or heavily scrutinized by the authorities. The people of Burma are still deprived of the news of Daw Suuís release. State run television and media publications thought it was not newsworthy enough to report it to general public. The release was never announced officially. When the SPDC issued a statement to declare that Burma had opened a new page in history and the military was ready to work with people to give them their say in the political process Daw Suuís name and the NLD party were conspicuously omitted. News of Daw Suuís commitment and declarations were also never made public.

How genuine can they be when SPDC Home Minister Colonel Tin Hlaing announces that "there are no political prisoners left in the prisons". He claimed that the 200 so called NLD members remaining in the prisons were common criminals and members of insurgency groups. Is he accusing people such as student leader Min Ko Naing, founding NLD member U Win Tin, Professor Salai Than Tun and trade unionists U Khin Kyaw and U Myo Aung Thant of committing common crimes? This proves that they still cling to the idea that if you are a political dissident, you must be punished like a man who commits a petty crime.

By their behaviour and their words the message they are sending out is loud and clear. They are saying

WE ARE STILL IN CONTROL,

DON'T YOU DARE LIFT YOUR HEADS,

DON'T YOU DARE SPEAK OUT.

Nonetheless, the release of Daw Suu is a positive move. Whatever the reason may be for her release, the fact remains that Daw Suu is now free and apparently able to carry out her party work without being barred and blockaded by thugs; without being slandered and abused, without being assaulted and manhandled.

Burma has reached the most crucial stage. From this point on, there are only two things that could happen. Dialogue or devastation. The SPDC generals are presented with the golden opportunity not only to bring Burma forward but also to restore the severely tarnished image of the military back to a true Peoplesí Tatmadaw .

The international community can play its part by maintaining sanctions and bans currently in place until significant improvement in the political process is seen. It is true that Burma is in dire need of aid

  • to resurrect health care which is in crisis
  • to prop up the collapsing economy,
  • to restore education to a lost generation
  • to combat HIV- Aids which is spreading at an alarming rate.

However, if the aid givers are genuinely interested in the cause, they will seek the advice of Daw Suu and her party so that the needs of the people can be first met.

My message to the world today is

Help Burma to attain DEMOCRACY not DEVELOPMENT DICTATORSHIP .

Those who do not fight evil, serve evil.

Some people, including Australian organizations and government departments, think that this glimmer of change in Burma has been the result of their policies and programs. I say to them that democracy could have come to Burma much sooner had they taken a more concerted attempt to pressure the government by joining other western nations like the United States, the European Union and Canada.

It has been our practice to invite our foreign minister to this function every year. Though Ministers have not graced us with their presence, they usually send a representative and a message. In a democratic system, Ministers of government want to feel the pulse of the people so that they can make wise judgements and policy decisions. We feel it is important that the Australian government be advised by Daw Su and her representative in their policy initiatives and programs for Burma. It would have been wonderful if the ruling party takes the opportunity to listen to us on occasions such as this. However, this is not to be for this year. Let us hope for a more positive change next year.

I thank the members of CDB for their support in our efforts to restore human rights and democracy in Burma. I am very proud to be associated with such enthusiastic people with such dedication. I thank all fellow activists in other organisations, supporters and friends of Burma for all their hard work and patience throughout this long road to democracy. Though tonightís event is organized by the Committee for Democracy in Burma I want to assure you that this is by no means designed to promote the organization. Our aim tonight is

to bring to the attention of all --

  • the never to be forgotten 1990 elections which resulted in a landslide victory for Daw Su and her party the NLD.
  • to remind the generals in Burma that dishonoring the result of the elections was a despicable act which has set the country back politically, morally, spiritually, economically and socially.
  • to say thank you to our one and only Mother Courage Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who has braved the storm and
  • to say thank you to all our friends around the world who want to see Burma restored to her rightful place on the map of the world.

One day when Burma is free, we can all look back and say with great pride that we have done our bit when Burma was in trouble and needed our help.

Each individual in this audience today is free to form his or her opinion and to take or not take any action that might be indicated by Daw Su or any of the other speakers. There will always be an indifferent majority, but the future will belong to a motivated creative minority.

However, recent events in Burma suggest that change is in the air. How fast we can reach our goal as Daw Suu puts it is entirely up to how hard we are prepared to work and how genuine the international community (including Australians) are prepare to support her call for help. Good will overcome evil especially if the democratic forces make a concerted effort with support for the people, and not the powers.

Things are looking up. I am sure next time we meet in the not too distant future, we will meet not to commemorate but to celebrate and you are all invited.

Thank you very much.