The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade
30 May 2002.
Thank you for the written message on the commemoration of the elections in Burma in May 1990. It was very carefully, properly and distinctly read out to the audience that graced the function held on the 25th May at the Senior Citizens Center at Villawood. We were nevertheless disappointed that you were not able to be part of an enjoyable and informative evening, had no representative there to monitor the mood and reception of your message.
Your message was followed by a response given very succinctly by Dr. Myint Cho, Director of the Members of Parliament Union (MPU). The MPU represents parliamentarians elected in 1990 but still not able to represent their constituents due to the junta's dishonest actions. He expressed gratitude and appreciation for your stated commitment to continue to call for the release of the remaining political prisoners, the ongoing re-opening of NLD offices and the opening of a substantive political dialogue with the NLD and Burma's ethnic groups, for providing humanitarian assistance to refugees in camps on the Thai-Burma border and for funding a distance education project.
However on the human rights training program Dr Myint Cho as well as each of the other speakers unequivocally stated that it would not take the cause of human rights and democratic reform forward if it is undertaken before democracy is restored. "It would only assist the military in developing a more sophisticated 'human rights' propaganda designed to disguise its gross human rights abuses and to divert international attention, thus perpetuating military rule".
He also requested the Australian government not to enter into any new aid programs through Rangoon such as training for members of the judiciary or any other programs until and unless substantive reform and acknowledgement of such is made by the policy makers. This echoes recent statement by Daw Suu Kyi in an interview with the editor of The Irrawaddy magazine.
Q. You have said since your release that your stance on sanctions, humanitarian aid and tourism has remained unchanged. The issue of humanitarian aid is obviously a sensitive one, one that needs to be addressed in the near term.
A. We will keep looking at this issue in a very practical way. We want to look into some of the humanitarian aid projects which are going on in Burma, and we would like to see how effective they are and whether they are getting aid to the right people in the right way. This is something that we keep reiterating - that it is not just a matter of giving aid, but it has to be given to the right people in the right way, which is to say it has to be given to those who really need it in a way that will strengthen civil society, not in a way which will entrench the people in the mode of totalitarian rule.
Q Would you support increased humanitarian aid if it could be proven that it was being delivered directly to those in need and not prolonging the regime's grip on power?
A. Well we have never said no to humanitarian aid as such. We have always said that humanitarian aid must be given to the right people in the right way, which of course calls for accountability and transparency. And of course we always say that the minimum necessary requirement is full independent monitoring, and this has been our stand throughout. If people thought we simply said no to humanitarian aid it was a misunderstanding of our position, because we have never said that. We have always said that humanitarian aid must be given to the right people in the right way. That would mean that there is a need for transparency and accountability and there must be independent monitoring to ensure that there is accountability".
(The full interview can be found at www.irrawaddy.org)
Finally Dr Myint Cho said "I appeal to the Australian Government to closely monitor the situation in Burma and not to relax, or indicate the Government's interest in relaxing any restrictions on the military until a substantive dialogue on national reconciliation takes place in Burma".
It is important for us to be given details of the training program that you envisage will "contribute to preparing Burmese officials and the judiciary for democracy in Burma". Has any decision been taken as to who will be conducting this training program and when? We would welcome hearing from those conducting it as to the details and objectives as well as the basis for the belief that it will contribute towards the restoration of democracy.
About the Human Rights training, we truly need to know how it has improved human rights in Burma. If it has, the Burmese people inside and outside have no evidence. May be your department officials can meet us soon and acquaint us with specific outcomes of the training program.
On our part we will keep you informed about feed-back we receive and will cooperate in every way so that democracy can be restored and not inadvertently delayed.
Thanking you and very sincerely,
(Desmond Than Naing)
The Committee for Democracy in Burma.