Sunday, 23 March 2008

The Draft Constitution of Burma's Military Rulers

By Ahmedur Rahman Farooq

March 13, 2008 (Asian Tribune)
- Once upon a time, a lion, a leopard and a jackal entered into an alliance to go on the hunt together. They went out around the forests and hunted a deer, a goat and a hen. At the end of the day, they sat together to share the preys. The lion asked the leopard to distribute the preys into three shares with fair justice.

The leopard said, it would be justifiable to put the deer for the lion, the goat for himself and the hen for the jackal. But before, he could finish his verdict, the lion jumped upon the leopard with a big roar and torn his body into pieces. The jackal was standing near by trembling in fear. Then the lion asked the jackal to distribute and then the jackal said, it would be the best if you take the hen for your breakfast, the goat for your lunch and the deer for your dinner. Then the lion said to the jackal with a smile, "You are really wise. Where did you learn such a nice distribution with fair justice". The jackal retorted, "I have learned it from your paws reddened with the bloods of the leopard".

Such is the case in the pro-military constitution which has been drafted by a military appointed forum and now which is set for approval during the May plebiscite to be followed by elections in 2010. The only difference is that the jackal was deprived of his share and here those who have drafted the constitution enjoy all types of modern amenities and gracious life styles, taking part in keeping the military machinery of repression alive decades after decades. The ruling generals provide them unlimited opportunity to let them pass their life in celestial delight while these people pave all the ways for the army to perpetuate their gun control, pushing the common people to destitution and widespread poverty accompanied by the destruction of the entire political system and the administration of justice.

However, on February 19, 2008, Burma's military government announced that work had been completed on writing the draft of the proposed new constitution. The state radio and television said the 54-member Constitution Drafting Commission finished the draft after working on it for more than two months. Burma’s Chief Justice and Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Commission, Aung Toe, announced the charter's completion on state radio and television news broadcasts. Aung Toe said the draft was drawn up with the objective of ensuring a leading role in politics for the military. The guidelines for a new constitution were adopted by a stage-managed farcical National Convention last year after 14 years of on-and-off meetings, where the military hand-picked delegates have attended.

In fact, the draft constitution contains all the provisions to glorify the militarism in the governance in the guise of so-called "disciplined democracy". It is a blue-print for the army to legitimize its grip on power for indefinite period and where the head of the army will be the most powerful person in the country, with the ability to appoint key cabinet figures and suspend the constitution in the event of an emergency that he defines. It also bars Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from running in election whose party NLD won more than 80 percent of the vote in the general elections in 1990, a total of 392 out of the 485 seats contested in the 492-member assembly. And most importantly, the military rulers did not allow any input from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or her party NLD as well as other democratic and ethnic groups while drafting the state constitution.

Burma has been in a political deadlock since the military refused to recognize the election results of 1990 and in order to facilitate a national reconciliation on the democratic reforms, the UN Chief has appointed Ibrahim Gambari as an special envoy to Burma, after the military rulers violently quashed peaceful protests last September 2007 which was led by the revered monks. But during the recent visit of the UN envoy to Burma, it became further clear that the military rulers will not accept any role of the United Nations in determining the course of the country’s political transition to what the ruling generals call "seven-point road map to democracy".

Ibrahim Gambari, the Nigerian diplomat, who has recently completed his third visit to Burma, proposed a more inclusive process of political change in the country and offered to send monitors to ensure that the outcome of the junta’s planned referendum on the draft constitution is accepted as legitimate. The junta said "no" to both suggestions.

Gambari met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi twice during his five-day trip, but was denied a meeting with the junta’s supreme leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe. Instead, he met with the members of the regime’s “Spokes Authoritative Team,” consisting of Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, Foreign Minister Nyan Win and Culture Minister Maj-Gen Khin Aung Myint.

During the meeting with the UN Envoy Ibrahim Gambari, junta's Information Minister Kyaw Hsan gave a clear message that the junta does not appreciate international interference in its affairs. He accused the UN of being biased against the regime. The state-run mouthpiece, The New Light of Myanmar, published the full text of Kyaw Hsan’s indignant reaction to Gambari’s role in releasing a statement from Aung San Suu Kyi following his last visit. “Sadly, you went beyond your mandate,” said the information minister in his carefully worded reproach. “Some even believe that you prepared the statement in advance and released it after coordinating with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.” he added.

Kyaw Hsan went on to accuse the UN envoy of trying to “frame a pattern desired by western countries.” He also turned down a request by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon that the regime amend the draft constitution to "ensure inclusiveness". In a letter dated February 19, 2008 to Burma's military supremo Senior General Than Shwe, the UN secretary general called for an amendment to the current draft constitution that would drop a clause excluding all Burmese nationals married to foreigners from running for election - paving the way for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to contest the planned 2010 polls. He urged the UN envoy to support the junta's "seven step" road map and stop pursuing alternatives suggested by western democracies. "We shall not accept any attempt to hinder or reverse the process of the seven-step Road Map. However, we will heartily welcome the positive suggestions of the UN to help implement the seven-step Road Map," Kyaw Hsan said. Asked by Gambari to consider releasing political prisoners—estimated by the UN and human rights groups to total more than 1,100—Kyaw Hsan said Burma has no political prisoners and that Suu Kyi was detained because she tried to disrupt the country's stability.

Similar arrogant remarks came from Thaung Nyunt, a member of the commission responsible for holding the referendum when Gambari met with him after meeting with Kyaw Hsan's team and offered UN technical assistance and help with facilitating observers at the planned referendum. Rejecting the offer of Gambari for international monitoring of the forthcoming referendum in May, Thaung Nyung said, "Holding the referendum on the constitution is within the country's sovereignty and for internal affairs in the past, we have never had observers from outside." He also said, "We have enough experience, but we take note of your offer."

Nevertheless, the junta's rejections of Gambari's suggestions caused a death blow to the mission of the UN envoy. It gave clear message that the ruling generals will do everything in their own way and they are not at all interested in listening to what the international community says. The junta’s snub of Gambari made it further clear that the door for national reconciliation is no more open and that there can be no more development in the mission and mandate of the UN envoy.

However, the announcement of referendum of the military rulers is, in fact, a declaration of war against the people of Burma. It will further aggravate the country's political, economic and social crisis. Now, it is time for all the democratic forces of Burma to take pragmatic actions to foil the referendum bid of the military rulers on this pro-military draft constitution and to turn it into a flashpoint for unprecedented anti-government protests both at home and abroad.#

Ahmedur Rahman Farooq, Chairman, Rohingya Human Rights Council (RHRC).

China vows to smash Tibetan protests

March 23, 2008 (SMH)- China today turned its back on appeals for dialogue with the Dalai Lama, vowing to smash anti-China forces in Tibet, where it said the death toll from recent unrest had risen to 19.

A day after Beijing launched a manhunt for monks and others it blamed for violence in Tibet, an editorial in the People's Daily, mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist party, said opposition to Chinese rule in the Himalayan region must be wiped out.

"China must resolutely crush the conspiracy of sabotage and smash 'Tibet independence forces'," the newspaper said in the editorial, rejecting calls from US, European and Asian leaders for talks.

The commentary accused the Dalai Lama of masterminding protests in Tibet in the hope of undermining the August 8-24 Beijing Olympics and gaining Tibet independence from Beijing.

It said that "1.3 billion Chinese people, including the Tibetan people, would allow no person or force to undermine the stability of the region".

The commentary rebuffed growing international calls for dialogue to end the crackdown on protests that began last week to mark the anniversary of a 1959 uprising against Beijing's rule.

But Tibet's government-in-exile today said talks between China and the Dalai Lama were crucial.

"Talks are more necessary than ever before," Thubten Samphel, spokesman for the administration, told AFP. "China has always pursued this hard line and very forceful military solutions to the problems in Tibet, and these have never worked," he said.

Earlier today, China said 18 "innocent" civilians and one police officer were killed in rioting in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, raising its official death toll from 13.

Tibet's government-in-exile in the Indian hill town of Dharamshala has put the toll from a week of unrest across the Himalayan region and neighbouring provinces at 99.

Yesterday, leaders in Japan and Poland joined the United States and other countries in an international appeal for restraint and dialogue.

They were joined today by 30 prominent Chinese writers and intellectuals who signed a letter to their government urging talks with the Tibetan spiritual leader.

They also called on China to open Tibet up to foreign media and to allow a team of independent UN investigators to carry out a full investigation of "the evidence, the course of the incident (and) the number of casualties".

The signatories, who included Liu Xiaobo, Teng Biao and Wang Qisheng, also said China should show evidence it says it possesses that proves the Dalai Lama was behind the uprising.

US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi has also demanded that China come clean on repression in Tibet.

"The situation in Tibet is a challenge to the conscience of the world," said Pelosi, who was greeted in Dharamshala by thousands of flag-waving Tibetan exiles as she arrived for talks yesterday with Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.

"What is happening, the world needs to know," she said.

However, China has responded to the protests with a massive clampdown on the affected areas, and yesterday released a most-wanted list of 19 people caught on film taking part in the Lhasa riots, amid warnings by activist groups of harsh reprisals.

Outside China, street demonstrations against the crackdown in Tibet continued today in Tokyo, where 600 people took to the streets.

In London, hundreds of demonstrators paused outside the Chinese embassy to sing Tibetan songs and chant "Chinese out" and "Long live the Dalai Lama".

The protests come less than five months before the Beijing Olympics, which is becoming a magnet for more protests over Tibet and other issues.

On Monday, the symbolic start to events leading up to the Games is scheduled to take place in Greece when the Olympic flame is lit.

The Olympic flame is to be lit in the presence of International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, whose organisation has been criticised for its silence on the Tibet crackdown.

Greek police told AFP that "stringent security" would be applied to deter anti-China protests during the ceremony.

After a tour of Greece, the flame will travel to Beijing for an official send-off ceremony on March 31 for the torch relay on its journey across five continents.

It then returns to China in May for the start of a domestic leg that includes three days in Tibet in mid-June after a scheduled stop at the summit of Mount Everest.

Pro-Tibet groups have said they are planning protests along the international route of the relay and in China.

Beijing insists such protests run counter to the Olympic Charter, which opposes using the Games for political propaganda.


Olympics a political turning point

By Wei Jingsheng

March 22, 2008 (Herald-Sun)
- AS what the Dalai Lama has called cultural genocide goes on in Tibet, it is wholly unacceptable that Jacques Rogge, the head of the International Olympic Committee, refuses - completely at odds with the spirit of the Olympics - to take a stand against the Beijing Government's crackdown on Tibetan protesters.

Far more than Steven Spielberg, who quit his advisory role for the Olympic celebration because of the Chinese Government's unwillingness to pressure the Sudanese Government on genocide in Darfur, the IOC has a special obligation to act.

Since promised improvements in China's human rights were a quid pro quo for granting the games to Beijing, how can it proceed as if nothing happened when blood is flowing in the streets of Lhasa?

If they don't move to put pressure on Beijing consistent with their obligations, they risk this Olympics being remembered like the 1936 games in Berlin.

Already, the spirit of the Olympics in Beijing has become associated with the word genocide by two of the world's top spiritual and cultural leaders.

Indeed, if the IOC and the rest of the world community does not pressure Beijing to stop the crackdown and improve human rights now, a boycott of the games will be seen as widely justified.

The Tibetans have long chafed under the oppression of the Chinese Communist Party.

In 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled to exile in India, the protest of the Tibetans was harshly suppressed in a massacre that lasted more than a year.

Beginning then, more than a million Tibetans have reportedly lost their lives because of the Chinese Government's policies.

In 1989, it was the current Chinese Party leader, Hu Jintao, then in his capacity as a provincial leader, who suppressed yet another revolt in Lhasa by bringing in the military to kill people in the streets.

And, of course, the whole world knows what happened in Tiananmen Square that same year.

Clearly, without human rights and the rule of law, neither Tibetans nor the majority Han Chinese are safe from persecution at the whim of the Communist authorities.

The old lies and propaganda don't work any more.

In the past, many Han Chinese didn't know about the sufferings of the Tibetans.

Now thanks to travel, tourism, mobile phones and the internet, the majority Han understand that the Tibetan struggle against tyranny is the same as theirs.

Of course, as part of their peaceful face, the Chinese authorities have expressed their willingness to resolve the Tibetan issue through negotiation.

But, just as with the case of Darfur, there is no sincerity behind this willingness unless international pressure is brought to bear.

If there has been any lesson in all my years as an activist for democracy and human rights in China, it is that only international pressure coupled with internal pressure will yield solid results.

The reason for Jacques Rogge's unwillingness to pressure Beijing at this moment is so tragic it is that these Olympics are the turning point in modern Chinese history.

Having invited the world to polite tea by hosting the Olympics, the Communist Party rulers have turned their palace of power into a global glass house.

They can't any longer show the smiling face of a peaceful rise to the world and the stern face of brutal suppression at home.

The Olympics will force China to show its true face.
Only international pressure, by the IOC and others,
will make sure it is the face we want to see.

Wei Jingsheng, one of China's most prominent dissidents since 1978, lives in exile in Washington