9-9-99 a chance to help long-suffering Burmese people
[This Guest Column appeared on the Letters page in the 1999 September 6 issue of the Edmonton Journal.]
On Aug. 8, 1988, Burma erupted into massive "People's Power" street demonstrations. The peaceful demonstrations, sparked by extreme political oppression and economic hardships, were violently crushed by ruthless army troops who killed thousands of people, including school children, pregnant women, and Buddhist monks. Throughout the country, people who stood up for what they believed lost their lives.
Ironically, the Tiananmen Square massacre that occurred a year later in China earned much more media attention and international outrage, though it ended with a much lower death toll. But in Burma, the eighth of August 1988, or 8-8-88, will never be forgotten.
This week, 11 years, one month and one day after the first nation-wide democracy uprising, Burmese activists across the world are anticipating a new day of protest: Sept. 9, 1999, 9-9-99. We hope this will be a crucial day in the endeavour to win democracy and human rights for Burma.
Burma is a forgotten nation. This Southeast Asian country with 48 million multi-ethnic people won independence from the British in 1948, after more than 60 years as a colony. Soon afterwards, Burma was put under military dictatorship. It has been a dictatorship from 1962 until today.
In May 1990, the country held general elections in which the National League for Democracy, led by Novel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won a landslide victory. We hoped her victory would be the prize for the sacrifices we paid in 1988. Our hopes were denied.
The situation for human rights in Burma has only got worse. The junta has continued to ignore the election results and refused to hand over power to the elected government. Since the elections, Aung San Suu Kyi has been demanding the parliament be convened. At the same time, she and her party have been calling for a dialogue to discuss the future of Burma.
Instead of respecting the people's demand, the military regime continues to arrest the elected members and activists. Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Commission have documented religious persecutions, ethnic cleansing, forced relocations of indigenous communities, summary executions, arbitrary arrests, use of civilians as human mine-sweepers, and gang rapes. Every kind of atrocity documented has been committed in Burma.
Economically, conditions have sunk to such a level that hospitals can not provide patients with any medicine at affordable prices. The universities have been closed for a decade.
International bodies such as the United Nations, the World Bank and governments of some nations such as United States, those of the European Union and Australia have been trying hard to push for an official dialogue between the junta and the National League for Democracy. These efforts are fuelled by mounting evidence of the complicity of the Burmese junta with the international drug trade. This aspect of the regime should concern Canadians a great deal, since an estimated 80 per cent of heroin in Canada originates in Burma. But international efforts have been of no avail. This ignominious regime is politically blind, diplomatically deaf, and insensitive to all external criticism.
Over the 11 years since August 8, 1988, Burmese people have never given up their hopes of one day witnessing Burma's re-emergence as a democratic nation gifted with peace, freedom, justice and human rights. Even their silence speaks more than words can say about the stifling conditions within the country.
Having tried every other way, there is nothing left but for us, as people of Burma, to rise up in massive nation-wide civil disobedience. The numerically significant date of 9-9-99 has become an overwhelmingly inviting opportunity for all Burmese people to act against the repressive military regime.
This is also the time to ask every supporter of democracy around the world to stand behind this people's movement and make it a resounding and final protest against the reigning tyranny of a forgotten nation.
Formerly a physician and political activist in Rangoon, Alice Khin is a medical researcher and professor of nursing at the University of Alberta. Burma Watch International will hold a rally at noon Tuesday outside the Alberta legislature.