DICTATOR WATCH

Contact: Roland Watson,  roland@dictatorwatch.org
Please see www.dictatorwatch.org for links to the reports and photography described below.

THE BURMA FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY ACT: THE BEGINNING OF THE END FOR THE SPDC

1 August 2003


(Note: We have posted a photo essay of a Dictator Watch food relief program for Burmese IDP mothers and their children; three stories from young Karen war orphans, in their own words, about how the Burma Army murdered their fathers, and how they have struggled to survive since this happened; and a remembrance and warning regarding the Preah Vihar incident in June 1979, when the Thai government refouled some forty-five thousand Cambodian refugees, thousands of whom subsequently died. If the last action is repeated with the Burmese refugees in the camps along the Thai/Burma border, we will work to ensure that the individuals in charge are held accountable, under the doctrine of “command responsibility,” for crimes against humanity.)


Dictator Watch applauds the United States Government for taking a strong and decisive step against the Burmese military dictatorship. And, we would note that it is a “freedom and democracy” act, not a “sanctions” act. This law is a beginning, not an end unto itself. The law, its underlying objective, codified most notably in Section 8, providing for assistance to Burmese democracy activists, and resources for the reconstruction of Burma, will not be achieved until the SPDC junta is eliminated.

Would that other nations and the United Nations would emulate the United States. Unfortunately, they are too busy with words, obfuscatory words, as a cowardly excuse not to act.

Regarding sanctions, we take exception to the comments of the illustrious academics David Steinberg and Jeffrey Sachs (some people teach, others do), who denigrate sanctions as being of limited effectiveness. They both are missing the point. You do not sanction because it will bring about a desired end, the defeat of a dictatorship. Rather, nations, and individuals (through personal consumption), sanction because it is the right thing to do, in and of itself. They recognize that it is unethical to work with, much less profit from, dictators in any way. You do not work with murderers. To do so is to condone, even participate, in their crimes. Everyone who supports the SPDC economically (and also China, and the companies that destroy nature and mastermind public brainwashing, etc.), is also to blame, even criminally culpable, for their crimes.

Speaking of words, the grouping Asean, and most notably Mohammed Mahathir, the Dictator of Malaysia, and even Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the Parliamentary Dictator of Thailand, have recently said a few strong words about the SPDC. It is essential that we not be misled by these words. What is much more important is what Asean is, most certainly, saying to the SPDC in private:

“Don’t worry. We’re with you. We have to say something in public, to mollify the US and to deceive everyone else who cares about Burma. But we will never DO anything. We will not expel you from our group, or stop our trade. We don’t care about the murder and the repression and the narcotics. We are guilty of the same crimes as well (albeit on a smaller scale). We only care about money and power. Our money. Our power. And to protect it, we will protect you.”

We therefore must anticipate their many efforts to slow things down, to delay further progress, to talk. Thaksin and Foreign Minister Surakiart’s “Road Map” is one such subterfuge. It must be rejected immediately and comprehensively. Otherwise this charade will cost us months, which we do not have. Now is the time to exert maximum pressure on Asean, and also China, India and Bangladesh, to demand that they respond in kind to the new US law. They must be forced to decide, which side are they on: the Asian past of corruption and institutionalized atrocity, or the future of a democratic, egalitarian Asia, of which the people of the continent, certainly the oppressed lower classes, fervently dream.

Regarding Thaksin, it is worth recalling that many dictators first obtained power through public elections. (Hitler is just one such example.) Then, after taking office, they gutted or otherwise took control of the legislative and judicial branches of government, and the military, to consolidate their power. Thaksin just turned 54. Given his public statements, and the history of other Big Men, one can assume that he will want to maintain his position for at least the next 20 years, after which he will likely strive to hand it over to his son.

We would also comment on Thaksin’s relationship with Lt. General Khin Nyunt. The following are suppositions, but if the world of “forms” is correct, where the same patterns are seen again and again, in one location after another, they may well be true. Thaksin has a business deal with Khin Nyunt (for public consumption, the deal is with Khin Nyunt’s son), who is the SPDC Godfather of the Wa drug lords. That makes Khin Nyunt the biggest drug kingpin in Burma. He is personally responsible for the narcotics plague in Thailand.

And Thaksin does business with him. How can Thaksin, who launched the Thai war against drugs, leading to thousands of extrajudicial executions, do business with the man who is ultimately responsible for the drugs?

Khin Nyunt sells land stolen from villagers at the Thai border to the Wa (example, Nam Yoom village, Mongton Township); likely taxes the drug trade in some if not many ways; very possibly is involved in the precursor chemical trade; and is almost certainly the key architect of the relocation program – the ethnic cleansing – of the Shan, to make way for the Wa.

And Thaksin does business with him.

We know there is a deal in telecommunications. Are there any others? Or, said another way, if there is smoke, is there fire?

Why would the US want to have anything to do with Thaksin? Especially after he shut down anti-narcotics Task Force 399, which at full capability would have been a huge impediment to the Wa drug labs and caravans, and Khin Nyunt. (After September 11, 2001, Thaksin also publicly refused to commit Thailand to the fight against Osama bin Laden and al-Queda).

At a minimum, this has the appearance of and I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine deal.

As long as Thaksin continues to be the leading backer of the Burmese junta, a gang of drug dealing homicidal maniacs, once can only assume the worst. (The US must oppose all his efforts to perpetuate dictatorship in Burma, including to repress Burmese democracy activists resident in Thailand, particularly their deportation to imprisonment and death at the hands of the SPDC.)

It is up to him to prove that the above suppositions are not true. As a demonstration of his sincerity and honesty, we call upon him to end all his ties to the SPDC. Business as usual in Asia, between one type of dictator and another, is no longer acceptable. Otherwise, the US should freeze all aid to Thailand, the provision for which has just been inserted into the 2004 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Regarding other groups in Thailand, we can comment that the Thai press refuse to confront Thaksin over his business dealings with the SPDC, because they are afraid of him. Instead, they censure themselves. And because of this, he has a free reign to do his worst.

Similarly, many Thai activist groups censure themselves. While a few organizations, especially in the environmental movement, risk arrest, life and limb, many others, particularly the political NGOs, resign themselves to writing press statements and organizing only the most timid of seminars and demonstrations.

Thailand is definitely underdeveloped, but not only as development is measured by income and educational levels and life expectancy. Fundamentally, Thailand is deficient in freedom, and above all else, equality. These are the pillars on which developed and civilized societies are built. And without them, no society, including Thailand, will ever be a success.

In closing, we call on the US to implement Section 8 of the Burma Freedom and Democracy Act with the greatest vigor and diligence. The SPDC is the most appalling regime in the world.
It is both qualitatively and quantitatively worse than even North Korea. The generals Than Shwe, Maung Aye and Khin Nyunt are basically saying:

“We have the right to kill (or rape or otherwise brutalize) anyone we want. It doesn’t even matter if it’s an elected head of government and Nobel Peace Prize winner. We’re dictators!”

The rest of the world, but especially the US, UK, EU, Thailand, UN, China, Japan, Australia, India and the balance of the nations of South and Southeast Asia, must respond:

“No, you do not have the right, and we will prove it. Power does not imply or infer right! We will stop you, and we intend to do it now!”

And for those nations that refuse to help, we will never forget whose side you chose.