Delivered in Plenary - 11th April 2002
Burma since the 1960's has isolated itself from the world at large at great cost to its own people. Burma is poor, underdeveloped and its population increasingly remote from the socialist military government which refused in 1990 to accept the result of the last free election in that country and to place the victor of those elections, Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest.
According to the findings of the Asian Development Bank, quoted by the U.N.'s own rapporteur in his report, the country spends only .17% of its GDP on healthcare and a comparable amount on education. Burma is now the world's largest producer of heroin, and significant parts of the country are controlled by drug lords and I am concerned at China's role in facilitating this.
There are over a thousand political prisoners in the country, including 15 elected M.P.'s and a 74 year old professor, Dr. Salai Tun Than, whose only 'crime' is to call for free, multiparty elections - a man who bears no hatred towards his jailers but who symbolises poignantly the plight of his country. Burma's rulers have driven themselves and their people into a cul de sac.
I support the principle of targeted sanctions, including travel bans on the military leadership but am sceptical about the consequences of their indiscriminate application but a policy of disinvestment would probably punish the people rather than the regime, although it makes sense to make new investment dependent on improvements in human rights on a case by case basis. Certainly, we recognise that some political prisoners have been recently released and that 25 of the offices of the National League for Democracy in Rangoon have been allowed to re-open. That is a process we should encourage.
That said, we need to ensure that aid is channelled through trusted organisations and we need to offer the leadership a roadmap for reform.
Lastly, I say to the military leaders that by imprisoning a 74 year old man they show not their strength but their weakness. A country that tolerates freedom of expression is a stronger country with better hope for the future. I urge them to free Dr. Thun Tan and Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners immediately and to give their people hope for the future.