‘Give Me Three Promises and You Will Get What You Want’
01 December 2011: The Secretary of States of the United States, Hillary Clinton is scheduled to visit Myanmar/Burma on December 1st to meet with President U Thein Sein and high ranking military back quasi-civilian government. One of the most compelling issues on the table is renewing diplomatic ties between two countries and lifting sanctions imposed by the US government. Before making a historic decision by a compassionate U.S. government, the Secretary of States, Hilary Clinton must carefully scrutinize what President U Thein Sein has said in a Bali Press Conference.
Regarding the issue of ethnic national minority armed groups in Burma, President U Thein Sein said that, “What are they going to do with these weapons? These weapons are not meant for killing one another among different national races. These weapons are meant for safeguarding against the danger of the country. Therefore, we will gradually have to approach these ideas. We will have to take more time.”
President U Thein Sein’s willingness to resolve civil war in Burma is plausible, but his hesitancy to issue an order to stop the fighting in Kachin, Shan, Karen States and other areas are dubious. Although President U Thein Sein dared to stop 3.6 billion worth Myitsone Dam project, he has been muted to declare a nationwide ceasefire and enter political dialogue with the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC). If President U Thein Sein could not issue an order to his Chief of Staff of Burmese Armed Forces, General Min Aung Hlaing to stop offensive against ethnic minority, he is not a legitimate leader to discuss the future relationship between the United States and Burma.
The Secretary of States should keep in mind that the Burmese Army personnel have raped 81 women and girls, of which 36 were murdered in Shan and Kachin states within the 8-month long armed conflict, reported by the Women League of Burma. In addition, the Secretary of States should acknowledge that a six-decade long civil war in Burma has yielded more than a million refugees, thousands of internally displaced persons, thousands of deaths, both among ethnic minorities and among the Burmese military, and innumerable human rights violations.
Regarding the prisoners of conscience, President U Thein Sein stated that “We punished them because they broke the existing law. There are a lot of people in prison for breaking the existing law, so if we apply the term ‘prisoner of conscience’ to just one group, then it will be unfair on the others.”
The Secretary of States needs to understand the word “existing law” said by President Thein Sein. The reality is that overwhelming numbers of these so-called “existing laws” were enacted by colonial regime to subdue their colonial subjects. Moreover, the other existing suppressive and tyrannical laws in Burma mostly are enacted by either authoritarian regimes or military juntas from 1948 to 2010. Furthermore, some of these outdated yet dictatorial and despotic laws vaguely cited by President Thein Sein were conflicting with the current constitution so that U Thein Sein’s government has moral and constitutional duty to repeal or amend accordingly. Failure to repeal outdated colonial laws and refusing to release prisoners, who are charged with these imperial laws by the previous military junta led by Ex-Senior General Than Shwe, is not only morally tolerable but also politically incorrect.
As a native of Burma, I am profoundly appreciative of President Barack H. Obama’s decision to send Secretary of States to Burma to conduct a fact-finding mission. In the meantime, the US government needs to clearly prioritize the civil war issues first, and prisoners of conscience as second. Thirdly, the secretive relationship between Burma and North Korea should be addressed. In order to lift the imposed sanction and resuming normal relationship, Secretary of States has three issues to President U Thein Sein. Give me these three promises and you will get what you want.
By Salai Ngun Cung Lian
The author is a Post-doctoral Appointee at Indiana University Maurer School of Law and Assistant Director of Center for Constitutional Democracy.