[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Wednesday, October 25, 1995
The Chair: We'll begin. I'd like to introduce the witnesses. Kevin Heppner is a human rights monitor. I believe he has given up a comfortable life in Australia to do the work of humanity. Welcome, Kevin.
With him is Harn Yawnghwe. He's the publisher of Burma Alert.
Kevin, I believe you're going to do the presentation initially.
Mr. Kevin Heppner (Representative, Canadian Friends of Burma): Yes. I think Harn also will have some things to say, but I'll go first and then Harn can fill in whatever gaps I don't talk about.
The Chair: Okay, but I have to warn you that the bells will be ringing at 5 p.m., so I'll let you gauge your time.
Mr. Heppner: To explain briefly, I'm director of the Karen Human Rights Group. I've been operating in Burma, actually out of opposition-held territory, for about five years now, initially as a teacher and then going into human rights work.
The Karen Human Rights Group, which I formed in 1992, is a small group of primarily young Karen volunteers whom we train and equip, and we work together with them to monitor the human rights situation at the grassroots level in rural villages in Burma, primarily in non-Burman ethnic areas but also gathering information from central parts of the country. We report this overseas as firsthand information in the words of villagers themselves.
To summarize the situation the way we see it right now, essentially all the human rights abuses on the ground at the village level in Burma continue to get worse right now.
To paint an example to start off, the Burmese army, the Tatmadaw, is currently estimated at a strength of about 350,000, about double what it was when the current SLORC junta took power in 1988. They continue to expand the army and they're dispatching battalions all through the country, particularly in areas where there's not even any fighting with ethnic groups.
What these battalions do to villagers is initially confiscate farm land, drive the farmers off without compensation, and then force the villages to build and maintain their army camps for them, provide money, provide building materials and everything. Once the camps are built, villages receive constant orders to send rotating shifts of slave labour to do all the physical labour for the soldiers - digging trenches, bunkers, building fences, standing sentry, delivering messages and so on. Women are often raped at the camps and abused in other ways. Generally, maybe one person out of every two households will have to do this every week, and at the end of that week that group isn't allowed to go home to the village until their replacements arrive.
At the same time, army patrols come into the villages several times a week and round up civilians to carry ammunition and supplies for army patrols. These people - it's very well documented - are called porters. Effectively, they're used and kept alive on starvation rations until they can't go on any more. Then they are just beaten to death.
Also, there is mounting extortion in the rural areas. All villages are being forced to pay whatever money they can possibly come up with to the army. All kinds of forced labour is going on for so-called development projects that the SLORC is trying to get international funding for. They're doing projects like infrastructure, road building, railways and hydro dams, and most of these are being set up to support military encroachment on ethnic areas closer to the border. However, the SLORC does this under the guise of development.
Especially in areas where there is no fighting, they're implementing a sort of feudal system where they will confiscate farm land, evict the farmers and then force the villagers to do labour - growing cash crops, which the military then uses to feed its own soldiers and also for export. The SLORC is now selling some of these goods to foreign companies and is exporting a lot of these agricultural goods. Even though UNICEF and other groups are documenting horrendous rates of malnutrition throughout the country, the SLORC is increasing agricultural exports.
In the past year, the SLORC has become much more hard line. When they really started becoming much more hard line seems to have occurred at about the same time as Chinese Premier Li Peng visited Rangoon. Whether there's a direct connection is hard to say, but over the past year they've gone back to mounting mass military offensives against ethnic groups, including the Karen, the Karenni, the Shans, the Mons, and some others. They've also worsened all these other forms of human rights abuses that I've already described, and forced labour is getting rampant.
Effectively, the situation was that they were starting to come under more international pressure, but at the same time they were also having big military successes in their offensives. They managed to overrun, for example, the Karen government headquarters, which was also the headquarters of most of the Burmese pro-democracy groups, and also where I was based. They managed to capture that in January along with a lot of other territory. They perceive that they are in a very strong military position at the moment against the opposition groups. They feel they have them in a corner; they feel they can crush them whenever they want.
They took this, combined with the increase in international pressure, and based on these two factors decided that they could get away with releasing Aung San Suu Kyi, which they did in July. Of course, this was hailed by Asian governments as a wonderful sign of reform and successive constructive engagement policy, but actually they did it for the reasons I mentioned. There's a lot of evidence in support of that.
First of all, they released her on July 10. They didn't even announce her release officially in their own media. They've given no indication of wanting to talk to her. In fact, their representatives have stated extremely clearly on several occasions that they feel absolutely no need to talk to her whatsoever or to include her in the political process.
There have been no other reforms connected to her release. In fact just the other day Suu Kyi, along with her colleagues Tin Oo, Kyi Maung and others, had been trying to start rebuilding the National League for Democracy, the party they formed before that actually won the elections in 1990 that were never acknowledged by SLORC. Back in 1991, while she was under house arrest, SLORC had forced the NLD leadership to expel her from the party officially. Now she's back in the party, but just the other day a SLORC so-called election commission declared that her membership in the NLD would be illegal and that she would not be allowed to be even a member or a leader of the party she had formed, which won the election. So SLORC is sending a very clear message that it has no intention of allowing her to participate in the political process.
It's interesting that her release came the day before the first-ever trade sanctions bill against SLORC was to be introduced in the U.S. Senate - Senate Bill S-1092, the Free Burma Act, which was to impose full economic sanctions. In the end her release caused problems for that legislation, and at the moment it looks like it's dead. As soon as it became clear that the legislation appeared to be dead, the SLORC suddenly announced that Aung San Suu Kyi could no longer lead her political party.
On the day of her release the SLORC mounted two new military offences. One was against the Karen people in southern Burma, whom I work with, and one was against the Karenni people further north. Those offences have continued until now and have intensified. Just last week we got word that in the past two to three months SLORC forces have burned and destroyed at least 60 Karen villages in the Papun, Thaton, and Bilin areas around Karen state. All 60 of these villages have been burned and destroyed since the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. SLORC is trying to relocate these people to forced-labour camps and other locations.
They're trying to clear a swath of land about 50 kilometres wide along the Thai border to make it a free-fire zone, clear of all civilians, where any civilians will be shot on sight. This will first of all make it absolutely impossible for any more refugees to escape to Thailand. Second, it will cut off any supply lines to guerrilla forces inside Burma that are still fighting against SLORC.
So you have all these things happening. Meanwhile, for the first time this year, SLORC forces have invaded Thailand, specifically to attack and destroy Karen refugee camps. Some of these attacks have even occurred with mortar support from the Burma side of the border. The Thai government wants all the refugees to be forced back anyway, so the Thai army has taken cosmetic measures, pretending to protect its sovereignty, but it has actually done nothing to protect the camps themselves. Instead it has relocated refugees into some big camps, and some components within the Thai government or the power structure - mainly the army and the Thai national security council - now say they want to do mass forced repatriation of all refugees to Burma in 1996.
I asked a senior UN High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Bangkok what the UNHCR would do in the event of this repatriation. Her response was that the UNHCR would probably cooperate with it. The UNHCR's opinion on Burma these days is that repatriation of refugees is going to happen, with or without it. It would rather be part of it and cooperate with it, with the idea of lessening the suffering. It points to the Rohingyas refugee repatriation from Bangladesh as a model. However, NGOs that work in those refugee camps say UNHCR is just making things worse there.
This whole situation raises the question of what can be done from this end. There are two major avenues: one is political and the other is economic.
First of all, the political Canadian position has been quite good in terms of denouncing SLORC and not giving it too much recognition, although this could be taken a fair bit further.
Now is really the time to take the economic avenue. Basically, Suu Kyi's release came about largely because of the threat of economic sanctions. The fact that SLORC is refusing to talk to her now is mainly the result of the diminished threat of economic sanctions.
So sanctions right now would be more effective than ever before. Some people say sanctions never work, but in the case of the economics of Burma, SLORC controls the whole economy. People talk about open market, but the rules are opening up for foreign companies and not for domestic business people. If you live in Burma you cannot start a business unless you have military connections and pay off the right people. If you don't, you end up in jail. I know a lot of convicts who are in jail because of that.
The SLORC even has labour laws dictating that any foreign company coming in and hiring five or more people has to go to SLORC. It will then give them a list of suitable candidates for the jobs and they have to choose their people from the list.
The so-called private businesses being set up in the cities are largely capitalized. They're set up by military families and capitalized with money the officers related to those families are extorting from villagers in rural areas. The officers send the money to the cities to their families to capitalize so-called private businesses.
In the end, the only effect of all this foreign investment and so-called open market that ordinary people see is an inflation rate of about 50% a year. Even if you have a mid- to high-level civil service job or a good teaching job, the average person's gross salary will not buy enough plain, uncooked rice to feed a family of four. Even with a job you can't survive now. You have to send the kids out into the streets.
They're doing more and more forced relocation, especially for foreign investment. More and more, foreign companies are coming in that want to build factories and hotels in the cities. To get the land for this the SLORC issues a relocation order to an entire neighbourhood. It forces them out of their neighbourhood at gunpoint. It bulldozes the neighbourhood and lets the foreign company build the facility. The people who are forced out are driven to these places called new towns, which are basically swampy dust bowls.
Meanwhile, there is forced labour in conjunction with foreign investment in things like gas pipeline projects in the south. This gas pipeline is causing people to flee from the area because of a big military offensive, forced labour, extortion and military presence.
There is a tourism drive for ``Visit Myanmar Year 1996'', their big tourism year. Tens of thousands of people are involved in forced labour to develop infrastructure, airports and tourist sites for that.
So in the case of Burma, I think you cannot argue against sanctions.
The Chair: Kevin, can I interrupt you just for a moment? Mr. Morrison has to leave and he has a few questions to ask you. Then we can continue, if you don't mind.
Mr. Morrison (Swift Current - Maple Creek - Assiniboia): Thank you, Madam Chairman. This is a little unorthodox. We usually let our witnesses have their full say, but I do have to leave.
I'm very happy to see you here, and I welcome you to our committee. I'm trying to get a better feel for the local situation in Myanmar. I'm wondering when you left the country yourself, Mr. Heppner. How long has it been since you actually lived there?
Mr. Heppner: I left in August.
Mr. Morrison: That recently?
Mr. Heppner: I basically stay over there. I only come over here for one or two months each year.
Mr. Morrison: That leads me to my next question, which again relates to what things are like in the country. When you're over there are you able to move between the Karen and the government-controlled areas, or the SLORC-controlled areas? Can you move back and forth as a foreigner without being unduly harassed?
Mr. Heppner: In Burma there are areas that are completely controlled by groups like the Karen. I can move around in those areas. Then you have what the SLORC calls brown areas, where it's not a front-line situation but an area where both sides are active. I can penetrate areas like that on special occasions, but for most of the work in those areas, we use our monitors who are living in those areas or who always go into those areas. They can also penetrate the completely SLORC-held areas.
We also get information, for example, from people who have fled completely SLORC-controlled areas and come out to, say, the Karen-held area, where we'll meet them.
Mr. Morrison: But when you fly into Rangoon, if you want to get to the Karen areas you must have to deal with SLORC to get there.
Mr. Heppner: I don't fly into Rangoon. I could not do that without putting myself to a certain extent, but mainly a lot of other people, at risk. Because I do human rights work, SLORC effectively declared me an enemy of the state earlier this year
Mr. Morrison: So you operate clandestinely.
Mr. Heppner: SLORC does not allow any NGO or any human rights organization to monitor the situation in the country.
Mr. Morrison: I see. Again, could you get a little more -
Mr. Harn Yawnghwe (Representative, Canadian Friends of Burma): Could I add some information to that? With the drive that SLORC is pushing for foreign investments and tourism, they have opened up the country a bit more. We have regular people going in and out. That's just to let you know that a lot of the information we're getting is from inside as well as from the border areas.
Mr. Morrison: But without getting into any secret information, you must come in by water, do you, when you go to Myanmar? Do you come in by sea?
Mr. Heppner: No, over land, through neighbouring countries.
Mr. Morrison: Okay. I won't ask which one.
Mr. Heppner: Going in by sea you'd probably get blown out of the water, actually. It's a complete police state. It's a country at war within itself. SLORC is basically an occupying army and they run it like that.
Mr. Morrison: One thing I've often wondered about - and you would certainly know the answer to this - is where the Karen get their weapons and how they pay for them. They cannot effectively resist SLORC, but they're obviously armed or they wouldn't be able to resist at all. Where do they get their weapons?
Mr. Heppner: Obviously, they have no foreign government supporting them, so they have to get weapons on the black market. This generally comes through Thailand. It's usually Cambodian or Vietnamese surplus. A lot of it is really old, worn-out stuff.
In terms of how they finance it, it used to be that 90% of their money came through taxing cross-border trade. Up to 1988, cross-border trade between Burma and, say, Thailand and other neighbouring countries was not allowed under the Ne Win regime. The SLORC started doing cross-border trade and started mounting specific military offensives aimed deliberately at the trading gateways of the Karen and other groups. So they gradually cut off a lot of that basically ``duty'' money that was being collected.
These groups started having to depend more on selling resources such as teak, gems and stuff like that, although the degree to which they can harvest these is nothing compared to SLORC. They can't use heavy equipment or anything; they're just using elephants and that kind of stuff. So their income is way, way down. To a large extent, at the moment they're surviving, in material terms, with money they saved up in better years.
Mr. Morrison: Do they deal in opium to finance their -
Mr. Heppner: No. The opium is grown in Shan state, which is several hundred kilometres to the north.
Mr. Morrison: Okay. One last question and then I'll retire from the field.
Mr. Heppner: In fact, just to qualify that, the leadership of the Karen government and that of several other opposition groups is absolutely, vehemently opposed to any kind of narcotics. For example, governments like the Karen government have much stronger drug laws, trafficking laws and related laws than those in Canada or the U.S.
Mr. Morrison: This is my last question. I have a particular interest in this pipeline. This is offshore gas that they're preparing to take over to Thailand, as I understand it.
Mr. Heppner: Yes.
Mr. Morrison: I've heard from you and other sources that a lot of slave labour is being used in constructing the pipeline. Are there foreign nationals actively engaged in working on that pipeline?
Mr. Heppner: Yes, there are.
Mr. Morrison: Do they know what's going on? Do they see it?
Mr. Heppner: They do see some of it. The best way is just to explain the current situation briefly.
At the moment, they haven't started laying pipe yet or anything. Up to this point, they have finished almost all the survey work, particularly in the western half of the route. In the eastern half, SLORC is still mounting military offensives and destroying villages in trying to secure the route for the oil companies.
In the western half, the oil companies TOTAL and Unocal - especially TOTAL - have set up a base camp near a village called Kanbauk. This base camp is surrounded with barbed wire and a whole combat battalion for security. They wanted to hire people to do survey work, so they told SLORC to hire these people and gave them lots of money. SLORC set up a corrupt selection board. You need SLORC connections. There's a medical board, but you don't have to pass a medical; you pay them money to pass the medical.
They were using some paid labour to do survey work. They were paying them $30 a day, so they were giving SLORC $30 for each person. Then SLORC pays the payroll 200 kyats a day, which is roughly correct at SLORC's official exchange range of 6 kyats to the $1. But at the black market rate, 200 kyats is less than $2. So SLORC was taking $28.50 of that $30 for every employee, while giving $1.50 to the worker.
On top of that, the SLORC military in the area was rounding up civilians and taking them out to the survey work to clear the bush as forced labour. Whether TOTAL people were present when that was happening is hard to say. I have a feeling that up until now when that has happened, TOTAL people probably haven't been there. But it has been going on.
TOTAL and Unocal say that their people on the ground will prevent any human rights abuses from happening. They have 10 to 15 people on the ground. SLORC has about 7,000 to 8,000 troops that they've moved into that pipeline route. It's physically impossible for them to stop human rights abuses, yet they have refused to allow any independent human rights organization to go in there and have a look, such as Human Rights Watch or the ICRC. They don't want anything to do with it.
The president of Unocal, John Imle, for example, says they have their own people who know about human rights. They've flown over the area in helicopters and confirmed that there are no human rights abuses happening. It's a classic example of what's happening with foreign investments in Burma and why the things these companies are saying about human rights just don't carry water.
Mr. Morrison: Thank you very much, Mr. Heppner. I appreciate that. I wish I could stay around for more questions, but I must go.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Morrison.
Harn, did you want to...?
Mr. Yawnghwe: Yes, I'll maybe do a brief....
The Chair: Please make it as short as you can, because we're approaching 5 p.m.
Mr. Yawnghwe: As was mentioned earlier, I publish Burma Alert. I also serve as the adviser to the exiled government.
In the assessment of the exiled government, the reading of the political situation in Burma is that SLORC is not really interested in bringing about democracy. The release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all the other concessions they have made to date can be seen as tactical moves to allow them to survive and to gain legitimacy and get foreign aid.
So when pressure mounts they will give way in certain areas. As Kevin mentioned, they felt they had got military supremacy by attacking all the different groups, so they were willing to free Aung San Suu Kyi. At the same time, they are hoping that in six months' to a year's time she will be marginalized if she cannot do anything, because although she has been released, she has no rights.
It is like the rest of the people of Burma. You cannot criticize the government, for example, because that would be endangering the state and you could be arrested. So they are hoping that by just releasing her and letting her be like the rest of the people, she will not be able to do anything and eventually people will get tired of her, foreign interest will die down and then they can continue with their program.
We are trying to say that it should be recognized that SLORC will not change easily and it will not do so without pressure. If we want to see democracy in Burma, the pressure has to be at least maintained, if not increased. Only then will they give way, slowly.
There are several things we would like to recommend: continue denying SLORC the legitimacy it is seeking, continue denying it the aid and the money it seeks. On the positive side, we are suggesting that the democratic movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi should be empowered, should be brought into the process. Although SLORC is trying to marginalize them, it would be useful to bring Aung San Suu Kyi into the political process by doing things like the U.S. did by sending the ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright, to visit Aung San Suu Kyi. She made it very clear that her purpose was to support Aung San Suu Kyi, not to make relations with SLORC better.
If very clear visits can be planned by legitimate official parties, the Parliament, the government, to Aung San Suu Kyi, that will be a de facto recognition of her and will empower her to work with SLORC, because right now SLORC is trying to ignore her. Those are some of the things we are recommending.
As Kevin mentioned, the human rights situation and the refugee situation on the border is getting very bad. I think we should be concerned about the repatriation plans that the UNHCR is hoping to go along with. As far as we know, in the Arakan state on the western border, where 250,000 refugees have been repatriated, they say the UNHCR can go to those areas to monitor the situation of the resettlement. But in actual fact, if you question them they will tell you they cannot go into those areas without a military escort. You would question how well they can really monitor, because wherever they go they have to have a military escort and it has to be prepared ahead of time. If the same thing happens on the Thai border, we could expect the same situation. Thank you.
The Chair: Mr. English, do you have any questions?
Mr. English (Kitchener): Yes, thank you. I cannot say I enjoyed your presentations, but I found them very interesting and very disturbing.
I wanted to follow up your comments about the sanctions. I think the comment that was made is that politically Canada is doing fairly well and perhaps it could do something along the lines that were suggested a moment ago.
On the economic side, I know what our policy has been and there is some indication that it might be being reviewed. What is the situation with trade and investment and aid with the current regime? There is investment occurring through Burma and it is apparently accelerating. Where is it coming from? What countries are the source of this investment?
Mr. Yawnghwe: Most of the investments are really from Asian countries: Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong and China, across the border. The Japanese are beginning to get involved, and that was one of the key reasons Aung San Suu Kyi was released. The Japanese said that until she was released they wouldn't renew any of their aid. So Japan is poised to go in really in a big way.
Mr. English: Japan...in terms of development assistance, to what extent is there development assistance now and what is the source of it?
Mr. Yawnghwe: There is no bilateral at the moment. The multilateral would be the two UN agencies, UNICEF and UNDP. Even those have been restricted; the UNDP projects have to be grassroots and not infrastructure. But there is a strong push now that Aung San Suu Kyi is released that there should be more aid, and the Japanese are beginning to fund some hospitals and nursing schools.
The problem is that on the surface it looks good because it's humanitarian, but what usually happens is that - I have to check the details - it's likely a military hospital or related to the military, because the Red Cross in Burma is handled by ex-military men.
Mr. English: We talked about economic sanctions, and trade is usually central to the economic sanctions. What are the sources of trade, such as can be measured?
Mr. Heppner: I was just going to add a comment on the development aid. A lot of the Japanese aid seems to be targeted at the ministry for development of border areas and national races. That is a SLORC ministry involved in huge forced labour projects in the border areas and infrastructure projects to develop roads and things to give the military fast access, wide, paved military roads into border areas, also land confiscation, huge fish pond projects, hydro dams and things like that. This is where a lot of this Japanese aid is to go. The Thai army has even said that this Japanese aid, since some of it is theoretically to go to Karen areas, is a good excuse for repatriation.
Even with the UNDP, part of the reason they have been so restricted is that they are very keen to fund this kind of infrastructure. In a 1992 report, the UNDP identified this same SLORC ministry as the ideal target for international aid, yet everyone in the country knows it's all forced labour.
Mr. Yawnghwe: A lot of the trade right now is cross-border from China. That's having a very big impact on the Burmese economy because there's no way local industry can compete. Thailand was the main partner before, but now it has become China. I would say that apart from the oil companies, the leading companies investing in Burma would be tourism, hotel-building companies, mainly from Singapore.
Mr. English: In terms of economic actions by Canada, I think at some point I heard that we could do more. What specifically could we do that would be more in this situation?
Mr. Yawnghwe: Right now, for example, Canada doesn't give export credits. There is no bilateral aid and all those things, but Canadian companies can still go to Burma. There are some trying to explore for minerals.
I think the main benefit of announcing publicly a trade embargo or sanctions or an arms embargo.... Canada will say we effectively have an arms embargo in place, but these things are not announced so they don't have a political impact inside Burma. SLORC is saying, we are accepted everywhere, all these companies are coming, we are the legitimate government. But if there were a public statement or public sanctions, then they could not deny that. The people inside Burma will know that they are not legitimate and that the world is not accepting them.
Now they are saying they are legitimate and that they're going to the UN every year to speak on behalf of Burma. They say they're accepted, that the UNDP comes in and does all the projects with them. They say they are the legitimate government and that we all had better keep quiet.
The Chair: Will that make any difference to the government of Burma? There are lots of countries that appear and sit at the United Nations whose human rights violations perhaps aren't as obvious, a lot of countries that violate human rights. It doesn't really -
Mr. Yawnghwe: There is a difference for the people of Burma. For example, in Iraq the people have not disclaimed Saddam Hussein. They haven't said they don't want him. But in Burma in 1988 the people said very clearly that they didn't want the government. They had demonstrations and lots of people were killed. Then in 1990 the military held elections and once again the people said very clearly they didn't want the government.
They have no legitimacy at all. They are trying to use external legitimacy to keep on. The more you can reduce the legitimacy and transfer it to Aung San Suu Kyi, the shakier their foundation becomes.
The Chair: I'm sorry for interrupting you. You may go ahead.
Mr. English: The question was one I was going to ask, but I wanted to take it further. We talked about the surrounding countries and aid and, in some cases now, development assistance from a country that really isn't that much of a neighbour. But they are the Asian countries. You used the Iraqi analogy. In the case of Iraq, its neighbours were hostile to it. Indeed, very recently King Hussein visited here and was quite explicit about the need to keep up the pressure on Iraq, whatever the difficulties with his own regime in that respect.
In this case we have a broader problem with Asia. You're coming to a Parliament that is geographically very far away, that has very little contact with the situation there, but that does have a great deal of sympathy. Our problems are the neighbours. What can a country like Canada do?
I guess it's flattering to us that we are a beacon, but we're very distant. But when you have countries around Burma, including some that are democratic according to the general sort of thing.... What does Australia do? I'll throw that one in very quickly, but it's a broader question about human rights in Asia and the response from our part of the world.
Mr. Heppner: This relates to what Harn was talking about previously. I think people here mostly don't realize how much effect a country like Canada can have on SLORC. If you're over there, you see it every day. If you look at the SLORC media, for example, you will see that they'll plaster everything with any photo they can get of a foreigner shaking hands with a SLORC general. When a desk officer from the U.S. State Department visited Burma, they announced in the media that he was the foreign minister of the United States. They're desperate for any show of legitimacy. I talked to him afterwards and he said he was very flattered.
By the same token, they're very vulnerable to anything done against them. You should see the reactions they've had to some very small things that have been done against them.
There are a lot of things. To get it on the record, I have a couple of recommendations from the perspective of my work as to what the Canadian government could do.
First, there are economic sanctions, which in Canada's case would be easier than in the case of most other countries, simply because at this point Canadian companies just don't have a lot of investments in Burma that could be lost. There are some looking at mineral exploration, which may also involve forced labour, but most of them aren't in there yet. It is also supported by the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi herself has now stated clearly that companies should not invest in Burma even though she has been released. So sanctions are one thing the government could do.
There are also political pressures. Fortunately in the past Canada has been a big supporter of the strong UN General Assembly's and Human Rights Commission's resolutions against SLORC. Hopefully Canada can continue to do that. Also, political pressure on SLORC to hold talks not only with Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy, but with representatives of the ethnic groups, must continue. Basically, round-table talks to resolve the political war and the political situation are needed.
Economically, Canada can also use leverage at, for example, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the IMF. The Asian Development Bank is now very seriously looking at financing a big project that would build seven dams on the Mai Nam Moi and Salween rivers, divert one of Burma's major rivers into Thailand, dry up a big part of southern Burma and cause a lot of starvation, and flood out a lot of the Karen homeland. SLORC thinks it is a wonderful project and the Thais think it's great because they're desperate for water and power. The ADB is actually looking at funding this kind of stuff, while the World Bank is also trying to get any excuse to get back in there.
A couple of other things that can be done politically include exerting pressure on the Thais regarding the repatriation of refugees. That area where sixty villages have been destroyed in the last two months is the same area the Thais are talking about sending all the refugees back to. They will all end up in labour camps.
I think Canada has a lot of power to pressure the Thais because the Thais are very vulnerable. They are very into their international image, and the Thai power structure is a very nebulous thing. Right now the whole government is not behind this repatriation. It's very easy to push the right buttons in the Thai government and to change things before things start rolling.
Also, pressure the UNHCR - I'm sure Canada gives money to it - to start supporting refugees. The UNHCR always uses the claim that it is only in Thailand at the whim of the Thais and can be thrown out whenever the Thais so wish, so the UNHCR can't do anything. But since Thailand is so sensitive about its international image, there is no way Thailand is going to throw out the UNHCR. That excuse doesn't hold up, so the UNHCR can come out and say things.
Finally, people in Burma right now are extremely concerned for Aung San Suu Kyi's personal physical safety. A lot of people think SLORC may try to engineer her death by getting someone to masquerade as a lunatic and kill her, or various things like that. I have been talking to people from other governments about this, and I think it should be possible for a government like the Canadian government to send SLORC a diplomatically worded warning. It could say something like, our government is very concerned for her physical safety and we hope you are aware that we are aware you are providing full security for her and are ensuring that nothing will happen to her. That's a nice veiled warning that if anything happens to a hair on her head, they are the ones who will be held responsible.
It's these kinds of things, I think, that can have a very big effect. When you look at the fact that her release came about more from just the threat of action than any real action, it shows how vulnerable they can be.
The Chair: Are you getting support from the United States, from Congress? You said they didn't proceed with the sanctions once she was released.
Mr. Yawnghwe: Unfortunately that legislation got entangled in internal U.S. politics -
The Chair: Oh, we don't have that here.
Mr. Yawnghwe: - so we're still working on that to bring it back on line.
The Chair: You we were referring to the Karen government and you talked about the Karen army, which is obviously an underground movement. But when you say government -
Mr. Heppner: In Burma you have at least a dozen different ethnic groups with their own governments and armies. Most of them control significant amounts of territory, and within those territories they have a political structure. They have a government that administers things like health, education and other programs. The army, given that they are at civil war, is generally very closely tangled together with the government, but the fact is that they are defending their territories against invasion. They are not trying to advance to take Rangoon. They are basically fighting a defensive struggle to protect their own resources, people and culture.
These groups have allied with each other and with the Burmese pro-democracy groups, and they have actually drafted a proposed constitution. It is a starting point for negotiation with people like Aung San Suu Kyi and the SLORC, and would would set up a federal democracy in Burma. They've basically agreed with the Burmese pro-democracy groups that the only way to end the civil war is through federalism. The ethnic groups are not fighting for independence any more; they're fighting for a federal union, which of course is kind of an ironic thing to be talking about in Ottawa this particular week.
The Chair: It may have been a bad choice of words today.
As you can hear, that's our bell beckoning us to the House to vote.
I appreciate the fact that you came in today. Thank you very much. We will take into advisement some of the things you have told us, but you recognize that we are merely a subcommittee. We are trying to struggle on in our pursuit of human rights in a different form than you are.
Thank you for coming.
Mr. Yawnghwe: Could I leave some documents?
The Chair: Yes, certainly you may.
We adjourn until the next meeting.