PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS: Human Rights: Burma
Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (3.34 p.m.) —I find a great deal to agree with in the honourable member's motion. There is no doubt in my view and the view of the government that the Burmese regime is a barbaric, isolationist and parasitic one.
The federal government has called repeatedly for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi. The detention and continual locking up of this person is an absolute denial of human rights. There has been a strong international effort for political reform. Despite the recent release of 20,000 prisoners, only 80 of those were regarded as of any political significance—and that is a thing to be deplored as well.
The ministerial changes last year in October in Burma—the removal of the foreign minister, the deputy foreign minister and the prime minister—have not led to any significant change in the regime or its policies. Dialogues between the regime and the free world and international community have not improved. The national convention on a new constitution is scheduled for 17 February. There has been a gap of seven months, and nothing has happened, but we remain concerned that the process lacks credibility. There does not seem to be any real emphasis on either changing or moving forward. There is neither free nor open debate on the broad principles of the new constitution, nor is there broad participation by all parties, including the National League for Democracy.
Australia has a small aid program to Burma, mainly through NGOs. It is expected to be $9.6 million this financial year, and it is directed humanitarian aid. It is provided through Australian and international NGOs, regional and multilateral organisations. It is basically food and health care—particularly for women and children in the border areas. Whilst much attention has been focused on the charismatic leader of the National League for Democracy, I have become aware of the terrorisation of and barbarous conduct towards minority groups in the border areas, particularly the Karen and other groups.
There is no doubt that, despite world comment, the processes of terror and victimisation continue unabated. The genocide and the terror used in the treatment of women have been depicted by the Karen women speaking out in a recent publication, which has the endorsement of the Women's League of Burma. In August last year, they produced a commentary entitled `Shattering silences', which, in graphic terms, depicts the horrible treatment of women and children in those border areas where raids into refugee camps often go unchecked and unnoticed. [start page 34]
Since General Ne Win took power in 1962 through a military coup, Burma has been ruled by a centralised political system instituted by Burma's Socialist Program Party. This is a program of select and rule, where all minority groups are removed from the processes and activities within government; it is a totally Burmese exercise.
Whilst it is claimed that the State Law and Order Restoration Council imposes a regime of fairness, only the Burmese language is recognised in education. None of the other ethnic languages are allowed to be taught in school, nor are they allowed to be used in administration. Massive offences have been made against the border areas: villages have been burned; young women have been raped; and many Karen villagers, including children, women and elders, have been tortured and killed ad hoc. As I have said previously, it is a horrible regime.
However, the government does not feel that sanctions will make any difference with such a small, tiny, minuscule trade program. We engage in 0.4 of one per cent trade with Burma. Unless a concerted effort is made by the United Nations to effect broader sanctions than those currently suggested by the honourable member for Griffith, they will have little impact and little effect. There is truth in that. For sanctions to be effective, there must be a dynamic impact on the regime.
Author: Hon Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 14th February 2005
Release Date: 22 Feb 2005