Burma's Road

By Bernstein, Dennis; Kean, Leslie | The Nation, June 17, 1996 | Go to article overview

Burma's Road


Bernstein, Dennis, Kean, Leslie, The Nation


Burma's struggle for human rights exploded into world headlines in 1988, when thousands of peaceful demonstrators were massacred by the military. Pressured by the expanding democracy movement, the ruling military junta, known as SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council), held elections in May 1990. A stunning 82 percent of the vote went to the National League for Democracy, the party of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, even though she had been isolated under house arrest. But the generals refused to turn over power. (In 1991, while still detained, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous pro-democracy work.)

Since her release last July, after six years of house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly called for a dialogue with SLORC. After ignoring her, the junta's response most recently was to arrest more than 250 of her supporters, most of them elected M.P.s, as she tried to convene a late May meeting of the National League for Democracy. A SLORC official said recently that a dialogue is unnecessary, because of improving foreign investments and relations. Tom Donaldson, author of The Ethics of International Business, says that in Burma "the human rights violations have been systematic, widespread and involve violations of the most fundamental and central human rights accepted by liberals and conservatives." Burma--officially called Myanmar now--has become the South Africa of the 1990s. The junta's quest to achieve an economic miracle for a tiny elite has created a huge underclass of the very poor to be utilized when needed) discarded when unruly. The country has a booming drug trade--the production of heroin has more than doubled since SLORC took over in 1988, and 60 percent of the heroin sold in the United States is imported from Burma.

It's time for the world community to support the restoration of democracy for the 43 million people of Burma. Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu says the political violence there may be worse than it was in South Africa. "I think the world needs to use pressure, the kind of pressure that was used against the South African regime: sanctions to isolate Burma," he says.

Like Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi has requested that businesses not invest in her country's unstable economy.

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