Aug 12 2009
See? You don’t have to be an American president to blast rogue regimes with both barrels (well, rhetorically, anyway). Our PM has some harsh words for Burma’s generals. The junta may not listen, but this is what Canadians need to hear:
Canada strongly condemns the Burmese regime’s decision to sentence Aung San Suu Kyi to a further 18 months house arrest.
This decision is clearly not in accordance with the rule of law: the charges laid against her were baseless and her trial did not come close to meeting international standards of due process. Her continued detention is unwarranted, unjustified, and vindictive…
We will continue to stand with the people of Burma and insist that their human rights be respected and their voices heard.
Couldn’t have said it any better, Steve-O.
I’m reminded of an article I wrote about Burma eons ago that still seems relevant today. I’ve dredged through my Gmail and discovered it for your reading pleasure:
Ethics 101: Don’t Do Business With a Junta
“Of course it’s a democracy! The people just don’t have the right to vote.”
Mathew’s comment elicited a few chuckles from my colleagues sitting around the staff table. But I could tell I wasn’t the only one who felt a little uneasy.
My workplace in Vancouver had decided to open up a branch in Myanmar. We had just got the memo.
None of us really knew much about the country. Even in 2008, after the cyclone disaster and the mass protests brutally put down by the junta’s troops, I suspect not many Canadians can even find the place on a map.
Still, we were all basically aware the country was located somewhere in Southeast Asia and run by a military regime known for its low regard for human rights.
The Japanese-based owners’ rationale for setting up a branch in Myanmar was that in a global world, business had to reach out to new and emerging markets. Everyone else is going left, so you go right. Since companies were not rushing into Myanmar to invest, management saw an opportunity to get in on the ground floor.
The company heads seemed to have a vague idea of the ethical minefield they were walking into, if only because it was going to be awfully tough to find an employee willing to go over there. Our local manager had come up with the line that Myanmar was showing signs of an emerging democracy to calm our concerns.
That’s when Mathew ran with his one-liner and broke the tension. But I was on edge.
I decided to do a little research and soon discovered that the US first imposed sanctions on Myanmar in 1990. This was after the incumbent junta annulled an election won by Myanmar’s National League for Democracy. The 1991 Nobel Peace Laureate and opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest more than a decade. The European Union imposed its own sanctions soon after.
As for us Canucks, the Canadian government officially discourages investment in the country. Petro Canada pulled out in 1998.
Despite its cash-poor status, trade with Asian countries provides the ruling generals with enough capital to run one of the most the most repressive and pervasive military intelligence systems in the world.
Fifty per cent of Myanmar’s economy goes towards military spending, but apparently there’s no cash to pay for the slave laborers the army dragoons to hack out roads in remote areas, or the child soldiers forced to raid villages inhabited by ethnic minorities.
Our company’s executives had to be aware that the only people able to afford our services would be involved with or related to the ruling junta. The company went ahead, anyway.
It didn’t take long to get things started. In weeks, we had a physical location and they were already printing brochures.
I moved on to greener pastures soon after, but I kept in touch with my old colleagues. Less than six months later, I heard the Myanmar branch had closed.
The customers had all registered in hopes of somehow getting visas and permission to travel abroad – evidently, promises had been made in the promotional materials that had been rushed to the printers. When that didn’t happen, they protested and the branch was forced to shut down. Rumor had it that the big bosses back in Japan had only set up the Myanmar in the first place as an elaborate scam to get a few friends some visas to get into Canada.
A few weeks later, US President George Bush listed Myanmar alongside Iran, North Korea, Belarus, Cuba and Zimbabwe as outposts of tyranny in his inaugural address.
It’s been four years since then. The junta has holed up in their jungle base while their soldiers continue to keep the people terrorized. I’d like to think that Canadians – and foreign executives with interests in Canada, for that matter — are a little more educated now about the downside of doing business in a country where Amnesty International has been collecting evidence of torture and human rights abuses for decades.
And we’re still waiting.
Myanmar Burma It Can’t Wait – by Tila Tequila