Evidence of meeting #36 for Subcommittee on International Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was sanctions.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Aung Din  Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma

1:30 p.m.

Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma

Aung Din

I'm not aware of this because I didn't focus on that particular issue, but I will check and I will get back to you as soon as I get the information.

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Sure. That particular company, Ivanhoe, that name has come up in other countries with other issues so if there is something, we certainly would like to hear from you. The special rapporteur from the United Nations in March of this year said that at this point in time there's no domestic accountability in the country at all. That's probably the main reason I made the statement I did that the same characters are in control and there's not a lot that has actually happened. But they're saying that there should be a commission, an international commission established to inquire into the gross and systemic human rights violations that are happening in Burma.

What's your opinion on that statement? Do you agree with that?

1:30 p.m.

Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma

Aung Din

I totally agree, sir. As I mentioned in my testimony, without addressing the true justice and accountability, any peace-making process will not be credible and acceptable. So we need to set up the international commission of inquiry to investigate those crimes against humanity in Burma.

We have been working with the special rapporteur, Quintana, to make this happen, but recently there was kind of a setback. The Burmese government established a national human rights commission, and then many governments that supported our call for a commission of inquiry said, oh, now that they have that human rights commission, so let's see what they can do.

We are telling them, first, this commission is appointed by the president, Thein Sein. They are serving at the pleasure of the president. And look at them—the former ambassador of the Burmese regime who defended the government in the UN Human Rights Commission, or the UN General Assembly, and former government officials.

So I don't know how they can perform credible human rights work. Also, they proved that they are not capable, they are not powerful enough to make such investigations. So now we need to go back to those governments and say, okay, this human rights commission proved itself: it is not credible, it is not independent, it is not powerful enough to make such investigations.

That's why we need to start calling for the United Nations to set up a commission of inquiry.

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

It's not dissimilar from the situation in Sri Lanka, where they had the truth and reconciliation following their war of 30 years or close to that. There was no credibility there, and I doubt very much that this particular group will be able to establish any credibility at all.

I'm concerned that the move for investment in mineral and petroleum exploration is going to push aside that move towards human rights, and that's why I questioned you earlier on the situation with Canadian companies.

How's my time, Mr. Chair?

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Scott Reid

You have 40 seconds.

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

I think I'll donate my 40 seconds to the next speaker.

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Scott Reid

All right.

Mr. Sweet, enjoy.

May 8th, 2012 / 1:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

You're a very fine man, Mr. Marston.

Welcome, Mr. Din. Thank you for travelling here.

I have to say that with successive witnesses, there's been a degrading of hope. I mean, your testimony is significantly different, certainly, from our officials, and different from our last witness, too, who was also an NGO on Burma.

Do you not see a glimmer of hope here in the actions that have been taken so far, with the byelections and other partners as well removing sanctions along with Canada? I know that the U.S. has sustained theirs, but the EU has moved with us.

1:35 p.m.

Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma

Aung Din

First, I really would like to be an optimist. I want to return to my home, to my family, but I can't. I was born and raised in my country. I have been dealing with this government, successive military governments, for many years. I know the changes and what they are doing now, but I cannot believe—yet.

I will not get discouraged either. I believe in my people. This is an opening, and my people will open the door wider and bigger to get their freedom larger and larger. I believe in my people.

You asked me about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's participation in the parliament. Even now, before she joined the parliamentary session, she demanded that they change the language of the oath, because if they didn't, she wouldn't participate. But the military and the USDP refused to change the language, and finally she ended up attending parliament without changing the language oath.

For me, she lost her first battle. This seems like a small issue, because the language is already changed in the political party registration laws, and now is only left in the constitution. It was difficult for the military and the USDP to allow her demands, and they refused to change. To change the constitution is very difficult. They make it purposely difficult to amend the constitution.

If she could not change even this small language of the oath, how can she move to change other bigger issues, such as that regarding the supreme power of the commander-in-chief? There are so many things that she has to change, that we need to change, but I'm not very hopeful for....

I trust her totally. She's our mature leader. She is uniquely best, and she will try her best. That's why I don't want international governments to rush to reward the regime. They must hold the pressure.

She has entered onto a very difficult playing field. It's better that she works with U Thein Sein, U Shwe Mann, and U Khin Aung Myint to make changes for the country, but she knows there are a lot of difficulties. She needs backup. She needs leverage. Her leverage is international pressure by both international governments and civil society outside of parliament. These make up her leverage. If you lift the sanctions eventually, you won't hurt her leverage and undermine her leverage, or take her leverage away.

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

On that note specifically, Aung San Suu Kyi was actually quoted as welcoming the lifting of the sanctions.

Was she misquoted, then, in that regard?

1:35 p.m.

Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma

Aung Din

Not exactly, but I believe that she's...[Inaudible--Editor]. Those governments made an historic visit. They went to see Aung San Suu Kyi and then they told her about this, about that. I don't think they gave her all the information she needed.

Also, I don't think she has the time to consult with her colleagues about the pros and cons or lifting, or easing, or suspension, or whatever. For the moment she endorses David Cameron's call for suspension of the sanctions. She told us, suspension is...[Inaudible--Editor]...get better. But suspension is actually window dressing, right? This is a kind of diplomatic way of actually lifting sanctions. You suspend them and they will never come back.

If you allow the businessmen to set foot in Burma, they will never come out. When the Canadian foreign minister says, okay, we are ready to reimpose sanctions...but if he does, he will find it very difficult. The current Canadian business community who are already in Burma will not agree, will oppose any kind of reimposing of sanctions. So suspension is kind of diplomatic work or window-dressing work...[Inaudible--Editor]...lifting, totally.

So I believe she's not well informed or fully informed. Aung San Suu Kyi has not had the chance to consult with many other people.

The second point is that when those decisions are made by foreign governments, they only go see Aung San Suu Kyi, but they don't consult with the ethnic leaders. They are actually key stakeholders in Burma politics. Before they make such an important decision for the country, they should consult with ethnic leaders inside and outside the country. They basically left out of consultations those key stakeholders in the making of the political decisions. It's very sad.

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Din, you spent a lot of time in your testimony talking about hard-liners and cronies. Yesterday Vice-President Tin Aung Myint Oo stepped down.

Do you see him being removed as a positive sign?

1:40 p.m.

Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma

Aung Din

First, as a human being, I feel sad for him. I understand that he came back from Singapore where he was getting treatment for cancer. His cancer is so dangerous now and that's why he submitted his resignation. But it isn't official yet. They haven't made an official announcement yet. So as a human being, I sympathize with him.

There are so many hard-liners. If Tin Aung Myint Oo goes, then new hard-liners will come in. Don't forget, Tin Aung Myint Oo was elected, and nominated by the military bloc, during their presidential elections. I think you know about that, right? They have the combination of the lower house and the upper house, which become the electoral college. They were divided into three. One is an elected person from the lower house; another is an elected person from the upper house; and another is a military representative sitting in the lower and upper house.

After one nomination each, there were the three candidates for the presidency. After that, the electoral college made a vote. The guy who got the most votes became the president, which was Thein Sein. Tin Aung Myint Oo was nominated by the military. He got the second most votes.

According to the constitution, if Tin Aung Myint Oo resigns, then the military will have a chance to nominate one of their own to this position. So one hard-liner goes, but a new hard-liner will come in.

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Scott Reid

We'll now go to Ms. Murray.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Din, for your testimony.

I lived in South Africa and came here to Canada for grade 3. I, of course, watched with great interest the process that led to democracy in South Africa. My colleague, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, was part of the legal team working with former President Nelson Mandela.

Have you studied the process, that long road to democracy that included international sanctions and other measures that Canada participated in? Can you give us some parallels or some lessons learned from the South African experience and what worked and how that can be applied in the situation with your country?