Good afternoon, everyone. I feel quite at home here today. In fact, Rights and Democracy defines democracy as civil society participating in the political world. I think that for Canadian citizens, that happens on parliamentary committees. I must truly thank this committee and the Sub-Committee on Human Rights. Without your help, I do not think that the motion on Burma could have been adopted by the Canadian Parliament in May 2005. It is truly a collaborative undertaking by all members of civil society throughout Canada and parliamentarians of all stripes. Thank you so much. The Canadian Friends of Burma organization is here today. This motion has greatly contributed to encouraging parliamentarians to get more involved in this matter.
As you know, Rights and Democracy was created by the Parliament of Canada. Oddly enough, Burma and our institution have a common history. The act was adopted in 1988. If you recall, that was the year of what is called in English the 8.8.88 uprising, or the revolution of August 8, 1988. People took to the streets to call for elections, and the armed forces responded very violently. In Canada, the act was adopted in 1988, and in 1990, we opened our office in Montreal. In 1990, democratic elections took place in Burma. Our mandate involved promoting the International Bill of Human Rights as well as democracy. That was how we started out. We had a budget, but still no programming. So for us, it was very easy to get involved in Burma.
The elections were held in 1990, and the reaction of the armed forces was to arrest members of Parliament. If you had been in Burma, ladies and gentlemen, you would have been considered criminals. The armed forces started arresting members of Parliament and banned Parliament from sitting. The members held a secret meeting and decided that some of them would have to leave the country. In 1988, the country was completely closed, no one knew anything about Burma. In 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi had not yet won the Nobel peace prize. Eight members therefore decided to leave the country and set up the government in exile. In 1990, Rights and Democracy was the first institution in the world to support this government in exile. Today many governments do support it, but at the time, we were the only one. We owe the establishing of our institution, through which we were able to provide that support, to the Parliament of Canada.
As regards the way to solve the problem with Burma, it is very clear: everyone knows that the solution lies in three-way dialogue. The United Nations has issued 28 resolutions calling for a three-way dialogue between the military regime, the National League for Democracy, which obtained 82% of the seats, and the representatives of the ethnic groups. The problem stems from the fact that the armed forces do not want to negotiate. Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy and the ethnic groups have repeatedly called on the various forms of the military regime to sit down at the negotiating table, and they continue to do so. The military, however, has no reason to agree to negotiate: they have it all. That is why we feel that with these sanctions, the military will end up negotiating, once they have realized that they are losing power and can no longer continue. Then, they will sit down at the table.
We believe that the military junta's policy has always been to gain time, to tell the international community not to worry, that negotiations would take place, but that first, something had to be done, then something else, and so on. These people are not, in fact, interested in dialogue, they will engage in it only if they have no other option. That is why we think Canadian sanctions would be a good way to support three-way dialogue in Burma.
I would like to go back to the motion adopted by the Parliament of Canada in 2005, adopted by you. It states that the committee believes the government should:
(c) provide tangible support to the legitimate authorities in Burma, specifically the government in exile (the National Coalition Government for the Union of Burma) and the Committee Representing the People's Parliament ;
I would like to take a few minutes to explain the mandate of the government in exile and the CRPP, because I do not think that it is clear to everyone.
As I said earlier, the government in exile was created in 1990. It consisted of eight members who left Burma and whose mandate was very clear: as soon as Burma became a democratic country and parliamentarians could take back their seats in Parliament, the government in exile would be dissolved. At the time, there were 8 members of Parliament in exile, now there are about 34. They make up what is called the Members of Parliament Union. They are responsible for electing the government in exile every four years. The government is exile is actually made up of representatives of Aung San Suu Kyi, in other words, the Parliament elected in 1990. These people were elected by the people of Burma, which is not the case with the Tibetan government in exile, for example, which was elected by the diaspora, or Tibetans in exile.
The Committee Representing the People's Parliament or the CRPP, was created in 1998 and is made up of 10 members. The military continues to refuse to say that it does not want to negotiate. For its part, the Committee Representing the People's Parliament has set up 10 committees that form a sort of small Parliament. These 10 committees are already examining legislation, decrees, and the Constitution, in short, things they want to improve once democracy prevails in the country. Naturally, the members of the Committee Representing the People's Parliament have suffered greatly. Some of them have been imprisoned, among other things. They have asked for the support of all parliamentarians throughout the world, and several Parliaments have adopted motions acknowledging the importance of the work being done by the CRPP. The government in exile and the CRPP were both born out of the 1990 elections.
To date, the Canadian government has never supported the government in exile or the CRPP. I have been working with Rights and Democracy for 13 years, and during all those years, Aung San Suu Kyi's representatives, Prime Minister Sein Win, of the government in exile, who is her cousin, has never met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs during any of his visits to Canada. Prime Minister Sein Win's father is the brother of General Aung San, who is the father of Aung San Suu Kyi, who led the country to independence. Both were killed at the same time.
Civil society is, for the most part, in favour of the motions. We sincerely believe that they will weaken the military regime. On the one hand, the military regime must be weakened, and on the other, there must be support for the democratic forces, the legitimate forces, and civil society. As Tin Maung Htoo said earlier, the main problem in Canada is that no funds have been allocated to Burma. Other countries stopped their official development assistance in 1998, which is good, but they allocated this money to the government in exile or to humanitarian aid. As for us, we must constantly knock on doors, be it to try to offer humanitarian assistance, education or scholarships, and so on. We know that officials are aware of the situation. They are looking at how to proceed, based on their funds and rules, but in the meantime, Burma is going nowhere. Rare are the occasions when military regimes allow democratic elections. It is very difficult for us to support our partners in the field and to do what we would like to accomplish.
I want to say that I support my two colleagues. I think that education is crucial. I think I recall that during the apartheid regime in South Africa, Canada had an education fund. It would probably be easier to manage that kind of fund from the border. Be it through humanitarian assistance or the government in exile, it is important to strengthen these institutions.