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Evidence of meeting #35 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

Tin Maung Htoo  Executive Director, Canadian Friends of Burma

1:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Friends of Burma

Tin Maung Htoo

Not in the case of Ivanhoe.

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Okay.

1:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Friends of Burma

Tin Maung Htoo

Each year, Ivanhoe, the copper-funded operations, were supposed to contribute to some military regimes. According to our records, many transfer their own production companies to be like state enterprises. That kind of distribution happens, according to our records, but not in the case that they hire military people to protect their business.

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Do I have any time left?

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Scott Reid

No, you're actually a little over.

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Thank you.

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Scott Reid

That was a good question, though.

Mr. Sweet, you're next.

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Welcome, Mr. Maung Htoo. Thank you very much. We have a very high respect for human rights defenders, but even a higher regard for human rights defenders who have actually been detained and experienced what it means to have their rights taken away. We're very glad to hear your perspective on the concerns of Burma.

We were having a conversation the other day about the use of Burma versus Myanmar. Why don't you call your organization the Friends of Myanmar?

1:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Friends of Burma

Tin Maung Htoo

We prefer to use Burma.

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Is there a reason behind that?

1:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Friends of Burma

Tin Maung Htoo

Yes, I can explain that.

After the military took power and cut down the peaceful movement across the country, not only did they change the country's name, but they changed every name, such as street names and township names, that were given by the British. As you know, the British were in Burma for more than 100 years. In a way, they are showing that we are very nationalist and we don't like the British. By changing all the names, they are trying to gain some kind of political ground, political support.

The question for me is not whether we like the name Myanmar or Burma; it's more the political reason. The intent of the government to change the country's name is just a political one. It's not related to cultural or historical background. That's why we prefer to use Burma.

Also, when the military took power, they were trying to shut down the country and make people conscious that Burma is no longer here and it's the new Myanmar. In the public consciousness, Myanmar is a new country and Burma is no more. That is a tactical way to cover up what happened in the past. That's why we cannot accept that yet. The decision will be made by the elected members of parliament in the near future. Hopefully, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and others will speak on that topic.

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

In a sense, for now, Burma refers to a time of more freedom and a time when the people, rather than the military regime, had the government.

1:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Friends of Burma

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Thank you for that. The characterization of your testimony, I would say, is significantly less encouraging than when we had our officials here.

Have you experienced this move in the past, in your lifetime, whereby there seems to be a willingness on the military's part to move toward democratic freedom and then pull back? Is there something extra that we don't see that's giving you pause at the moment to be less...? You didn't say it was encouraging on the surface, but you have a lot of caution there as well.

1:40 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Friends of Burma

Tin Maung Htoo

Yes. One thing we have to remember is that the military is quite smart in manoeuvring when they play politics. Even today they seem to be quite like military people, but they are quite strategic. They have broken promises in the past. For example, in the 1990 elections, which the opposition party, the National League for Democracy, won overwhelmingly, even though they promised to hand over power to the party that won the election, when they saw the overwhelming support from the public for the democratic movement and the democratic party, they refused to hand over power. That is very obvious evidence of the military changing their position and their heart.

In this situation I am hopeful that some retired military leaders, realizing the fact that Burma is lagging behind many neighbouring countries.... You might know that Burma used to be the most promising land in Asia, but Burma is now at the bottom of all the countries in Asia, even in Southeast Asia. Many millions of Burmese are in neighbouring countries, as slave labourers in Thailand, for example, or India or Malaysia. This is heartbreaking for everyone who loves the country and has the pride of holding identity.

I hope the retired general, President Thein Sein, has the will to change and to move forward. I am a bit cautious in a way, but at the same time I am hopeful that he will be able to move forward, along with other like-minded colleagues, retired generals.

We have to wait and see how far they can go. Some people say these reform processes cannot be reversed, but I want to let you know one thing: the previous military dictator, Than Shwe, is still playing behind the curtain. He is giving all the orders, and if things are not in accordance with his will, he can turn everything around. That's why Burma's situation is very subtle and fragile, as I mentioned in my presentation.

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

In your testimony you spent a lot of time talking about the sanctions—

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Scott Reid

This will have to be very brief, as you are at your time.

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Okay. Sorry, Mr. Chair. I'll have to deal with it some other time.

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Scott Reid

Professor Cotler, please.

May 3rd, 2012 / 1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Dr. Htoo, I regret that I had to be in the House when you began your remarks today. When I walked in, you appeared to be referencing the issue that I do want to ask you a question about, and that has to do with the whole matter of freedom of expression.

As you know, today is World Press Freedom Day, on which we celebrate freedom of expression, which the Internet and the social media actually underpinned and helped propel the Arab Spring, certainly in its earlier manifestations.

But we then saw how that freedom of expression, even in the Arab Spring, became criminalized, as in the case of Egyptian blogger Michael Nabil, and also in the case of the U.K.-based journalist, Marie Colvin, who was murdered in Syria. We've also witnessed attempts by government to establish an Internet firewall to exclude the use of the Internet, as Iran is now doing.

So my question to you is, what role did the social media play with respect to the movement and transition to democracy in Burma? Is Burma still criminalizing freedom of expression? What has been the situation with regard to political prisoners or dissidents who have been released? Have they been targeted, or are they free to engage in their advocacy? Also, has Burma sought, like Iran, to build a firewall and quarantine expression re the Internet?

1:45 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Friends of Burma

Tin Maung Htoo

To answer that question, there are a few things in my mind. This morning I got a report from an international media advocacy organization. That report pointed out that the Burmese government is using a firewall from China. They got the software, the technology, from China.

But the question is, are they actually using that firewall to block social media? That is the question. As far as I can see—I am quite adept on Facebook and also on Twitter—as of now, people can freely post their information or share information, including pictures. Things, as they are opening, are quite encouraging. No action has been taken against this kind of movement or, I would say, freedom. How far that will be sustained is really the question.

I think that's why it's a very fragile situation. We cannot say for sure that Burma is totally free in terms of media freedom or in terms of freedom of expression, but we are closely monitoring. On the one hand, things are opening in the country for the economy and for free expression. On the other hand, they have some technology they have already acquired. If things are not in accordance with their own way, then they can block at any time and they can pre-empt everything.

That is the situation we see in Burma.

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

On the political prisoners who have been released and then have returned to engage in political advocacy, have they been left alone once they were released?

1:45 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Friends of Burma

Tin Maung Htoo

Yes. I haven't heard of any arrests related to the use of the Internet or freedom of expression in the past few months. That is a good sign. Some bloggers and some media people, such as journalists, were also released in the past few months. That is a good sign.

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Scott Reid

We are going now to Mr. Sweet and Mr. Hiebert, who will be dividing the next round. We'll go to Mr. Sweet first.