Mr. Speaker, I move that the second report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade presented Wednesday, December 15, 2004, be concurred in.
It is with considerable emotion that I present this report. The Burmese and friends of Burma are working tirelessly to revive democracy in their country.
A motion was brought before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which it debated after receiving the subcommittee's proposal, and the amended motion became the second report. While watered down somewhat, it remains strong and deserves to be read and debated in this House in view of the ongoing drama in Burma.
I will read the motion first, which will provide a review of the situation.
That the Committee is of the opinion that the government must:
I would point out here that this is what we too want from the Canadian government, which can talk the talk, but appears less consistent and determined in its actions. I will continue with my quote:
a) condemn more forcefully the repeated and systematic human rights violations committed by the military junta in power in Burma, particularly those involving certain minority groups, including arrests and imprisonment without trial, summary and arbitrary executions, torture, rape, kidnappings of women, men and children, forced labour, denial of fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of assembly, association and expression, the recruitment of child soldiers and massive relocations of civilian populations;
Furthermore, the government must,
b) urge the authorities in Burma to release immediately and unconditionally all political prisoners, in particular Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), to end their harassment of them, to abolish all repressive laws and measures contravening international human rights conventions, and to take action to end the appalling humanitarian crisis facing hundreds of thousands of displaced people and refugees at Burma’s borders—
Burma borders China, India, Bangladesh and Thailand.
We want the government to:
—provide tangible support to the legitimate authorities in Burma, specifically the government in exile—
That day a number of their representatives came to see us on the subcommittee, the standing committee, and the committee representing the people's Parliament.
We want to see the government impose:
—more comprehensive economic measures on Burma, and in particular:
-- review the effectiveness of the Export and Import Permits Act;
In reality, the prohibitions of that act are far from sufficient.
-- review the feasibility of fully invoking the Special Economic Measure Act;
Fully invoking that act requires that it be done with other countries.
-- impose a legal ban on further investment in Burma.
Further investment here means that investments in Burma will be halted under the terms of the act.
The government must:
e) bring pressure to bear on the United Nations Secretary General and the international community, in order to establish a framework, primarily though ensuring the spread of the embargo, to bring the military junta to negotiate a peaceful transition toward democracy, in cooperation with the NLD and representatives of ethnic minority groups, as set out in all the resolutions of the United Nations on Burma since 1994;
Finally, it is proposed that the government:
f) call upon the authorities in Burma to include the National League for Democracy (NLD) and other political parties in the on-going process of the National Convention, and warn that any outcome from the convention without the participation of the NLD and other parties will not be recognized.
Of course I must pay tribute to the work of the League for Democracy in Burma and all the friends of Burma here. I must also pay tribute to the member for Verchères—Les Patriotes, who, as member responsible for this issue, did excellent work and my colleague from Louis-Hébert, who, as current member responsible for this issue, continues the good work done by his predecessor.
It is important to realize that we are using rather strong terms in demanding additional action because Burma is one of those countries that, despite all the pressure from the international community and its citizens, continues to impose a violent dictatorship over a people that has been suffering a great deal for many years.
Since the beginning of my speech, I have been referring to this country as Burma, but I should point out that the junta has changed the name to Myanmar, which is the Burmese translation for Burma, thereby leaving out all the other minorities that make up this country and its people.
Burma has roughly 53 million inhabitants. It is a country the size of Alberta, rich in all sorts of natural resources, oil in particular, gas and precious stones, and rich in textiles and manufactured goods—inexpensive, as you might imagine. It is in an interesting political and geostrategic situation being between China and India.
In 1948, after gaining independence from Great Britain, a parliamentary democracy was formed, ending in 1962 with a military coup d'état. From 1974 to 1988, a single party took power and ran this country with an iron fist. In 1988, a student uprising against the dictatorship shook the country, while many other such uprisings were occurring in several other countries, including the former Soviet Union. In an extremely harsh and bloody manner, the junta quelled this uprising, during which at least 10,000 students were killed and thousands of others imprisoned.
But the pressure was so strong that, in 1990, the junta saw fit to allow a multiparty election to take place, figuring that it could survive it. With her tireless efforts and her fearlessness in the face of the junta, presidential candidate Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of one of Burma’s greatest independence heroes, symbolized what the Burmese people aspired to become. The junta had never thought that this candidate could be elected to lead the country as she was, sweeping 392 out of 484 parliamentary seats.
Even in the face of this stunning victory, the junta refused to step down. Prevaricating and failing to yield to various pleas from the international community, the junta is still in place. It has participated in a national convention process, but without the party that so clearly and indisputably won the election in 1990 being included.
I will point out that, since December last, the junta has been pressured by numerous countries to free Aung San Suu Kyi. Just recently, on April 23, while repeating over and over that the international community has been bringing pressure to bear for quite some time and that the junta still will not undertake the democratic reforms it has been asked to make, Kofi Annan once again asked that Aung San Suu Kyi be freed. A short time later, Tony Blair called on the international community to boycott tourism to Burma.
Significant pressure was brought to bear on Unocal, a major U.S. based oil company, to compensate Burmese villagers who suffered abuse during the construction of a pipeline. It is pretty astounding to learn that troops securing the pipeline route were charged with rape, murder and slavery. The company had to pay compensation to the villagers. It had to do so in one case at least.
I have learned that the International Labour Organization has threatened once again to crack down in Burma, where conditions of forced labour are still to be found. An international human rights organization is also accusing Burma of using chemical weapons against rebels in the country.
It is a veritable land of horror, and it is easy to imagine the sort of situation the country's inhabitants are finding themselves in. This is why Canada must play an important role not only diplomatically and politically, but economically as well. The junta is giving no sign of loosening its grip in any way. Having failed to apply the appropriate measures, the international community could be considered part of the problem in a way for doing nothing.
The witnesses testifying before the subcommittee, the work we did in committee, the support from all the opposition parties—although the motion, which had been adopted unanimously in the subcommittee, was adopted by a majority in committee—reveal the importance of this issue. I would have been very happy had the motion been adopted unanimously.
I think it could be. The economic demands are not overly brutal, on the contrary. It is like the action by the friends of Burma. They want effective action based on reason and likely to produce change. I repeat, they want us to review the effectiveness of the Export and Import Permits Act. There are no extreme measures in the act or in looking into feasibility or applying the Special Economic Measures Act to its fullest. It has to be put to use at some point.
On a number of occasions I indicated to the two previous foreign affairs ministers that they should amend this act so that Canada can, as required, make use of this Special Economic Measures Act on its own. Account must be taken of globalization, outsourcing and the roles played by many companies, Canadian companies included, in the outbreak or perpetuation of conflict throughout the world. We need only think of the role played by the mining companies in Africa. We need only hearken back to the inglorious role played by Talisman, which eventually sold its shares in Sudanese oil exploration .
The international community cannot allow companies to make a profit, a tidy profit at that, for their shareholders, with no thought to the terrific upheaval they are causing in many countries. This is why the Special Economic Measures Act also needs to be reviewed.
The measure being called for is a ban on any further investment.
This motion has afforded me this opportunity to speak, and I know that several others will speak as well. I see colleagues here from the various parties who sat on the committee and who supported the motion. I hope they will repeat that same message. No one can remain unmoved by the extreme suffering and repression being imposed by the Myanmar junta. We must fully support those in Burma and elsewhere, including of course Quebec and Canada, who are working to ensure that country rejoins the ranks of democracy.