Mr. Speaker, in the last several months Burma has received unprecedented worldwide attention, and justly so.
Burma is a beautiful country situated between Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand with an extensive coastline along the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal. There are approximately 55 million people living in Burma in an area a little bigger than the province of Alberta and slightly larger than Afghanistan.
Other than Burmans, which make up 60% of the population, there are over 100 ethnic groups, including Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Karenni, Chin, Mon, Rakhine and Shan, nearly 90% of which are Buddhist.
Sadly, however, it is a country wrought with suffering and human rights abuses.
Burma achieved independence from Britain in 1948, thus calling itself the “Union of Burma”. After the 8888 student uprising on August 8, 1988, the State Law and Order Restoration Council, or SPDC, also known as SLORC, changed the name to the “Union of Myanmar” when it officially seized power. This change has never been recognized by opposition groups nor many English speaking nations. The junta also changed the capital city from Rangoon to Naypyidaw in 2006.
Governments, international institutions and human rights organizations around the world have condemned the military junta's repressive policies and human rights abuses. Violations include rape, arbitrary executions, torture, inhumane treatment, mass arrests, forced labour, forced relocation and denial of freedom of assembly, association, expression and movement. Burma transports trafficked persons, primarily women and girls, to Thailand as factory workers, household servants and for sexual exploitation.
Burma is also one of the poorest countries in the world. It is ruled by one of the world's most brutal military juntas. The military regime forcibly recruits up to 70,000 child soldiers and uses rape as a weapon of war.
Burma is the second largest producer of heroin in the world.
Opponents of the military regime are imprisoned and tortured, including more than 1,100 political prisoners, 13 of whom are fellow members of parliament.
Today nearly 150,000 Burmese refugees and internally displaced persons live in camps along the Thai border, camps that are constantly under attack by the military.
Since its independence from Britain, Burma established a parliamentary democracy. However, due to the military coup in 1962, democracy was crushed, leading to decades of civil war between the military and numerous ethnic groups.
Since the military junta took over, people in Burma have had to face adversities that we in the west can barely imagine.
None of this was more clear than the junta's attacks on innocent monks in 2007 and the recent response to Cyclone Nargis, which devastated nearly the entire Irrawaddy delta region.
As chair of Parliamentary Friends of Burma, it is my honour to work with organizations such as Inter Pares, Canadian Friends of Burma and Rights & Democracy to bring these issues to the forefront and to keep them there.
Last winter I travelled to the Thai-Burma border to show our support for the people of Burma and to find out what else Canada could do. I met with numerous groups and ethnic nationalities, listened to their stories, asked their opinions and brought back with me advice and hope.
By now most members, if not all, know of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest in Rangoon for almost 20 years. Some members have met with her cousin Sein Win, elected prime minister of Burma, who was exiled in 1990 after her party won the democratic election.
Members will remember that in September 2007 the military junta issued a crackdown on thousands of peaceful protestors, raiding monasteries, indiscriminately arresting Buddhist monks and civilians, beating, shooting, killing, including Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai.
We watched safely from afar the devastation and death caused by Cyclone Nargis just a few short weeks ago. The death toll is estimated at over 100,000. Two and a half million people who survived now face homelessness, starvation and disease. The military junta's inaction, mishandling and hindrance in distribution of international aid only made it worse.
We cannot forget these things.
PFOB has been working hard to keep Burma in the spotlight. Our members have petitioned Ivanhoe Mines and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which hold shares with Ivanhoe. We have held press conferences, attended rallies and posted petitions and motions in the House.
We met with Burmese monks, including Venerable Pannya Vamsa, Chair of the International Burmese Monks Organization—