Sunday, October 14, 2007

SPDC era

The current Head of State is Senior General Than Shwe who holds the title of "Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council." His appointed prime minister was Khin Nyunt until 19 October 2004, when he was forcibly deposed in favor of Gen. Soe Win. Almost all cabinet offices are held by military officers.

US and European government sanctions against the military government, combined with consumer boycotts and shareholder pressure organized by Free Burma activists, have succeeded in forcing most western corporations to withdraw from Burma. However, some western oil companies remain due to loopholes in the sanctions. For example, the French oil company Total S.A. and the American oil company Chevron continue to operate the Yadana natural gas pipeline from Burma to Thailand. Total (formerly TotalFinaElf) is the subject of a lawsuit in French and Belgian courts for alleged complicity in human rights abuses along the gas pipeline. Before it was acquired by Chevron, Unocal settled a similar lawsuit for a reported multi-million dollar amount. [4] Asian businesses, such as Daewoo, continue to invest in Burma, particularly in natural resource extraction.

The United States and European clothing and shoe industry became the target of Free Burma activists for buying from factories in Myanmar that were wholly or partly owned by the government or the military. Many stopped sourcing from Burma after protests, starting with Levi Strauss in 1992. From 1992 to 2003, Free Burma activists successfully forced dozens of clothing and shoe companies to stop sourcing from Burma. These companies included Eddie Bauer, Liz Claiborne, Macy's, J. Crew, JoS. A. Banks, Children's Place, Burlington Coat Factory, Wal-Mart, and Target. The U.S. government banned all imports from Burma as part of the "Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act" of 2003. Sanctions have been criticized for their adverse effects on the civilian population. However, Burmese democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly credited sanctions for putting pressure on the ruling military regime. [5][6]

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented egregious human rights abuses by the military government.[7] There is no independent judiciary in Burma and the military government suppresses political activity. The government restricts Internet access, including blocking of Google, Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail.[8] The government uses software-based filtering from US company Fortinet to limit the materials citizens can access on-line, including free email services, free web hosting and most political opposition and pro-democracy pages.[9]

In 2001, the government permitted NLD office branches to re-open throughout Burma. However, they were shut down or heavily restricted beginning 2004, as part of a government campaign to prohibit such activities. In 2006, many members resigned from NLD, citing harassment and pressure from the Tatmadaw (Armed Forces) and the Union Solidarity and Development Association.

The military government placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest again on May 31, 2003, following an attack on her convoy in northern Burma by a mob reported to be in league with the military. The regime extended her house arrest for yet another year in late November of 2005. Despite a direct appeal by Kofi Annan to Than Shwe and pressure from ASEAN, the Burmese government extended Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest another year on 27 May 2006.[10]

The junta faces increasing international isolation. Burma's situation was referred to the UN (United Nations) Security Council for the first time in December 2005 for an informal consultation. ASEAN has also stated its frustration with Burma's government. However, China and Russia continue to support the junta. Both countries vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Burma in January 2007.

According to Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP), on April 18, 2007, several of its members (Myint Aye, Maung Maung Lay, Tin Maung Oo and Yin Kyi) were met by approximately a hundred people led by a local USDA Secretary U Nyunt Oo and beaten up. Due to the attack, Myint Hlaing and Maung Maung Lay were badly injured and are now hospitalized. The HRDP believes that this attack was condoned by the authorities and vows to take legal action. Human Rights Defenders and Promoters was formed in 2002 to raise awareness among the people of Myanmar about their human rights.