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Women's International League for Pe
Subject: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (Australia) letter to Foreign Minister re sanctions
Here is a copy of a letter which we sent yesterday to our Australian
Minister for Foreign Affairs about sanctions. We have found this email
discussion group very useful for background information in writing this
letter. We will let you know of any reply (!) we may receive from the
We also emailed our international office in Geneva who have recently sent
three letters: to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, to the
Secretary-General and to the Thai Ambassador at the UN concerning the
situation for refugees along the Thai-Burma border.
Coincidentally, our organisation yesterday celebrated our 82nd birthday.
The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom was founded in 1915
when a group of 1,000 came together from all around the globe to end the
war that was then raging in Europe. The organisation grew out of the
Women's Suffrage Alliance.
Finally, I would like to thank people on this list for your support, your
commitment to change and your inspiration. It helps us all to keep going
with the work we need to do in order to turn around events in Burma and
elsewhere and to end the classist, war-prone societies in which we
For WILPF in Australia
WOMEN'S INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE FOR PEACE AND FREEDOM
GPO BOX 2094
ADELAIDE SOUTH AUSTRALIA 5001
28 April, 1997
Hon Alexander Downer MHR
Minister for Foreign Affairs
CANBERRA ACT 2600
Re Economic Sanctions Against Myanmar (Burma)
We write to you on this matter following the imposition last Tuesday of
limited economic sanctions against Burma by the United States.
According to Amnesty International, the situation in Burma has worsened
over the last year. The US State Department's annual report for 1996
similarly criticised the "arbitrary and sometimes brutal dictates of the
military dictatorship" there. In addition, as President Clinton outlined
in his statement last Tuesday, "under this brutal military regime, Burma
remains the world's leading producer of opium and heroin, and tolerates
drug trafficking and traffickers in defiance of the views of the
The European Union has also recently extended its existing sanctions
against Burma for a further six months in response to the refusal of the
country's military regime to stop human rights abuses.
On April 15 this year, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights issued
the strongest ever statement of condemnation towards the SLORC. It
communicated "deep concern...over recent attacks on ethnic nationalities
resulting in death, destruction, and displacement." An estimated 110,000
individuals are currently living in refugee camps in Thailand with
continued threats of repatriation by the Royal Thai Government. For
months, the UN has been stymied in trying to send a special rapporteur to
Burma to investigate the government's massive use of forced labour to
construct roads, bridges and railways to attract foreign investors, their
widespread use of torture, arrests of political activists and other abuses.
The US Embassy in Rangoon estimates that approximately 3 percent of
Myanmar's gross domestic product is generated by forced labour, and names
the country's military, also known as the Union of Myanmar Economic Holding
Company Ltd., as a leading joint-venture partner with foreign investors.
The government of Myanmar has also refused to allow the Secretary-General's
representative to facilitate a dialogue between the government, Aung San
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy and ethnic minority leaders, as
requested by the UN General Assembly.
The leader of the NLD and the legitimately elected premier of her country,
Aung San Suu Kyi, has for some years been calling for economic sanctions to
be enacted by the international community against the SLORC regime as a
tool to press them for genuine reforms and to bring them to hold talks with
the democratic opposition. She has welcomed the recent statement by
President Bill Clinton that the US will finally give effect to the
Cohen-Feinstein amendment by imposing investment sanctions against Burma.
In view of these circumstances, we believe that the time is right for the
Australian government to move in exerting some economic leverage to bring
about the changes long called for by Aung San Suu Kyi. ASEAN is due to
make a decision in July concerning Burma's member status along with
Cambodia and Laos. While members of ASEAN claim that isolating Burma is
counterproductive and argue that change will come gradually as Burma's
leaders are exposed to free market economics and principles, we in
Australia must face the fact that our failure to follow the US by imposing
economic sanctions at this time will be taken as a signal by Mahathir and
other ASEAN leaders that Australia supports their agreeing to taking Burma
into ASEAN at this time.
To put it simply, whatever we do (or fail to do) will influence the outcome
of events. In the face of Aung San Suu Kyi's consistent calls for the
imposition of economic sanctions, there can be no "fence-sitting" on this
issue. Failure on the part of the Australian government to enact sanctions
at this time will be viewed by Malaysia and other ASEAN states (and of
course by the NLD itself) as tacit support of the SLORC's repressive
regime. We believe that it is not overstating the case to say that it will
also function as such.
We therefore call on the Australian government to take all the necessary
steps to actively discourage Australian companies from doing business in
Burma until the use of forced labour has been ended and the International
Labor Organisation is given free access to verify this.
As a member of the Asian region, and as a democratic nation state in our
region, it is incumbent upon Australia to take action in the present
circumstances. Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy
deserve our support in this matter.
We look forward to your reply.
Yumi Lee and Cathy Picone
Joint National Coordinators