Democracy to Burma: A Strengthened Resolve
spoken to by
David Kilgour, P.C., M.P.
of State (Asia-Pacific) and MP
the occasion of the 15th
Anniversary of 8 - 8 - 88 Uprising in
Mennonite Centre for Newcomers
Permit me to recognise
and thank Burma Watch International for
its excellent work in raising awareness
and generating ideas about how we can
bring democracy back to Burma.
Today, as we remember those
freedom-fighters who died 15 years ago in
the streets of Burma’s cities,
also remember the recent passing of
one of Burma Watch’s founding members:
the Mahadevi of Yawnghwe, Sao Nang Hearn
Kham, who lived in Edmonton for many
The Mahadevi of Yawnghwe
She was a shining
the resilience and courage of
She fought through great adversity,
always remaining true to the land she
She was a pillar of strength, no
more so than when Burma gained its hard
fought independence in 1948.
With her passing and particularly
today, we are reminded of the need to
persevere and remain vigilant until Burma
is a truly free and democratic country.
Visualising Burma as
free and democratic is difficult during
these trying times.
Fifteen years ago, the population
rose up and demanded change.
Twenty-six years of Ne Win’s
authoritarian rule had exhausted their
they refused to stand by passively
and watch another unelected government
And so, fully conscious of the
auspicious nature of striking on the eight
day, on the eight month, of 1988,
Burma’s population, by the millions –
led by its young people – peacefully
protested. The tragic outcome, we know all too well.
The 8-8-88 Massacre
Dr. Alice was there 15
If I can quote something she
published in 1998, recalling that day’s
Helpless: it’s what the people in
the streets of Rangoon felt when the
soldiers opened fire on the crowd;
Helpless: it’s what
the families of the estimated 6000
innocent men, women, and children felt
when they found out their loved ones had
been killed by the government;
Helpless: it’s what many of us
probably felt a little over two months
ago, on May 30th, when Aung San
Suu Kyi was rearrested.
Yet, even August 8th,
1988, had its silver lining.
That month’s tumultuous events
catapulted Aung San Suu Kyi onto the world
stage and gave Burma’s opposition a
unified figure to stand behind – 80% of
whom had voted for her two short years
Similarly, perhaps May 30th,
2003, will be a day that truly galvanizes
the international community and Burma’s
neighbours to once and for all tell
General Than Shwe and his regime that
enough is enough: Burma must be free.
I have to admit that
preparing for this talk was challenging
and quite frankly something of a reality
Newspaper reports filed during and
shortly after the massacre of 8 - 8 - 88
could well have been filed again last week
without changing much except for some
Replace Ne Win with Than Shwe and
you might not even realise that we’re
talking about an event that happened 15
A Reuters story
published on August 11th, 1988
quotes some of the protestors as chanting
“Shoot us. We can’t get rice and curry
and so we might as well be dead.”
The story goes on to talk about how
food and fuel shortages, bad planning, and
massive inflation catalysed the protests.
A Washington Post story published
soon thereafter talked about how Burma’s
main export industries, namely rice,
minerals, and even oil, had atrophied
after a quarter century of economic
And even back then, according to
the Associated Press, analysts and Burma
experts in the region were not optimistic
about meaningful change in Burma.
Canadians responses since 8-8-88
language being used by Canada and other
nations in response to these events, for
better or for worse, hasn’t really
changed much either.
In September of 1988, then
Secretary of State for External Affairs,
the RT. Hon. Joe Clark “condemned the
use of violence by the military forces
against those protesting” and “ called
upon Burmese authorities to cease such
activities and begin the process of
creating a dialogue with the people of
A little more than three years
later, Secretary of State Barbara
McDougall “deplored the treatment.” of
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and called for her
immediate release from prison.
In 1992 and 1997,
Canada publically called on the
Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)
to take more ownership of the Burma
situation, and convince the generals to
hand over power to elected officials.
Last October, some of you may have
heard me make these very same statements
in a speech at a Canadian Friends of Burma
conference in Ottawa.
Finally, several weeks ago,
Minister Bill Graham again “deplored”
the actions of Burma’s generals and
called, yet again, for Daw Aung San Suu
Kyi’s immediate release from prison.
Is the situation that
On the surface, it doesn’t seem
There are still over 1300 political
prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi,
languishing in Burma’s notorious jails.
The country remains desperately
No one has suffered more than
Once the breadbasket of SE Asia,
Burma has become one of the least
developed countries in Asia
-- not because it lacks the
resources or the means to be prosperous
because of the nature of the regime that
rules it; a regime that shows no regard
for the well being of the population and
ultimately, a regime that has changed
little, except in name, in the last 40
All of us activists, politicians,
Canadians of all backgrounds, have grown
frustrated and angry at this situation.
Following the terrible events of
Friday, May 30th, I firmly
believe that our resolve has strengthened
and that the days of Burma’s ruling
generals are now waning.
Canada’s response to May 30th, 2003
There are a number of
reasons why I am convinced of this.
First, none of us has sat by
passively and watched this happen.
Canadians have consistently
responded in a strong manner to the
We were one of the first countries
to suspend bilateral aid and official
commercial relations in 1988.
We were also one of the first
countries to implement export controls
and, post-1997, call on Canadian companies
to suspend further investment.
Burma is not eligible for
Canada’s Market Access Initiative for
Least Developed Countries. This is no token gesture.
For instance, Cambodia, which was
one of the first countries to sign on to
the initiative last summer, has shown a
132% increase in exports to Canada between
the first quarter of 2002 and first
quarter of 2003.
On July 10th,
in response to terrible events of May 30th,
we announced new measures against Burma.
These measures are in response to
complete lack of a genuine commitment by
the regime to initiate a transition to
What we’ve tried to do is target
the officials responsible who perpetuate
Senior officials of
the government and military are now banned
from entering Canada.
Canadian immigration officials will
ensure that those responsible for
egregious human rights violations will not
receive visas to Canada.
We have imposed travel restrictions
on Burmese diplomats in Canada.
They are now required to notify the
Canadian government before leaving the
We have tried to raise
the profile of what doing business in
Burma means, whether through tourism or
Minister Graham and I have gone to
great lengths to remind Canadians that
tourism in Burma provides direct financial
support to the regime who benefit from
foreign exchange, government run hotels
and travel operators. We’ve reiterated to Canadian companies NOT to engage
in further investment agreements or
commercial ventures in Burma until there
is marked improvement in the political
In a meeting a few months ago with
a senior executive from Ivanhoe, I told
him in no uncertain terms that we do not
support its continued investment in Burma.
Some observers argue
that Canada should go further, banning
trade and investment altogether through
the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA).
We examined this possibility, but
determined that acting without the rest of
the international community would be
fruitless. The government of Canada firmly believes multilateral efforts
are the best way to resolve situations
such as we face with Burma.
Consequently, we are
making every effort to the have the
region’s conduct raised in international
We are working at the United
Nations with other concerned countries to make
clear that the latest
actions by the regime and their continued
failure to engage in democratic dialogue
are not acceptable to the international
delivered this message clearly in June at
the ASEAN Regional Forum in Cambodia.
There has been movement on this
For the first time ever, ASEAN has
chastised one of its members for its
actions, it will send a delegation to
Rangoon to press for Aung San Suu Ki’s
Governments in the region are
speaking up like never before:
ASEAN’s elder statesman,
Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahatir
Mahamad, has said that Burma should be
threatened with expulsion from ASEAN if it
fails to release Aung San Suu Kyi.
Japan, one of Burma’s largest
sources of economic assistance, has
suspended new funds over recent events.
These are the sorts of action and
statements we need if we ever want to see
real change in Burma.
In the meantime,
Canada and other like-minded countries
have announced that we’re all looking at
how we can better support and encourage
And of course, we will continue to
support the work of true heroes like Dr.
Cynthia (Maung) and Dr. Alice (Khin) in
the refugee communities along the borders.
Democracy in Burma’s future?
I’d like to close if
I can on a positive note.
As we remember those who lost their
lives 15 years ago in the name of Burmese
democracy, it’s important to recall just
how much the world has changed in the last
The manner by which Burma’s
govern is a dying form.
The greatest achievement of the
last century is that democracy has spread
and taken root across most of the planet.
At the 2nd ministerial
meeting of the
Communities of Democracy Conference
held last October, former-Korean President
Kim reminded us that, “Out of 200-odd
countries in the world, 140 have adopted a
multi-party system. This is significant
progress, considering the feat that only
about 30 countries were rated as
democracies up until the mid-70s.”
In other words, there are few
places left in world where the concepts of
democracy, the rule of law and freedom do
Burma is one of them.
Burma’s generals will get the
message that their totalitarian rule is
Only government of by and for all
the Burmese peoples will bring prosperity
Working together, I
know we can get this message across and
bring freedom back to Burma.