Two reports in the last two days show that the military junta in Burma, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), is not prepared to remove its “pariah” status in the international community - which is the strongest reason why ASEAN should not admit Burma into the regional organisation this year.
On Friday in Geneva, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child urged Burma to end what it called systematic, forced enrolment of children in the Burmese army and called for "urgent efforts to end child military conscription and forced use of children as porters for the army."
Yesterday, SLORC announced that it had convicted 20 persons for inciting student protests in December and each had been sentenced to seven years in prison. The sentencing followed secret trials under emergency legislation passed 46 years ago and frequently used against political dissidents.
Those imprisoned include six members of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy while the identities of the other 14 people given prison sentences are not known.
Also yesterday, the Burmese security forces blocked one of Suu Kyi's senior deputies from entering Rangoon's holiest shrine to meet supporters braving the military regime's crackdown on political dissent. Police and soldiers told Tin Oo, 69, vice chairman of the National League for Democracy, not to climb a steep staircase to a hill topped by the gilded Shwedagon Pagoda, where 30 supporters were waiting for him to speak.
Meanwhile, university campuses at the heart of the student unrest in Rangoon last month remain closed.
These are not the only marks of SLORC’s “pariah” status in the international community.
On 12th December last year, the United Nations General Assembly in a resolution adopted without a vote specifically referred to Burma, asking SLORC to permit unrestricted access to Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and to hold substantive dialogue with her, other political leaders and ethnic representatives. SLORC was also urged to release political prisoners, allow citizens to participate freely in the political process, and to end torture, abuse of women, forced labour and relocations and summary executions.
Last June, the 83rd International Labour Conference of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva specifically referred to child labour and abuses under the SLORC regime, including child-trafficking routes from Burma.
On the drug trafficking front, Burma has more than doubled its illicit drug exports since the SLORC takeover in 1988.
The United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) reported at the UN-sponsored Heads of Narcotics Law Enforcement Agencies international meeting in November last year that the Asian heroin trade reaps US$63 billion in profits annually. Burma is by far the largest exporter in the region, providing over 50 percent of the world's supply. Various reports have highlighted the integration of narco dollars into the Burmese national economy with one study estimating that at least 50 percent of Burma's economy is unaccounted for and extralegal.
What is most shocking and intolerable is that SLORC had remained unmoved to demands by international opinion for greater respect for human decency and dignity for the people of Burma so as to cease to be regarded as an international “pariah” state.
ASEAN’s international reputation and credibility will suffer a severe blow if SLORC is admitted into the regional organisation without having to make serious efforts to remove its “pariah” status in the international community.