Roland Watson
May 2007

Often the question is asked: What can we who are outside Burma do to make a real difference in the struggle for freedom? Other than funding the armed resistance groups, which many people are unwilling to do, there are few choices.

Most of the tactics of modern activism, and which do have a positive effect in other important social movements, achieve nothing with the SPDC. Than Shwe ignores petitions, letters, and even demonstrations and lobbying.

For the democracy movement to have any impact at all, we have to hurt him. We have to hurt the SPDC and its supporters. Anything that we do that doesn’t accomplish this is a waste of time and money.

Recently, an event occurred that revealed an important weakness in the enemy, and therefore a crucial opportunity.

In late March, Mia Farrow, an actress and a goodwill ambassador for Unicef (, together with Ronan Farrow, who is a law student at Yale University, wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal titled, The ‘Genocide Olympics.’ They called for pressure against China, the host of the 2008 Olympics, and the Games’ corporate sponsors.

Their argument is that China is the leading supporter of Omar al-Bashir, the dictator of Sudan, who is committing genocide against the people of the Darfur region. China buys two-thirds of Sudan’s oil exports, and together with Russia supplies its military with the weapons that are being used in the genocide.

The week after the editorial was published, China sent a diplomatic envoy to Sudan. The week after that al-Bashir relented on a long-standing demand from the international community, and agreed to allow U.N. peacekeeping forces to enter Darfur and join the African Union forces already stationed there.

This event shows that China has great leverage over its clients, and is vulnerable on the issue of the Olympics. The dictators of the Communist Politburo are extremely sensitive and will respond to anything that might threaten the Games.

China should be criticized, and the Genocide Olympics boycotted, for Burma as much as for Sudan. As its veto (together with Russia) of the Security Council resolution against the SPDC demonstrates, it is the bulwark of the junta.

In Darfur, over 2.5 million people have been displaced. In Burma, it’s 2 million. In Darfur, reportedly 200,000 villagers and internally displaced persons have been killed. For Burma, while we do not have accurate comparable information, a huge number of people have been killed by Tatmadaw troops, or died from disease and malnutrition as a result of having their homes and lives destroyed.

Genocide, in any case, is not about numbers. It’s about intent, the intent to destroy all or part of a distinct ethnic, racial or religious group. When the Tatmadaw attacks ethnic villages, if the villagers didn’t have forests to hide in they would be slaughtered outright. It is still attempted genocide, even if they are able to escape mass murder by living rough in the mountains or taking refuge in Thailand.

Darfur has been publicly labeled genocide. Burma has not, but this is largely a matter of semantics. It also reflects the international community’s unwillingness to acknowledge that there is a second genocide underway in the world, as this would force it to become involved.

Some people may say that what is happening in Eastern Burma is not genocide. I question their motives. For damn sure it’s ethnic cleansing, and at a minimum a formal Security Council investigation needs to be opened, and U.N. peacekeeping force organized.

There will be many demonstrations at the end of this month and beyond, on behalf of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burma democracy movement. All of these demos should have placards, banners and chants in opposition to the Genocide Olympics. Everyone who is interviewed by the media should make this a leading talking point.

We should also boycott the corporate sponsors. These include:

Adidas, Coca-Cola, Atos Origin, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Eastman Kodak, Lenova Group, McDonald’s, Panasonic, Samsung, Swatch, Visa, and Voltzwagen.

The Farrow editorial further pilloried film director Steven Spielberg, who is assisting with the Games’ opening ceremony, comparing him to Leni Riefenstahl, who helped Adolf Hitler publicize the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Mr. Spielberg is Jewish, and has documented the Holocaust. It is hypocritical for him to assist China, a co-perpetrator of genocide in other countries, and which brutally subjugates its own people. (Amnesty International recently reported that China is using the Games as an excuse to increase its internal repression.)

Mr. Spielberg is therefore a legitimate demonstration target. In his case protest letters may have an impact. His address is DreamWorks SKG, 1000 Flower Street, Glendale, CA 91201. He would certainly also be a candidate for a biting slogan on a protest sign.

As time passes, we should expand this boycott to the athletes, and call upon them not to participate unless there is serious progress made both in Burma and Darfur. Moreover, everyone should boycott anything “Made in China.” It is well documented that the rural residents who migrate to China’s cities are subjected to factory and dormitory conditions that are equivalent to slavery. Everyone would now agree that it was morally reprehensible to benefit in any way from the black Africans who were brought to America to be slaves. Buying Chinese goods from Wal-Mart and other stores in the U.S., and around the world, legitimizes this new example of slavery. It also degrades the morality of anyone who buys such goods.

The Genocide Olympics begin August 8, 2008, which is also the twentieth anniversary of the massacre in the cities of Burma, through which the democracy movement was crushed. This is an insult to all the people of Burma. It also means that this opportunity, to pressure China, has a limited duration. We have just over a year to push on this point again and again, to get China to back down, including in the Security Council, and to leave the SPDC open and exposed.

The people inside Burma can participate as well, by boycotting Chinese merchants. I noted in my article, Lessons from the American Revolution, that American colonists in their protest of British rule launched non-importation movements – boycotts – of British goods. I did this in the hope that Burmese activists inside the country might begin a similar initiative. It is worrisome that this has not occurred. What does it mean that the people of Burma are not willing to boycott their oppressors?

The Olympics in China are properly going to be contentious and controversial. They should never have been awarded to Beijing. They were a gift from the last dictator of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, to the leading political dictatorship on earth. Everyone has a responsibility to do something about this. We want the Genocide Olympics to completely and utterly fail. What Hitler did in 1936, using the Games to promote his own plans for supremacy, cannot be repeated by China.

There are many Burmese people, and international parties, who do not want Burma to be free. They preoccupy the movement by arguing ad nauseam about such things as sanctions and humanitarian aid programs, as a means to divert our attention from the types of actions that would lead to the defeat of Than Shwe. For everyone who sincerely wants to see the end of the SPDC, there is now something that we can do.