Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


May 18, 2008

Please forward.

Note: We would like to alert everyone to the website Defence and Community, which promotes the humanitarian roles of the armed forces.

The first poll of the so-called constitutional referendum is over, and the SPDC has already declared victory, with fantasy numbers of a 99% turnout and a 92% approval rate. The junta’s main objective of guaranteeing that there would not be a repeat of 1990, when the people of Burma voted decisively against the dictatorship, has been accomplished.

Make no mistake, though, this was not a vote. If you arrive at the polls only to learn that you have already checked yes, or are threatened with three years in prison if you vote freely, then it is not a referendum. This was just a staged act in an obscene play directed by Than Shwe. There is no need for the regime to even hold the second round on the 24th, although it will probably do so just to complete the fraud.

Contrary to expectations, the real turnout was quite low. Also, there were apparently only a few incidents of protest. The people in the areas of the country where the vote was held were stunned by the death and devastation of the cyclone. In the affected areas themselves, the only priority has been to survive.

What is truly despicable about the tragedy is that it has actually been beneficial to certain parties. For the junta, it created a massive distraction from the referendum. There has been far less international scrutiny and criticism than would otherwise have occurred. Plus, the regime even got the opportunity to steal some of the foreign aid.

Even more darkly, the catastrophe benefited the international community. Had the only focus been the referendum, the popular demand for a response from the IC would have been unrelenting. Instead, the countries and leaders of the world were given an out: They could concentrate exclusively on the cyclone. Starting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, they had the opportunity to make a show of caring, although they really don’t, and even to express outrage.

The height of this cynicism was French FM Kouchner’s call to invoke the U.N.’s responsibility to protect. For people who are not informed about international affairs, this is known as posturing. Kouchner knew full well that such an idea would go nowhere, given the opposition in the Security Council from China and Russia. But he earned his points, and diverted people from his true view, which as we noted in our last statement he revealed late last year, when he said that France was not seeking the end of the regime. He may disapprove of the junta’s response to the cyclone, but his real position is that he wants the generals to stay in power. (Otherwise, French oil company Total could lose its contract.)

If the international community is looking for a reason to invoke the responsibility to protect, it could have used the SPDC’s ethnic cleansing in eastern Burma (including along Total’s Yadana pipeline), for the last twenty years. There was no need to wait for a cyclone. Also, even if Than Shwe ultimately lets some disaster relief reach the cyclone victims, they will remain extremely vulnerable. Malnutrition is the norm in Burma, particularly for children, and this will grow to starvation now that the rice crop has been destroyed. It is of course also still the case that anyone in Burma can be arrested by the regime, and then tortured and murdered, at any time.

Burma does need a humanitarian intervention, not for the cyclone, but to get rid of the SPDC. We have been calling for this for years, including in the following articles and statements:

September 2007 – End the bloodshed!
April 2006 – The crisis in Burma demands intervention!
January 2005 – The logic of military intervention
September 2002 – Foreign policy analysis: interference and intervention
March 2002 – Military intervention in Burma

If President Bush’s condemnations of the junta were sincere, American units from the Cobra Gold exercise with Thailand would be redirected and Burma would be free of its tyrants right now. This would certainly be a good use of what to date has been an expensive but largely pointless exercise. (If you’re not training to respond to real emergencies, what’s the point of training at all?)

There is no way to calculate how many people died in Cyclone Nargis – many bodies were washed out to sea, nor to estimate the number of victims in its aftermath. One thing is patently clear, though: The wrong people in Burma are dying.

Dictator Watch is opposed to capital punishment, but we will make an exception to this position in extreme circumstances. It is actually an interesting question – in a perverse sense: How many people does someone have to kill before you conclude that the best option is simply to eradicate him or her from the earth? The SPDC has killed thousands of people directly in Burma, and acted such that hundreds of thousands if not millions of others have died.

Than Shwe, Maung Aye and Shwe Mann clearly meet the threshold. There is also no need to wait for a tribunal for crimes against humanity.

The people of Burma are in shock, but with time they will recover. They have also demonstrated unbelievable tolerance of their suffering, but this too is changing. To all the people who opposed the referendum, including through public actions such as graffiti and posting fliers, what will you do next? To the monks, is your alms boycott still in place? And for the top officers of the armed resistance groups, both non-ceasefire and ceasefire, are you really rebels fighting for freedom, or are you simply trying to preserve your own personal status quo?