This week, Naypyidaw’s public relations games reached a new low with Information Minister Kyaw Hsan’s interview in the Wall Street Journal. For the first time in years, a regime official met with a major Western news organisation in a three-hour-long interview only two days before the opening of the 19th ASEAN Summit in Bali, Indonesia, where the bloc was to decide on Burma’s bid for the chairmanship in 2014. Kyaw Hsan’s interview was a last attempt at charming ASEAN member states and strategic partners. The regime’s disinformation campaign paid off with ASEAN ultimately making the decision to grant Burma the Chair, the EU welcoming positive moves in the country in an official statement, and US President Barack Obama announcing the first visit to the country in 50 years of an American Secretary of State.
However, a simple glance at this week’s interview is enough to see through the military-led government’s public relations campaign and realize that the regime under President Thein Sein is not ready for genuine change.
Kyaw Hsan started his interview promoting the 2008 Constitution and the 2010 elections as being the foundation for democracy in Burma, stating that in “the constitution that we are exercising today, there are no rules that cannot be amended or cannot be repealed.”
The minister failed to mention that, under the 2008 Constitution, any constitutional amendment requires the support of at least 75% of representatives in both houses of Parliament, making such changes impossible without the military’s consent. In June of this year, the regime announced that the second session of Parliament would focus on amending or repealing existing laws that were either outdated or contravene international standards. However, all proposals that sought to repeal oppressive laws, including the Emergency Provisions Act, were rejected by military-aligned MPs.
The minister further stated that, “The 2010 election was a free and fair election. Many of the international organizations and NGOs admitted that the 2010 election was free and fair.” However, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the voting was held in conditions that were insufficiently inclusive, participatory and transparent and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said that, “the elections were neither free nor fair.”
Even more revealing that the regime has no intention to truly work for national reconciliation is Kyaw Hsan’s statement that, “there are no intentional human rights violations by the Tatmadaw […] Actually, the people who are violating human rights are the insurgents.”
Continuing to deny that human rights violations are occurring, when reports of serious international crimes actually increased since Thein Sein came to power and when the same abuses are reported by the UN Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in Burma, is a strong sign that the regime is not ready to put an end to these violations and start genuine dialogue with the ethnic armed groups.
The denial of human rights abuses continues when asked about the Shwe gas pipeline in Arakan State. Kyaw Hsan answered, “The accusations regarding these projects, the human rights that you mentioned, they are not based on the true situation, they are more like a negative campaign against the government.”
He continued, “If a member of the Tatmadaw violates any law or commits any crime, action will be taken against him.” Worse than omitting information or denying reality, this statement is a blatant lie in the face of all those who have suffered human rights abuses by the regime. Article 445 of the 2008 Constitution effectively bars the possibility that the regime could provide accountability for these crimes as it grants immunity from prosecution for state and military personnel.
Moreover, it is not the newly established National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that will end impunity in the country. The NHRC is nothing more than an “empty gesture” by the regime. The commission is made up of former regime officials, including individuals who have previously denied well-documented human rights abuses committed by the military regime and no information on its mandate has been provided.
On Burma’s notorious system of censorship, the Information Minister stated without guilt, “Today, our media, like your international media, are given the freedom as well as the responsibility to write whatever they think is for the interest of the public.” He forgot to mention that in the very same week, the notorious Press Scrutiny and Registration Division refused to allow the publication of certain remarks made by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and news reports covering protests by monks in Mandalay. Police also arrested and detained an activist on charges of breaching the Video Act after he allegedly filmed a protest by landless farmers in Irrawaddy Division two months ago.
Furthermore, a day after ASEAN’s decision to grant Burma the Chairmanship, Thein Sein stated that he “doesn’t agree with” the commonly-held belief that around 1,700 people are serving jail terms because of political activity. “We punished them because they violated the law,” he said. What Thein Sein neglects to mention is that many of the political prisoners were arrested under trumped-up criminal charges despite clearly political motives.
As part of a broader campaign of denial of well-documented human rights crimes and a well prepared disinformation operation, Kyaw Hsan ends his interview stating that “our politics today are changing both fundamentally and substantively.” After analysing this interview, it is clear that the regime’s discourse has not changed, yet again raising concerns about the sincerity of the regime’s recent actions and their willingness to truly bring democratic change and national reconciliation to Burma.Tags: ASEAN Chairmanship, Burma Partnership, Censorship, Information Minister Kyaw Hsan
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