Background on the Burmese
Burma has been under military dictatorship since 1962. In 1988 the military-led State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) took control of the country and brutally suppressed pro-democracy uprisings. The elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrrest in July, 1995 but not permitted to travel freely or resume her position as the secretary general of the National League for Democracy (NLD). She is a Nobel Prize Laureate and gave the opening keynote address via videotape at the NGO forum on Women, Beijing, 1995.
Regime and AIDS
Last year, as before, the United Nations passed a resolution stating that the government should stop "torture, abuse of women, forced labour and forced relocations and summary executions." The resolution also called on the SLORC to begin a political dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, to release other prisoners, to restore fundamental freedoms of expression and assemby, to end forced labor, and to allow Red Cross officials access to the country's jails and prisoners. The documentation of the violations of human rights is endless including the torture and murder of political prisoners.
Burma has the third highest number of people with HIV in Asia. At the Third International Conference on AIDS in Asia, September 1995, Myo Thant, senior economist with Asian Development Bank predicted that there would be 600,000 people with HIV by the end of 1996. There is little access to condoms or needles and there is no blood screening before transfusions. The country also has a high case load of malaria and tuberculosis. The country is entering a drastic health catastrophe, yet the SLORC allocated over 60% to the military and only 1.2% of the national budget last year to health care. This figure roughly translates into three kyat (two cents) being spent on each person per year.
Dr. Bo Kywe, deputy director AIDS/STD Control, Yangon is co-author of the study being presented. At last year's international conference on AIDS in Asia he was quoted as saying that "My belief is that the HIV/AIDS issue should not be politicised." . . . "It is a national concern, but to be frank, we have very limited resources." Any large-scale educational preventative program would be difficult to launch without additional funds. He also stated that the total aid by United Nations organizations to help Burma fight AIDS and HIV amounts to about U.S.$1.5 million a year (Reuters). Some analysts believe that the presence of international NGOs in Burma enables the government to rely on these organizations to take on the full responsibility of overseeing and administering national health care services and basically let SLORC off the hook. Even if this presentation could be believed, the SLORC would be taking credit for work being done by NGOs.
In 1995 Aung San Suu Kyi began setting up a sort of shadow government with committees for health and welfare. She has been urging NGOs and others to work through these committees instead of SLORC ministries. Daw Suu has asked companies not to invest and governments not to provide foreign aid until democracy is restored, but few have listened.
Pressure is building within the business community. Companies that no longer do business in Burma include Bank of Nova Scotia, Eddie Bauer, Liz Claiborne, Reebok, Amoco, Petro Canada, Levi Strauss, Yukong, Korea, Royal Dutch Shell, and BHP Petrolium, Australia.