6 December, 2019

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There Is More Freedom Of Expression In Burma Now Than In Sri Lanka – A conversation With U Nu’s Daughter

By Basil Fernando

Basil Fernando

We were one of the leading nations in agriculture and many other things in South East Asia. We have lost it all since the 1962 military takeover. Now advisors come from those countries, which were in very difficult position before 1962, to advice us on agriculture, and so many other things. Our health system has collapsed. Our education system, which was of the same quality as that in India those days, has now degenerated. Above all, our legal system does not exist at all. The courts are in neglected buildings, and they are quite dirty. Lawyers have to pay bribes to police officers. Corruption has got into everything … said Ms. Than Than Nu, the daughter of the first Prime Minister of Burma, Mr. U Nu, in a conversation with me and two of my colleagues today (27 November 2012) at her residence in Yangon.

Than Than Nu showed us her father’s autobiography written in Burmese that is reprinted after the recent lifting of censorship. Earlier, on three occasions, the military censor had refused permission to publish and had informed the publisher, not to bring it for a fourth time, as the censor himself had personally forbidden the publication.

After the censorship was lifted and the book reprinted, it has become a best seller. Some years ago this book was also translated into English under the title U Nu, the Saturday Born. Ms. Than Than informed us about the 1968 takeover and how the situation became worse by 1969 when their family had to flee from Burma. There was large-scale exodus of many, including the more educated sections of Burmese. She also spoke about how her father tried to organise an armed resistance from the Thai-Burmese border and how that too finally failed. Then the family went to India and Than Than returned only 2003. During exile, Than Than worked for the All India Radio, Burmese broadcast. She told us about how the broadcast from India became popular throughout Burma and the Burmese people across the world in those days of repression and how this broadcast was stopped after the Prime Minister Mr. Rajeev Gandhi’s assassination.

Answering our questions Than Than said that prior to 1962 there was a strong Supreme Court, a good judicial system and also a well placed legal profession. The law was respected and that was one of the reasons for the stability then. However after the military takeover, gradually, the judicial system came under the military control and lost its independence. Corruption was widespread and the people lost any trust in the legal process.

With the collapsing of the legal system, distrust about property rights spread and today one cannot be sure about ones ownership about anything. The government can confiscate anything and powerful persons can takeover any property. There are complaints about land grabbing everywhere.

Now there is an effort to make changes and Than Than believes that these are genuine efforts. However, there is also very strong resistance to change by those who have vested interests. They will try to resist many efforts for change. So there are formidable obstacles on the way. However the people are making efforts and they will fight on. Smaller parties like the Democratic Party to which Than Than belongs have also contributed to change though that is not noticed or talked about. What Than Than talked about regarding the dismal collapse of the rule of law system can easily be noticed everywhere. Than Than added that people talk about police reforms, but without judicial reforms, police reforms does not make any sense.

In a discussion with 30 young lawyers and political activists in Yangon on the rule of law, when a question was asked whether it is legal for policemen to beat-up people, the answer was that it happens in all police stations throughout the country. The idea whether something is legal or not, did not make sense to them.  If someone becomes a victim of crime it is hardly possible to expect any effective legal intervention or justice in any case. Corruption has got into everything and within that setup everyone knows that there is no real independence of the judiciary.

While these young lawyers and political activists are quite surprised and happy about the changes that are happening, like the beginning of the parliament where the opposition is actively participating in debates, and the lifting of censorship and the expansion of rights to have demonstrations, they were pessimistic about any rule of law emerging in the country in the near future. The lawlessness is so widespread that they are confused about how things could change. However many among them are persons who were imprisoned for political activism in the past, and they are determined to remain active for bringing more changes despite the confusion as to how this would be possible.

It is obvious that the media repression that prevails today in Sri Lanka has seized to exist in Burma. From the point of view of freedom of expression, and space for political activism, Burma now is a far better place than Sri Lanka.

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Latest comments

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    Not a surprise Burma is ruled by professional soldiers. Sri Lanka is ruled by street thugs.
    As far as Tamisl are concerned, when the murderers guns are turned on to the cheering squad of the murders of 150,000 innocent Tamils in aApril -May of 2009, they need to rejoice watching the fun

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    Burma has learnt a hard lesson after 60 years of military dictatorship. Now Rajapaksa is reinventing the wheel, after 60 years of communal conflict he is moving into a military dictatorship. Maybe after another 60 years we can learn our folly.

    Burma also had all the meaans of aligning with China or Russia. They are rich in energy resources but now they have decided to come back to the West. Our Mahadanamutta and Modayas such as Modawansa and the other anti imperialistic deshapremi gang always attack the West. As a result we lost GPS+. All the donkeys in the Govt were boasting that it did not matter.

    These people are plain stupid. They will never learn. They are fixed on their stupid ideas and cannot see anything else. Cbral is now busy selling dollars we obtained as a loan from IMF. Next year we begin paying back IMF. This year interest only. Lets see what the Modayas do. Lamborginis and Satellites may be their answer. Koheda Yanne Malle Pol.

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      GSP+ has nothing to do.

      Bangladesh has GSP+ and the workers are paid less by multinationals than the Chinese workers.

      Its the undervalued dollar that is hurting the exporters. The workers are paid less, and no investment for the future by the exporters.

      The undervalued dollar helps the importers to buy and sell and empty the nation of its wealth.

      The rich always “run”; the rich always win; the rich always have power; the rich always get the best; and, most of all, the rich always break their promises to the poor fools who voted for them. LOL

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    Basil: I have one suggestion for you. Go to Burma and stay there. Stop writing about Sri Lanka. YOur are Burmese and ask some funding from Burmese Junta. This guy keep writing some BS in order to get funding from foreign agencies. We don’t care what Burma has and what SL does not. What all we care is no more people get killed by your LTTE terrorists friends. I know You are still mourning for the death of your beloved brother Velu, the megalomaniac. We love SL. These morons do not remember how bad the things were just 3 years ago, when busses were blowing up, and people were getting killed by the LTTE terrorists. Is this the case today ?

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    Ours is a country TODAY under MR – undemocratic governance is being promoted while Burma^s situaiton is the other way around. We the ones – decades ago, we enjoyed democratic values as has not been the case for us today.

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