Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Constitution and the ethnic nationalities

By Aung Htoo

(DVB)–A constitution which guarantees the rights of the people and restricts the powers of the government is a crucial foundation in the building of a country.

But a constitution that denies the rights of the people and the rights to do things for the authorities is certain to destroy the country.

The State Peace and Development Council's 2008 constitution, which basically denies the rights of the people and prioritises the rights of the ruling authorities, will certainly lead the country to total destruction.

Moreover, the SPDC ratified the constitution in 2008 without any regard for factors that could build trust among ethnic national forces. There are many reasons for this disregard, but here I will only focus on those issues that came out during the drafting of the SPDC’s constitution.

The first and main issue is the uncomfortable situation regarding the SPDC's legal boundaries for the ceasefire armed groups. While the SPDC has declared many times that armed ethnic national organisations have been entering the legal fold, there have still been no efforts to allow these organisations to set up as legal political entities in accordance with the law.

On 9 June 2004, during the SPDC’s national convention to draw up the constitution, 13 armed ethnic national groups which had signed ceasefire agreements with the government put forward a joint proposal for the formation of a federal union. But the SPDC didn't take any action on this advice when the national convention finished. That could be said to be the moment the armed ethnic ceasefire groups’ hope was destroyed.

Some ethnic organisations openly reacted against this. At the referendum to ratify the constitution in May 2008, people in areas controlled by the United Wa State Army in northeast Shan State overwhelmingly rejected the constitution. This was the only such incident based on ethnic nationality during the nationwide referendum, and occurred on the territory of the strongest of the armed ethnic groups in Burma.

It is especially notable that this big organisation has clearly shown that it has no faith in the SPDC's constitution. The reason it was able to do so is that it could prevent the SPDC authorities who came to oversee the referendum from entering its territory. It set up its own ballot boxes, let the people vote and sent the results to the SPDC.

The second issue is the SPDC’s legal harassment of ethnic leaders. Eight Shan leaders including Khun Tun Oo were sentenced to between 75 and 106 years in prison for trying to protect the rights of ethnic nationalities with the SPDC’s legal boundaries.

They received these heavy sentences after they formed the Shan state advisory council of experts to develop a political strategy for the building of a federal union. It now seemed that ethnic organisations were not only trying to build up a momentum for a federal union within the national convention process, but also that Shan leaders led by Khun Tun Oo were trying to push for it outside the convention by forming the council of Shan state experts.

The SPDC is more afraid of the building of a federal union in which ethnic nationals would have equal rights and self-determination than it is of a tiger. The actions against the Shan leaders were a way of stopping the peaceful political activities of ethnic nationals by criminalising them. This injustice gives some indication of how much other Shan ethnic leaders and the public have lost their trust in the SPDC.

The third issue is the loss of trust on the part of the Karen National Union which is still carrying out armed struggle outside the SPDC's legal boundaries. The KNU's former leader, the late general Saw Bo Mya, tried to hold discussions with SPDC. But the SPDC instead set a trap for the KNU in the form of the national convention.

When this didn't achieve the desired effect, the SPDC did not allow the KNU to hold negotiate a ceasefire like other armed organisations. Former intelligence officer Aung Lin Htut explained the reason for this in an interview with DVB television. Aung Lin Htut started out by saying that the KNU is in a pitiable situation. General Than Shwe reportedly ordered that, unlike other groups, the KNU must be forced to lay down its arms. Given that the KNU would never surrender, the move was intended prolong the insurgency and breed more rebels, providing a justification for the army to grow and prosper.

I am not sure whether Aung Lin Htut knows it or not but I want to relate a matter that general Than Shwe pretends that he doesn't know. From the time the military dictatorship was set up by general Ne Win and under successive military leaders who have consolidated the massive army, it has never in 60 years of civil war been able to defeat any revolutionary group by military means alone.

Given this background, it is almost impossible to build trust between the KNU and the SPDC after the latter played politics with the KNU and placed it in a hopeless situation. But this is not a new development; it has been this way since the SPDC launched offensives on Manaplaw, headquarters of the KNU, and on other fronts.

The Manaplaw headquarters did not fall because of the SPDC’s military skill. It is a matter of historical record that the SPDC troops suffered heavy losses when the joint ethnic revolutionary troops and student army surrounded Khway Eit Taung [Sleeping Dog Hill]. The SPDC had to declare a ceasefire unilaterally on 28 April 1992 because of its losses. Infantry commander major-general Maung Hla declared unequivocally that offensives would be stopped in Karen state for the sake of national unity.

In reality, the idea of the SLORC military leaders working for national unity is like saying the tiger is a vegetarian. The ceasefire was declared because of the lack of military success. Only when it was able to cause a rift between Christians and Buddhists in the KNU did its true nature reemerge. Then, it restarted offensives on 24 December 1994 without giving any reason. The SPDC captured Manaplaw using underhanded means with the help of Buddhist Karen soldiers from the newly-named Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, who showed them the way to the back door of Manaplaw.

Therefore, the SPDC’s claim that it is heading towards ethnic national unity is like a picture drawn on water. If you look at it from the point of view of ethnic national leaders and organisations, there is no reason to believe it.

All that is left is to tear up the SPDC’s 2008 constitution, a constitution with no political legitimacy, no input from major ethnic national organisations, and no aim except to propagate military rule – to tear it to pieces, and dump it into the dustbin of history.

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