Diversity in Survival: Burma

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2006 National LGBT Conference
27 July 2006

Conference congratulates UNISON for its role in awareness raising about Burma (Myanmar) in particular for its ongoing campaign within the Labour and trade union movement to pressurise international governments to impose investment sanctions on Burma.

Burma has been controlled by a military dictatorship for the past 40 years, condemned by the UN and numerous International bodies as one of the worst violators of human rights.

The democratically elected President of Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi, remains under house arrest unable to take up her role as leader of her country; around 1200 political prisoners are in jail denied basic human rights under the Geneva convention – some have been incarcerated for over 15 years. She and the Association for Assistance of Political Prisoners, Burma have called for support from organisations such as independent trade unions to highlight the plight of her people under this brutal and repressive regime.

Conference welcomes honorary life membership of UNISON for Aung San Suu Kyi and by extension to all Burmese political prisoners and encourages branches to press local authorities and Regional governments in their geographical areas to award her with ‘freedom’ of the city, county or nation. Such initiatives raise the public awareness of Burmese issues and provide a space for other solidarity actions on subjects, which have too often slipped down the international agenda and out of public consciousness. Meanwhile, the junta maintain their iron grip on the ethnically diverse Burmese communities through a mixture of divide and rule, fear of reprisal and fear of difference.

Conference commends the innovative work, under extreme circumstances, of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB). HREIB is a progressive, grassroots organisation administering and facilitating a socially inclusive human rights training and advocacy programme, as well as refugee internships for Burma ‘s diverse communities. Based on the Thai-Burma border, HREIB uses a participatory teaching methodology to empower grassroots activists, community leaders, women, LGBT members and young people to become trainers, community leaders and human rights activists.

The Executive Director of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, Aung Myo Min, is a 1993 graduate of the Human Rights Advocate Programme at Columbia University. He was the first openly gay man playing a lead role within the democracy movement of Burma and he has received numerous international awards for his human rights work and LGBT work. HREIB has been actively integrating LGBT rights into the mainstream through human rights education awareness activities and is involved in the drafting process of the future constitution of a democratic Burma. They have also become active on the international stage, raising public awareness about the ongoing atrocities perpetrated by the junta generally.

LGBT people suffer silently in Burma. Their silence comes from lack of recognition and respect and lack of creative/self expression, lack of freedom of speech or association. Like everyone in Burma, they have no political rights, but their voices are not only muted by the pervasive military dictatorship, they are muted by communities who refuse to recognise their existence. Communities who use ‘religion and traditional beliefs’ to silence and deny LGBT existence: public derision, shaming families, rape and violence. HREIB is committed to creating a welcoming space within the Burmese democracy movement, integrating LGBT as human rights, coming out, speaking out, making LGBT voices heard, armed with ideas from religion and traditional beliefs; ideas about respect and tolerance.

HIV/AIDS is out of control in Burma. What few studies that have been conducted indicate that those infected are primarily IV drug users and their sexual partners. In reality little is known about the full extent of HIV/AIDS in Burma and the effect of the disease on the wider communities. The dictatorship publicly blames LGBT people for HIV/AIDS by calling it “the gay disease” and goes through regular ‘purges’, enforcing Section 33 of the Law for the Student Army – imposing both a one-year prison term, and dismissal, on any man or woman suspected of engaging in same-sex consensual acts. This is yet another breach of international convention – in this case- Articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Conference call upon UNISON to:

1. Embark on an awareness raising campaign within the membership in collaboration with groups such as the Burma Campaign; Amnesty International; the Association of Political Prisoners, Burma, ILGA and IGLHRC;

2. Advise members on how they can support this work at a local and regional levels, encouraging and supporting local affiliations to these organisations and ‘twinning initiatives’;

3. Work within the Labour and trade union movement at regional, national and international levels on solidarity actions, developing a programme for high profile awareness raising/ fundraising events;

4. Actively consider inviting a guest speaker from HREIB to national/national LGBT conference in 2007;

5. Actively continue to explore options for directly supporting some of the innovative international programmes that seek to provide educational opportunities for Burmese refugees.