The general in his labyrinth

India's unrolling of the red carpet for Burma's General Than Shwe, who was on a 'religious-cum-official' visit to the country from 25 to 29 July, understandably raised eyebrows. As chairman of an organisation euphemistically called the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the general has been presiding over an obnoxious military dictatorship. The junta has a well-documented record of human-rights abuse, and is credibly accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity under international law, including the use of child soldiers, the destruction of villages, the displacement of ethnic minorities, the use of rape as a weapon of war, extrajudicial killings, forced relocation and forced labour. Its persecution of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under detention for 14 of the last 20 years, does not require elaboration. In 2007, the SPDC ordered a crackdown on peaceful protests that resulted in the murder, beating, torture and imprisonment of Buddhist monks. In an act of breathtaking irony, the general started his tour of India with a visit to Bodh Gaya and other centres of Buddhist pilgrimage.

There has been little indication that the junta would turn over a new leaf. National elections, now scheduled for 7 November, are being carefully orchestrated to be a sham. The Constitution of 2008, on the basis of which these are to be held, and which was approved by a farcical referendum, strengthens the supremacy of the military. Among other things, it grants the commander-in-chief of the armed forces the right to appoint 25 percent of the members of both houses of Parliament. Besides, the SPDC has enacted five draconian election laws that give the junta absolute control over the election process and bar political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, from contesting. Even campaigning will be restricted, with the Election Commission issuing a directive, on 21 June, prohibiting political parties from campaigning in a manner that 'harms security, the rule of law and
community peace'.

Loading content, please wait...
Himal Southasian