Meg Munn – 2008 Speech on 20th Anniversary of Burma Uprising

Below is the text of a speech made by the then Foreign Office Minister, Meg Munn, at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 11th August 2008.

I’d like to welcome you to the Foreign Office this evening.

We are here to mark the twentieth anniversary of the 1988 uprising in Burma. We commemorate the tragic loss of so many lives, but we also celebrate the tenacity of the human spirit. We show our solidarity with the people of Burma who have endured a particularly tragic twelve months.

Tonight, we remember not only the victims of political oppression, but also the many tens of thousands who perished this year in the devastation of Cyclone Nargis, and the thousands more who are still struggling to survive and rebuild their lives in its wake. The Foreign Office and the Department for International Development have worked hard in responding to a political, as well as a humanitarian crisis.

With the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the United Nations and Western countries working together we have achieved much for the Burmese people since the cyclone. I hope that in the coming months we can build on this cooperation to break the political deadlock.

The 1988 uprising cost the lives of thousands of Burma’s young generation. They rose, unarmed, to call for the restoration of democracy and an end to misrule and the abuse of their human rights. Their lives were brutally cut short by the Burmese military, but their spirit endures.

I also pay tribute to those who continue to face intimidation, violence and imprisonment as they work for peaceful change. They make daily sacrifices to keep the flame of democracy alive.  Our thoughts rest particularly with the leaders of the protests twenty years ago who, after only two years of freedom, were detained again for their role in triggering last year’s ‘Saffron Revolution’.

I’d like to welcome tonight Lucinda and Adrian Phillips, sister-in-law and brother-in-law of Aung San Suu Kyi.  Since that famous speech at the Shwedagon Pagoda in 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi has been a symbol of heroic and peaceful resistance in the face of opposition and in the face of oppression.   She has shown an unwavering commitment to her country for the last twenty years.

The internet and other forms of communication inform people around the world about the shameful acts of the Burmese regime.  They are responsible for widespread and systematic human rights abuses; the deplorable treatment of ethnic groups and the detention of over 2,000 political prisoners.

Across the world there is support for the people of Burma. Support that has grown following the marches of last autumn: columns of monks leading people in peaceful protests against appalling and worsening economic and social conditions. As the UN Development Programme boldly reported from inside the country last November, Burma’s estimated per capita Gross Domestic Product is less than half of that of Cambodia or Bangladesh. The average household spends three quarters of its budget on food, and less than 50% of children are able to complete their primary education.

Even though they continue to deny her freedom, Aung San Suu Kyi cannot be silenced by the regime. Her messages of hope and moderation are accessed daily by people in their thousands from all corners of the world. As the Prime Minister has said, ‘Aung San Suu Kyi’s fortitude sends a message that reverberates around the world – that every human being has a right to live in freedom and democracy’.

Last October, the UK played a key role in securing the first ever Security Council action on Burma, with a Presidential Statement condemning the regime and stating clearly what the international community expected from it. Included is the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners; and the start of a credible process of reconciliation. We are determined to use the next few months and possible return of the UN Secretary General to Burma later this year, to make progress towards meeting these demands which are as relevant now as they were last October.

We have also helped galvanise the European Union into action. With our strong support, earlier this year the EU strengthened sanctions in key sectors – timber, gems and precious metals. We have also taken every opportunity to encourage the Association of South East Asian Nations, China and India to do more to promote political change in Burma.

The inherent instability of the current situation should be of deep concern to Burma’s neighbours and economic partners. Over the last year I have repeatedly discussed the situation with governments of the region, urging them to bring their influence to bear on Burma. The country acts as a brake on the successful development of the region as a whole.

While we work for international action, we also run projects on the ground in Burma to help boost the capacity of civil society groups. The free and active participation of all Burma’s communities in the debate on the country’s future, remains our goal.

The UK’s efforts are boosted enormously by our mission in Rangoon and I’d like to take this opportunity to commend Mark Canning and his team, who have worked tirelessly in very difficult circumstances in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.  They are indeed the best of the FCO and represent us incredibly well in Burma.

Burma will not be forgotten.  The UK will continue to work hard to support the Burmese people. They have shown their courage, and their determination to re-join the global community. Burma’s people, whatever their ethnicity or political beliefs, deserve the democratic civilian government that they have shown so many times they want.