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Public Statements

Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003

Location: Washington, DC



    Mr. BIDEN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. BIDEN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent to be able to proceed on the time controlled by Senator Feinstein.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. BIDEN. Madam President, I rise in support of the efforts of Senator McConnell and Senator Feinstein and acknowledge the leadership of Senator Baucus, as well, in working this out. Senator McConnell has been tireless in his efforts to promote democracy in Burma and has been an acknowledged leader in this area. I thank him for not relenting.

    I think it is to state the obvious that it is vital for us to express our concern for the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. On May 30, Government-affiliated thugs ambushed an automobile convoy carrying the leader and many of her supporters. Dozens of people were reportedly killed and injured in the crash. She was detained by Government authorities, who also ordered the NLD offices closed nationwide.

    Aung San Suu Kyi remains under arrest, and the Government has refused to allow supporters or members of the diplomatic community to meet with her.

    When Burma's military rulers freed Aung San Suu Kyi of house arrest last year, they claimed her release was unconditional and they pledged to continue the U.N.-facilitated dialog, which led to her freedom. With last month's premeditated attack and her current detention, the junta has abrogated all of its commitments and warrants no more time.

    It is not hard to discern the motives of the junta.

    They are scared. They are scared the people of Burma will rally and remove them from power, and they are right to be afraid. As Aung San Suu Kyi has toured schools, hospitals, businesses, and government organizations around Burma, she has been met by joyous crowds, and it is obvious to all observers that she remains as loved by the people of Burma as the military junta is reviled. It is time for the present military oligarchy to fade into history.

    Burma's transition to democracy would be a most welcome development for all of Southeast Asia.

    Despite pledges to crack down on narcotics production, the military continues to collaborate with heroin and methamphetamine traffickers. It has failed to address the legitimate demands of ethnic minorities for significant regional autonomy within a federal state, preferring military pressure to political accommodation.

    The generals have enriched themselves while bankrupting the country. They have dismantled Burma's education system and ignored the growing threat to public health posed by AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. As the State Department notes with characteristic understatement in its most recent human rights report:

    The quality of life in Burma continues to deteriorate.

    That may be the understatement of the month. It is well past time for the generals to do what they said they would do; namely, begin a process that would eventually transfer the reins to a representative civilian government that would enjoy domestic and international legitimacy.

    Unfortunately, there are few indications that the regime intends to step down. Indeed, they apparently had high hopes the United States Government, taking note of Aung San Suu Kyi's release last year, would take steps to lift the many sanctions imposed when the army brutally suppressed Burma's democracy movement in 1988. The regime spent $450,000 to retain the services of a prominent Washington lobbying firm to help push the President and Congress to normalize relations, restore access to international financial institutions, and resume foreign aid.

    They were willing to spend $450,000 to improve their image, but last year the officials operating the government spent less than $40,000 nationwide on HIV/AIDS care and prevention. Each of the nation's 35,000 primary schools receives on average less than $1 from the central government each year; $35,000 for the national education budget; $450,000 for lobbying in Washington.

    No amount of money can hide the character of the Burmese military rulers. As the United States people stood with Nelson Mandela in his bid for freedom and democracy for the people of South Africa, so we should now stand with those who are moving Burma toward a free and open society and the National League for Democracy as they try through peaceful means to end the tyrannical, brutal rule of Burma's military rulers.

    Again, I thank Senators MCCONNELL and FEINSTEIN for their leadership in this area, and I am confident we will win wide support of our colleagues. It is time that we are clearly standing on the right side of this issue.

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