|Recent Decision Shows Lack of Support for Human Rights, says United Methodist Women|
Leaders of the 1-million member United Methodist Women advocated for a ban on trade with Burma - also known as Myanmar -- for several years. Last June, they thought their advocacy on behalf of Burma’s enslaved was a success when President Bush signed a ban on trade with Burma into law.
But official Bush-Cheney election apparel-made in Burma and sold on the campaign web site - has the organization’s leaders upset.
Vice president of the United Methodist Women’s Division, Judy Nutter, traveled to Burma in spring 2001 and has been an advocate for Burmese people. She is asking if U.S. government leaders are more concerned with elections than the citizens in a country famous for its human rights abuses. And she is concerned that this country’s leaders may be breaking their own trade laws.
‘Understanding the reality in Burma, United Methodist Women members have lifted their voices informing companies that they would avoid purchasing items made in Burma and would urge their congressional representatives to pass the ‘Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act.’
The women’s organization thought their efforts successful when President Bush signed the legislation into law on July 28, 2003.
The legislation banned all imports from Burma, froze overseas assets of Burma’s regime, prohibited regime leaders and their associates from traveling to the United States, blocked the loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to the regime, and increased United States support of Burma’s democracy movement.
‘The decision of the president’s campaign to sell campaign sweatshirts made in Burma shows a lack of support for the human rights of the Burmese people,’ says Ms. Nutter. ‘And as people of faith, we need to be lifting our voices in opposition to the violation of the law and to the violation of the rights of our sisters and brothers in Burma.’
A campaign spokesperson of the Bush-Cheney administration admitted to the Associated Press last week that selling the Burma products was a mistake. However, they did not clearly indicate if they would continue to use the sweatshirts for campaign promotion.
‘This is a country where writers, journalists, professors, college students, and the brightest and most gifted have disappeared or are imprisoned. This is a country where ethnic communities are relocated on top of each other - at the whim of their own government or of international companies who want to invest in their country,’ says Ms. Nutter.
According to Amnesty International, the military powers of Burma are presently detaining more than 1300 political prisoners - monks, students, lawyers, teachers, shopkeepers, political activists.
‘They are held under laws that breach international human rights standards, and denied the protection of those safeguards that exist in Myanmar's legal system,’ say an August 2003 report from the organization entitled, ‘Denial of Justice in Myanmar.’
‘People are often arrested in the middle of the night and taken, with head hooded, to an unknown location. They are then deprived of sleep, food and water, interrogated for long periods, and threatened or beaten by members of the state Military Intelligence,’ according to the article.
Fair trials do not happen in this country, says the report. Often, people are detained without ever being told why and imprisoned without a trial.
Slave labor supports the economy of the country. The government of Burma has pressed over 5.5 million people into slavery in the last decade - 11 percent of their population. In the United States in 1860, slaves comprised 11 percent of the U.S. population.
‘Young boys are taken off the street and forced into the military, where they are taught cruel techniques and commanded to abuse, rape and kill women. In addition to these human rights violations, people are isolated - the government controls TV, radio, newspapers, telephones. Internet and video cameras are illegal. Education is limited,’ says Ms. Nutter.
The Women’s Division first became involved in the Burma issue when they signed on to an amicus brief, or a friend-of-the-court brief, supporting Massachusetts in a June 2000 Supreme Court case. The case went to the Supreme Court after 600 anonymous corporations under the name of the National Foreign Trade Council sued the state of Massachusetts for giving a cost preference to bids from companies not doing business in Myanmar. Massachusetts was trying to discourage companies from doing business in Myanmar because of its human rights abuses. The Supreme Court ruled that states cannot use their purchasing power to influence companies doing business in countries known for human-rights abuses if the federal government has already established foreign policy in dealing with these countries.
In response, United Methodist Women began advocating for the United States’ trade policy with Burma to change.
The Women's Division represents United Methodist Women, a one-million member organization whose purpose is to foster spiritual growth, develop leaders and advocate for justice. Members raise close to $20 million a year for programs and projects related to women, children and youth in the United States and in more than 100 countries around the world.
Date posted: Mar 31, 2004