Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Burma's reforms patchy amid continued illicit -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

DAVID MARK: Despite entering into a period of political reform, Myanmar - formerly known as Burma - remains one of the world's largest producers of illicit narcotics. The country has a booming trade in heroin, as well as methamphetamine, or ice.

Peter Lloyd is speaking here to David Mathieson, the senior researcher in Rangoon for Human Rights Watch, about the situation in the country.

DAVID MATHIESON: Burma is still a major producer of illicit narcotics. It's still the second-highest producer of opium and heroin in the world after Afghanistan - way down below Afghanistan of course, but still the second major producer.

It's a major producer of methamphetamines in the Asia, region, and the nexus between ethnic ceasefire groups and militias and very murky connections between the security forces - especially in the north-east of the county - remains.

And unfortunately with all the transition going on, we're actually seeing increased drug production as part of the uncertainty of the ceasefire process.

PETER LLOYD: This effectively entrenches, not weakens, the notions that this is a narco-state, a gangster state?

DAVID MATHIESON: In certain parts of the country I think that's a fair assessment. I don't think it's as bad as it was in the early 90s, when there were clear links between senior military commanders and some of the narco traffickers.

PETER LLOYD: I'd like to get your impressions about the scope and the degree of reform that's been talked about. The Foreign Affairs Department of Australia on its own website describes Myanmar as having embarked on a "program of political, economic and social reform, with a commitment to reform appearing strong". Is that how you see it?

DAVID MATHIESON: I would actually see it as that, but with some serious caveats. I don't think anyone can deny that president Thein Sein and the reformers around him are quite genuine about pursuing a quite broad range of political and economic and social reforms. And I think it needs to be supported in that and it needs to be acknowledged.

However there are still lots of problems that remain. The reforms are quite uneven: you see some ministries putting forward laws that are generally pretty good; other laws, draft laws being leaked from the parliament that look pretty bad - that actually are against basic freedoms in the country.

PETER LLOYD: Where are the strengths, where are the weaknesses in those two areas?

DAVID MATHIESON: Some of the strengths are in some of the labour laws, they're generally quite good. And that's because the ministry of labour works with international labour organisation and actually consults quite widely with different people.

Some of the media laws are quite problematic, and certainly the press council in the country and journalist associations have been very critical of some of the media laws that the government's been putting forward.

The recent draft law that was released about a month ago on associations - basically NGOs, both domestic and foreign NGOs - is deeply problematic and needs to be seriously re-drafted.

PETER LLOYD: In what sense?

DAVID MATHIESON: It's a very slim law. It's really not that sophisticated. It basically says that the Ministry of Home Affairs gets to form a central committee that reviews all applications to register as an association, as an NGO, and if you don't do it you could potentially get three years in prison.

PETER LLOYD: The country has a civilian president. How deep does that civilian veneer go? How much is the military for example taking a backseat - in the sense that they still have the army controlling itself, they set their own budget, they're immune from civilian law by and large and there's this in-camera cabinet of sorts - the National Defence and Security Council - which is made up of 11 men, mostly... almost all with present or past military ties. What kind of government is that?

DAVID MATHIESON: Well, I mean, there's lots of different ways of calling it. I would call it a military-backed civilian government - some people call it a quasi-military civilian government; it's certainly a hybrid.

And whereas I think there are reformers in the government who are genuinely trying to do the right thing - within reason - the military's there as this spectre in the background with, as you said, these constitutional provisions that grant them immunity from prosecution.

They get 25 per cent of the parliamentary seats, three key ministerial portfolios, they control their own budget. You know, the military is still incredibly powerful.

PETER LLOYD: Is it for those reasons you have been, well at least in the recent past, personally quite critical of the speed with which the West - America and Australia amongst the leaders - have embraced the regime?

DAVID MATHIESON: It was, I mean… we had very deep concerns that the West was abandoning... well, basically relinquishing its leverage over the government. And, you know, for Western sanctions which were, you know a lot of people were very critical of for many years - a lot of the Western sanctions either from Australia, the US and the European Union, suddenly they actually had a role to play in the reforms. And we believe that they were just removed way too quickly.

And funnily enough, from what I hear from people in Rangoon these days, is that people who were very against the reforms before are now saying they were repealed far too quickly, and that there is very little leverage that the West has over the government now.

DAVID MARK: That's David Mathieson from Human Rights Watch in Rangoon with Peter Lloyd. You can listen to the full interview on our PM website.