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Wednesday, 8 December 1993
Page: 4152

Senator BOURNE —My question is also directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Does the minister agree with the United Nations resolution yesterday that no progress has been made in Burma towards the restoration of democracy or in the reduction of human rights abuses? Does the minister support the proposal by the United States for the appointment of a special envoy on Burma to supplement human rights fact-finding missions, prevent arms from reaching the military and ensure that aid moneys do not enrich the government or the army? Finally, is the government taking any action to encourage the United Nations to remove the representative of the SLORC from the UN seat currently held by Burma and replace him with a representative of the democratically elected government?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The resolution on human rights in Burma, which was adopted by consensus on 6 December, as Senator Bourne has said, by the third committee of the UN General Assembly underlines the international community's very grave concern at the continuing failure of the Burmese government to move towards democracy and the continued seriousness of the human rights situation in that country. Australia was one of the co-sponsors of the resolution. We were closely involved in its drafting and in seeking support for its adoption.

  The resolution calls on the SLORC to take all necessary steps towards the restoration of democracy and to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also calls for the unconditional release of opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, regrets the recent harsh sentences meted out to a number of dissidents and stresses the importance of free and confidential access to prisoners by international humanitarian agencies.

  The resolution recognises that there has been some limited progress in Burma, as I have said in this place from time to time, including the release of political prisoners and the signing of a memorandum of understanding: for example, on 5 November this year with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees covering arrangements for the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees. Although such developments are welcome, they are clearly quite insufficient to allay concerns over the political and human rights situation.

  We are particularly concerned that a very significant number of people remain in gaol or detention for political activities and that the SLORC has demonstrated so little willingness to accommodate democratic aspirations through the national convention process. I have made these concerns clear directly to Burmese authorities on a number of occasions, as of course have our representatives and as I have indeed in this place as well.

Senator Hill —What is your position on an arms embargo?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I will come to that. The United States, to answer Senator Bourne's second question, joined the consensus to adopt the resolution but did not co-sponsor it. This position reflected a feeling on the part of the US that the resolution should have appointed a special envoy to supplement the mandate of the UN special rapporteur, Professor Yokota, called for a voluntary arms embargo and urged UN agencies to ensure funding does not support the SLORC. While Australia would have been prepared to co-sponsor a resolution containing these additional points—we had no problem with any of them—we accepted that such a resolution stood little chance of being adopted by consensus, and adoption by consensus is important in the UN third committee context in that it sends a very clear signal to the SLORC about the breadth of international concern over the situation in Burma, including on the part of countries within its own region. Otherwise that message gets diluted if we accommodate some of these other concerns.

  Senator Hill interjecting

Senator GARETH EVANS —Senator Hill is demonstrating his usual profound and total and irredeemable ignorance and insensitivity about these matters. It would be better for all concerned, including his reputation, if he simply shut up on these occasions.

  The Australian government has consistently supported moves to redirect UN assistance, specifically that provided by UNDP, away from longer term development objectives in favour of support for humanitarian activities, which are designed to help the Burmese people at the grassroots level. The Australian government has its own embargoes on the export of defence and defence related goods to Burma—I told Senator Hill I would answer that bit—and it has urged countries known to supply arms to Burma to discontinue such exports.      As to the final part of Senator Bourne's three-part question, the Australian government's policy is to recognise states not governments. This policy is consistent with the practice of most other major Western countries. We recognise the state of Burma and, thus, we support its right to a seat at the UN. That does not in any way imply Australian government approval of the policies of the SLORC or the manner by which it attained and retains power.