Memorandum by Voices for Burma
1. THE AUTHORS
1.1 This evidence is supplied by Voices
For Burma (VFB). VFB is a British-founded and web-based not-for-profit
International Non-Governmental Organisation (INGO) Since 2003,
VFB has been campaigning on two fronts: The first, to explore
the formerly black and white nature of the tourist boycott debate
hitherto seen until VFB's inception; and the second, to educate
visitors to Burma about the need to travel ethically and to ameliorate
the negative impact of those who were visiting Burma with only
scant information on ethical travel.
1.2 VFB's archive of policies and ethical
travel tips is available on its website www.voicesforburma.org.
VFB is contactable through Andrew Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2.1 In this paper, VFB examines the UK Government's
policy on tourism to Burma as an essential component of its economic
sanctions regime under the EU Common Position. It is VFB's stance
that the UK Government's policy on tourism to Burma is at best
confused and at worst irreconcilable with its commitment under
the Common Position to assist the poorest sections of Burmese
2.2 It is not VFB's argument that the Travel
Boycott is fundamentally flawed, as VFB discourages some tourists
to Burma, however the boycott policy has not been evaluated and
has not engendered any positive societal shifts.
3.1 Burma has been rununder one guise
or anotherby a military Junta since 1962. The current incarnation
is the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) led by General
Than Shwe. Burma is a former colony of Britain, which was "given"
its independence in 1948.
3.2 The Junta is one of the most pernicious
regimes in the world, committing human rights abuses on a truly
grand scale. Following an uprising in 1988, which was brutally
suppressed by the army, elections were held in 1990, which led
to the National League for Democracy (NLD) winning 82 per cent
of the votes, even though its iconic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi,
was forbidden from standing. The army has not relinquished control.
3.3 Today, the regime stands accusedsome
would say guilty ofthe following, but in no way exhaustive
list of human infringements and state crimes:
Over 1,100 political prisoners languish
in jail convicted of spurious "crimes". The most famous
is Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent 10 of the last 16 years living
under house arrest.
Continued use of anti-personnel landmines.
Use of child soldiers.
Gross economic mismanagement.
Bloating the numbers of the army
to between 400,000 and 500,000 in a state of 50 million people,
which has no discernable external enemies.
Conducting military offences against
ethnic minority groups, in particular the Karen. Such offensives
have forced thousands of people to flee their villages through
the malarial-infested jungle to the relative safety of the overflowing
refugee camps on the Thai side of the Thai-Burma border.
Burma is the second largest producer
of opium in the world.
4. THE SANCTIONS
4.1 Burma finds itself under the imposition
of sanctions by the US and EU. Following considerable pressure
from many sources, most notably the US Government, Burma was formally
entered onto the UN Security Council Agenda on 15 September 2006
with a 10-4 vote. The British Government backed the proposal,
which could in theory pave the way for a resolution imposing,
amongst other punishments, UN economic sanctions.
4.2 The UK Government's policy stance on
tourism can be traced back to before the election of the present
Government in 1997. The late Derek Fatchett MP, in his position
as Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, stated in 1996: "The
development of the tourist industry has been at a price to the
local community which every decent person would regard as unacceptable.
I would strongly urge tourists to think carefully before booking
a holiday in Burma. The price of an exotic holiday could be someone
in power, he wrote to travel associations in 1998 in relation
to the Government's concerns about the encouragement of tourism
in Burma. In 2003, the Foreign Office Minister, Mike O'Brien continued
in Mr Fatchett's footsteps by stating: "I propose to write
to all travel organisations with any links with tourism in Burma.
There are very few of them, but if any are involved, we shall
target them and ask them not to allow, encourage or participate
in tourism in Burma. Some people go to Burma for their own reasons,
and we want to discourage them from doing so."
In the same debate the Minister stated: "We must ensure that
sanctions do not hurt the Burmese people whom we are trying to
4.3 The UK Government's stance is mostly
outlined in the EU's Common Position, which was first implemented
in 1996. The Position has a number of restrictive measures in
its armoury. The policy is detailed on the FCO website as follows:
"Target those obstructing reform and progress,
but ensuring that the ordinary people of Burma suffer as little
as possible. The Common Position includes: an arms embargo; bans
on defence links, high-level bilateral government visits, the
supply of equipment that might be used for internal repression
or terrorism and an asset freeze and visa ban on regime members,
their families, the military and security forces and others who
actively frustrate the process of national reconciliation. Most
development aid is suspended."
4.4 This Common Position was last reviewed
on 27 April 2006.
4.5 Former Foreign Office Minister, Ian
Pearson MP, explained that this was a "twin track policy"
with "targeted measures aimed at members of the military
government who are responsible for the current situation in Burma,
and members of their families, cronies and others who benefit
from the regime's corruption; and assistance to the poorest sections
of society who suffer most from the Burmese government's failed
4.6 It is VFB's contention that this position
is reasonable, in particular the notion that assistance should
be provided to those who suffer most at the hands of the Junta.
4.7 The UK Government's position is then
muddied by their policy on tourism as espoused on the FCO website
"The UK does not encourage trade, investment or tourism with
The position does not become clearer as the FCO website states:
"We have drawn attention to the views of
Burma's democratic leaders, including ASSK, that tourism to Burma
is inappropriate at present due to the poor political and human
rights situation and the economic benefits it brings to the regime.
Burmese tourism officials are included in the EU travel ban imposed
on Burma. We would urge anyone who may be thinking of visiting
Burma on holiday to consider carefully whether by their actions
they are helping to support the regime."
4.8 Furthermore, the Prime Minister, Tony
Blair MP, offered his insight into whether tourists should go
to Burma: "I would urge anyone who may be thinking of visiting
Burma on holiday to consider carefully whether by their actions
they are helping to support the regime and prolong such dreadful
The Prime Minister's statement was supported by the then leaders
of the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat Party, Michael Howard
MP and Charles Kennedy MP, as they pledged in February 2005 that
they would not holiday in Burma either.
5. THE OBJECTIVES
5.1 The tourist policy was forged in response
to pressure from lobbyists who wanted the Junta's "Visit
Myanmar Year" of 1996 to be a resounding failure. Aung San
Suu Kyi has made many pronouncements on tourism, most of which
can be construed as being anti-tourism. The UK Government has
heeded her insistence -(and that of the lobbyists who represent
her) that the time is not right for tourism. The lobbyist's best
argument is that forced labour has been used in the tourist industry;
there has been no analysis as to whether the link between tourist
infrastructure and forced labour has continued. Put simply, the
UK Government policy on tourism is indistinguishable from that
of the lobbyists. The objective of this policy is to pacify the
lobbyists. Further, as this stance has only a miniscule impact
on UK businesses it is an easy policy to have.
5.2 The UK Government's objective of economic
sanctions and the tourist boycott is to pressurise the Junta into
relinquishing power by targeting the Junta and its cronies whilst
not further impoverishing the Burmese people. Democracy is seen
through the prism of elections solely, whereas democracy is a
process with elections as its zenith. The UK Government has given
little thought as to how positive change is best delivered for
the Burmese people.
5.3 VFB is concerned that although the Government
states that its policies are not designed to have a deleterious
impact on the poorest members of Burmese society, the tourist
boycottwhich is undoubtedly a major component of its economic
sanctionsaffects those who work in the tourist industry,
or could work in the tourist industry. This includes those who
work in the following industries and their families: private guesthouse
employees; private taxis drivers; tea shop owners; souvenir sellers;
guides etc; and those who would benefit indirectly from the positive
multiplier effect. The Former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw MP,
did not mention these people in the tourist sectora sector
very much overlookedwhen he stated recently: "The
UK Government will continue to support the poorest and most vulnerable
people in Burma."
5.4 Further, in this age of digital cameras,
email and internet, the possibilities of visitors to Burma acting
as pseudo-journalists is a prospect not even countenanced by the
Government. The joint Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary
Group on Burma, John Bercow MP, concurs about the need for information
from Burma. He stated in a House of Commons debate, as part of
his answer to a question about the Junta's longevity: "It
is only the absence of television cameras that has prevented the
true horror of what is taking place from being known."
t is VFB's position that visitors to Burma are pseudo-journalists
who can, in John Bercow's words, "Help open up to public
and international view the reality of the violation of human rights
that is taking place and would give the opportunity for independent
testimony to the scale of the savagery."
VFB would urge the Government to contemplate this notion.
5.5 Burma was effectively isolated and insulated
from the forces of tourism from 1962 to the mid 1990s. Today,
the tourist industry in Burma is growing slowly, largely due to
cross-border tourism from neighbouring China. Although tourism
statistics are not reliable, 5,000-7,000 British tourists travelled
to Burma in 2005 according to Junta statistics. Tourism revenue
in 2005 was $153 million from 666,000 visitors of which it is
estimated that 60 per cent are day-trippers.
This pales into insignificance when compared with the number of
British tourists visiting neighbouring Thailand.
5.6 The UK Government does not appear to
have a yardstick with which to measure the impact of its tourism
policy on the least privileged members of Burma's society who
eek out a living in the tourist industry; it is time that this
6.1 The UK Government has had an eminently
difficult task in dealing with the recalcitrant Junta. Unfortunately,
the UK lacks clout in Burma and its stance, under the Common Position,
has had no impact in bringing about positive change in Burma.
As Ian Pearson MP laments: "We should not overestimate the
effectiveness of western sanctions on the Burmese regime; they
have not had any significant impact that we can see to date."
6.2 Burma continues to be the only country
in which the UK Government actively dissuades travellers from
It is VFB's contention that the impact of this policy demands
thorough evaluation and analysis. Furthermore, this policy is
irreconcilable with that of the second strand of the Common Position,
as it damages the livelihoods of those who work in the tourist
sector or who could work in the tourist industry. It is a policy
entered into with little thought, and born out of pandering to
the lobbyists who have a stranglehold over UK Burma policy. Gesture
politics does not assist the Burmese man trying to feed his family.
6.3 Tourism is the world's largest service
industry according to the FCO's associated Travel Foundation.
The face of tourism is changing rapidly. The different types of
tourists include: eco-holidaymakers, backpackers, cheap-flight
holidaymakers, package travellers, TEFL teachers, war veterans,
gap-yearers and pilgrims. It is VFB's experience that travellers
to Burma respond well to being supplied with information about
ethical travel. It is also VFB's experience that travellers to
Burma are interested in leaving the country in a better state
than when they found it. VFB have had countless requests from
travellers who want to know where they can teach in Burma or what
items, such as newspapers, they can take in to satisfy the cravings
of the information-starved people of Burma. It therefore flies
in the face of intellectual reason for the Government to bracket
all forms of tourism together in this regard.
6.4 The Burma tourism question is highly
complex and emotive. The UK Government has a duty to those living
through the Burmese nightmare to formulate sound policies based
on thorough analysis and constant evaluation. Ian Pearson MP,
is right to say that "there is no simple answer"
to the Burmese quagmire, so it is regrettable that the Government's
tourism policy is so black and white.
6.5 VFB would like it to be noted for the
record that economic sanctions will not have the desired effect
of punishing the Junta, as long as the twin emerging giants of
India and China battle it out for supremacy over Burma's natural
assets, and Burma's other neighbours, notably Thailand, also continue
to trade with her. VFB questions whether if all countries adhered
to multilateral sanctions on Burma and a total tourist boycott
was followed stringently, whether this would precipitate the change
that we all hope to see.
6.6 This year is the 10th anniversary of
the Junta's "Visit Myanmar Year" when the Junta encouraged
tourists to Burma. Ten years ago, in order to counter this state
promotion, lobbyists demanding a tourist boycott swiftly began
the tourist boycott campaign, and to this day, its legacy lives
on. VFB doubts whether Burma is any closer to realising a better
future after 10 years of this tourist boycott.
26 September 2006
214 International Campaign to Ban Landmines dated Back
Burma Campaign UK Back
House of Commons debate 16 June 2005. Back
Burma Briefing by ALSEAN July 2006 Back
15 June 2006. Back
117 To the best of VFB's knowledge. We await clarification that
this is the case. Back
16 29&a=KArticle&aid= 1115147681142%20&year=2005&month=2005-06-01&date=2005-06-16 Back