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Tourism Concern Burma tourism updat
Subject: Tourism Concern Burma tourism update
Tourism Concern, the Guardian Newspaper and the University of North London
are holding three public debates on the ethics of travel and tourism. Each
proposition will be debated by high profile speakers from destination areas
in the UK and overseas, the British tourism industry and campaigning
organisations. The first debate is entitled 'TO GO OR NOT TO GO: Freedom of
Movement is a human right. Yet morally we should not travel to places where
human rights are violated'. The debate will include discussion on the
ethics of travelling to Burma, given the human rights abuses that have
occured as a direct result of the development of Burma's tourism industry,
and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's request that tourists should stay away until
democracy is restored. John Jackson of The Burma Campaign will one of the
Tuesday June 8, 7pm, Royal Institution, Albemarle St., London W1 (nearest
tube Green Park)
Tickets must be booked in advance, and cost £8 per person (including a glass
of wine). Contact us at the office for further details - Tel. 0171 753 3330
or email tourconcern@xxxxxxxxxx
On March 31st 1999, Tourism Concern organised a meeting at the House of
Commons for tour operators to discuss tourism in Burma. The meeting was
timed to coincide with a visit to the UK by Teddy Buri, MP with the NLD, and
Minister with both the NCGUB and the NCUB, and was chaired by Jeremy Corbyn
MP, Vice Chair of the All Party Group on Human Rights. Below are extracts
from the "Burma Tourism Update" which Tourism Concern prepared for the
Tourism Concern editorial
Why should we care about Burma?
Patricia Barnett, Director
Around five years ago, Tourism Concern was alerted to the fact that Burma's
military junta was developing tourism. Tourism is of course, an economic
lifeline for many poor countries and their people, but in this case, many
Burmese people were suffering badly as a result of its development and its
development was merely boosting this harsh regime.
As reported extensively in the international press, around 2 million people
have been used as forced labour since 1988, including children and 1.5
million forcibly relocated. Much of this labour and relocation has occurred
in order to develop tourism infrastructure. These abuses were particularly
prevalent in the build up to Visit Myanmar Year in 1996/97.
So that was then. What's it like now? Unfortunately, the same atrocities
are occurring. The press focus may have lifted after the failure of the
junta's tourism promotion campaign, but the reality for Burmese people is
still the same. Last year, the International Labour Organisation found the
Burmese military guilty of 'crimes against humanity' in the use of forced
labour, highlighting the fact that much of that forced labour is clearly
connected to the development of tourism (pg. 4). And every week Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch Asia receive information about
imprisonments, arrests, forced relocations and forced labour.
Many tour operators are deeply concerned about these abuses and some have
made the ethical decision not to operate in Burma. Others are keen to
understand the political reality on the ground in order to decide whether to
continue. The travel pages of newspapers and magazines, travel guides and
TV travel shows are also constantly battling with the issues. For many
years, The Independent has taken the stance that it will not cover Burma in
its travel pages. And ITV's Wish You Were Here...? recently made the
decision not to produce a programme on Burma after considering the ethical
arguments. High-profile figures such as Glenys Kinnock, MEP, broadcaster
John Snow, and journalist John Pilger have all spoken out against tourism
to Burma. Foreign Affairs Minister, Derek Fatchett, has even written
personally to the Association of British Travel Agents, the Association of
Independent Tour Operators and the Federation of Tour Operators pointing out
the request of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma's legitimate
government, the National League for Democracy, for operators not to conduct
business in Burma until democracy is restored (see pg. 2).
Tourism Concern is convinced of the need for the tourism industry to support
the wishes of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, which she has recently re-stated and
expanded on (this page). Her plea is also backed up by Teddy Buri, a
Minister with the Burmese government in exile, currently visiting Britain
(pg. 3). We realise there are many diverse views on this subject and hope
that this Burma-Tourism Update, prepared to coincide with a meeting at the
House of Commons specifically for the tourism industry, will be of help in
providing up-to-date information to all those who have an interest in Burma,
tourism and its people
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi speaks out about tourism to Burma
At a meeting this January with The Burma Campaign UK, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi -
leader of Burma's democratically elected party, the National League for
Democracy - made her most forcible statement yet urging tour operators not
to operate in Burma.
Q: Do you still think that tourists should not visit Burma?
ASSK: Yes, I still think that people should not come to Burma. Because the
bulk of the money from tourism goes straight into the pockets of the
generals. And not only that, it's a form of moral support for them because
it makes the military authorities think that the international community is
not opposed to the human rights violations which they are committing all the
time. They seem to look on the influx of tourists as proof that their
actions are accepted by the world.
Q: Do you think that the boycott is working?
ASSK: There are fewer tourists - it's working, and the better it works the
better for the prospects of democracy in Burma.
Q: What do you say to the argument of tour operators that say that tourists
can bring new ideas and understanding to the Burmese people?
ASSK: That's so patronising! Burmese people know their own problems better
than anyone else. They know what they want - they want democracy - and
many have died for it. To suggest that there's anything new that tourists
can teach the people of Burma about their own situation is not just
patronising - it's also racist.
Q: Some tour operators and guide books suggest that human rights campaign
organisations have a set agenda and this why they discourage tourists?
ASSK: Tour operators and guide book writers should listen to their
consciences - and be honest about their motivations. Profit is clearly
their agenda. It's not good enough to suggest that by visiting Burma
tourists will understand more. If tourists really wanted to find out
what's happening in Burma - It's better if they stay at home and read some
of the many human rights reports there are.
Foreign Office takes unique stance on Burma
On 7 September 1998, Derek Fatchett, Minister for Foreign Affairs, wrote to
the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), the Association of
Independent Tour Operators (AITO), and the Federation of Tour Operators
(FTO) to outline the views of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on tourism
Mr Fatchett wrote, "The Government wishes to draw attention to the views of
Aung San Suu Kyi, and other pro-democracy leaders in Burma, that it is
inappropriate for tourists to visit Burma at present. These leaders believe
that foreign tourists visiting Burma do not help the development of
democracy or human rights in the country."
Mr Fatchett stated that a great deal of the £50 million earned through
tourism in 1997 went straight into central government coffers, and went on
to say that it was a sad fact that the Burmese government chooses to spend
more of its budget on military spending than almost any other county in the
Mr Fatchett also directed tour operators' attention to the well-documented
cases of human rights abuses directly associated with the tourism industry,
such as people being relocated to make way for tourism-related developments,
and forced labour for the construction of tourist sites and related
While visitors to Burma were not allowed to travel outside of specially
designated places; to stay in private homes; to take photos of what the
authorities considered sensitive subjects, or to try to talk to members of
the democratic opposition, the argument that tourists can help information
exchanges in isolated, closed countries was not convincing, said Mr
He stated that there is a strong argument that the economic benefits and
political legitimacy derived from tourism hardens the government's
resistance to change. Mr Fatchett has since urged EU member states to
follow the UK's example and discourage tourism and trade to Burma.
A Burmese MP's plea to the tourism industry
Teddy Buri is a Kareni-Kayan from Burma and an MP with Burma's
democratically elected party, the National League for Democracy, led by Daw
Aung San Suu Kyi. He is also an MP?? With the National Coalition Government
of the Union of Burma (NCGUB),.Burma's government in exile, and the National
Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB), the umbrella organisation of
opposition Burma and non-Burman ethnic nationalities. Currently visiting
the he is discussing humanitarian issues in Burma with British
parliamentarians, non-governmental organisations, the tourism industry and
It has long been the position of the National Coalition Government of the
Union of Burma, of which I am a member, and the Burmese opposition both
inside and outside of Burma, that tourism under the present circumstances in
Burma should not be encouraged.
The gross human rights abuses that are currently taking place against the
NLD party members, and the ethnic nationalities, clearly contradict the
argument that tourism helps develop democracy and human rights in the country.
Despite the big amount of money that tourism brings to Burma - $70m in
1996/97, $50m in 1997/98 - little of this money goes to benefit the people,
primarily because almost all the large hotels and internal airlines are
wholly or partially owned by the military and their cronies. Private
indigenous tour operators are not allowed to do business.
Most of the money, in fact, goes to line the pockets of the generals and to
expand the army which is used to suppress the people and to prop up the
military. The Burmese army which was only 180,000 in 1988, is now 400,000
Human rights abuses which are directly or indirectly associated with tourism
have taken and are taking place all over the country.
The military junta (originally known as SLORC - State Law and Order Council
and now re-named the State Peace and Development Council) is an illegitimate
government that came to power through a bloody military coup in 1988.
Tourists visiting Burma are indirectly according the illegitimate regime the
legitimacy they are seeking. This, in turn, hardens their opposition to
democratic change in Burma.
Tourism, through information exchange, can certainly help open up a closed
country like Burma. But given the absence of a free society and a free
press and the restrictions imposed upon the movements of its citizens as
well as those of the tourists visiting the county, there is no way that
information exchange is possible.
We are not against tourism in principle. All we want is for tourists to
help us realise our cherished goal - the goal which thousands have died for
and which thousands are suffering for: a return to democracy in Burma. By
not visiting Burma at present, tourists will definitely help speed up the
democratisation process in our country.
Over 50 British tour operators currently operate tours to Burma. A number
of operators have however, never operated in Burma for ethical reasons.
Nomadic Thoughts, an independent tour operator specialising in tailor-made
itineraries world-wide, are one of those operators. Here they explain their
Exciting destination - but not for us
Although Nomadic Thoughts regard Burma as one of Asia's most exciting and
spectacular tourist destinations the company has decided not to send clients
in direct response to the request of the National League for Democracy (led
by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi) that international tourists do not visit Burma.
Recognising the fact that the National League for Democracy represent the
people of Burma's choice of leadership, after their majority vote in the
1988 elections, Nomadic Thoughts has taken this step. Nomadic Thoughts are
of the understanding that this will be of higher benefit to the country's
Whilst the State Peace and Development Council (previously the State Law and
Order Council) continue their human rights violations - with particular
references reporting that a) hundreds of thousands of Burmese families
continue to be displaced from their homes in the name of 'tourism
development'; b) tourism construction continues through forced and child
labour groups; c) the vast majority of tourism revenue pays SPDC - who in
turn continue to spend a large percentage of funding on arms that are
reportedly being used on Burma's own people - Nomadic Thoughts will continue
to advise against clients visiting Burma.
Managing Director, Nomadic Thoughts
ILO -Burma guilty of 'crimes against humanity'
In July 1998, the International Labour Office (ILO), an agency of the United
Nations, released a report which accuses Burma's ruling military of
systematic and widespread use of forced labour. The report states that "the
labour is exacted from men, women and children of villages and towns in
various parts of the country, as well as from prisoners. Along with the
forced labour, the military government is perpetrating severe physical and
sexual abuses on many forced labourers, including beatings, rape,
executions, and deliberate deprivation of necessary food, water, rest,
shelter and access to medical care." The report states explicitly that
forced labour is used in Burma to encourage private investment in tourism
The report charges that "any person who violates the prohibition of recourse
to forced labour under the ILO Convention is guilty of an international
crime that is also, if committed in a widespread or systematic manner, a
crime against humanity."
Following a complaint against Burma's regime by the International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) the ILO established a Commission
of Inquiry into forced labour in Burma. This is the strongest legal action
the organisation can take against a member state.
Tourism Concern (tourconcern@xxxxxxxxxx)
Stapleton House, 277-281 Holloway Road, London N7 8HN. UK.
Tel. 0171-753 3330. Fax. 0171-753 3331.
Web page: http://www.gn.apc.org/tourismconcern
WORKING TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE TOURISM
Reg. charity no. 1044123