Wednesday Night #804

Wednesday night #804, was exceptional, even for a weekly event that has enabled those present to be privy to previews of many important world events. The guests arrived well briefed in the principal topic under discussion, thanks to the excellent documentation published by our host on the Web. Stimulated by the background material, a group of close to forty intelligent, informed men and women arrived prepared to discuss the morality of Canada’s attitude towards basic human rights, the application of sanctions to countries violating them and the classic struggle between economics and morality.

click for Warren Allmand  DTN photo
Warren Allmand

Special guest Warren Allmand, President of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, was introduced by Stanley Baker. Mr. Allmand, former federal cabinet minister who in that position had opted for principles over position, recently returned from Ireland. He started by describing the changes in attitudes taking place in that country, explaining how three previously implacably opposed parties were now coming together because of a common membership in the European Economic Community. National flags are being replaced by the E.E.C. flag. He emphsized that this was not unique to Ireland; France and Germany for instance, fought with each other for centuries, but are settling their differences by joining a supranational body and working together while retaining their national identities. The suggestion was that this formula is now working for Ireland, and might be applied elsewhere in the world. The people of Ireland do not want conflict and the leaders are currently looking for solutions. In the joint Anglo-Irish agreement, there are very creative solutions to the sharing of power between the three governments. A lively discussion followed on the role of democracy in creating peace between opposing factions.
The majority of the world’s population lives with restricted human rights. The democratic countries of the world seem to accept this in some cases, not in others. The United States and Canada have intervened massively in Haiti, but hesitate to do so in Burma (Myanmar) where a democratically elected government has been prevented from taking power. Some guests suggested that this attitude has been driven by an attempt to minimize the refugee problem leading to increased immigration by refugees who might for some time constitute a burden on their host country (U.S. or Canada). Some suggested that U.S. legislation such as that relating to sanctions against companies in foreign countries doing business in Cuba might have been adopted with no intention of enforcement to placate Latin-American voters .

It was pointed out that it takes very little for human rights to be taken away. We in Canada pride ourselves on our tolerance to dissent, conveniently forgetting the events of the October 1970 crisis.

The debate moved to a discussion on sanctions, whether sanctions were effective in controlling human rights violations, whether the people they were meant to help were actually hurt by the sanctions. Some points raised:.

  • Democracy is only valid when it allows for dissent.
  • The United Kingdom, the mother of democracy has been guilty of repeatedly violating human rights in Ireland, and is the only country in the E.E.C that has failed to adopt E.E.C. human rights legislation into domestic law.
  • National and international human rights commissions should not adopt a holier than thou attitude in dealing with human rights in foreign countries. They should provide solutions as well as pointing out flaws.
  • No one can be against fighting for human rights everywhere, but there sometimes seems to be some aspect of hypocrisy which is based on economics rather than ethics.
  • Sanctions have done nothing but bring hardship in Iraq and possibly to the nationals of other countries to which they have been applied.

For links and updates on this evening’s topic, see Wednesday-night.com
20/Dec/2000
Faint hopes in Burma

Burma’s repressive military rulers have been hinting that they will soon release Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. One hopes they mean it. But even if the dissident, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, really does gain a greater measure of freedom, no one should mistake that for the real freedom that she and her fellow Burmese deserve.
The current military junta in Burma, also known as Myanmar, came to power after murderously crushing pro-democracy demonstrations that swept their country in 1988. At least 3,000 unarmed activists were killed. Two years later, the despots ignored the results of democratic elections that were won in a landslide by Ms. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. Monday, January 24, 2000

RATCHABURI, Thailand (CP) – Myanmar rebels armed with guns and grenades crossed into Thailand and seized a hospital Monday, taking an estimated 800 people hostage and demanding doctors treat their injured soldiers.

The rebels, believed to be from God’s Army, a Myanmar insurgent group led by 12-year-old twin boys, have been under sustained attack by Myanmar troops for a week at their mountain base near the Thai border. The violence has driven at least 1,000 minority Karen refugees into Thailand.

Interior Minister Sanan Kachornprasart, directing negotiations to end the siege in the western town of Ratchaburi, said the rebels were demanding Thai doctors treat their wounded. They also wanted Thailand to give refuge to their estimated 200 fighters, and stop shelling across the border into Myanmar.

No one was reported to have been harmed, but the rebels, believed to number about 10, tied explosives to the hospital gates and laid mines around the area.

Kachornprasart and Thai army commander Surayud Chulanond both identified the captors as belonging to a rebel group called God’s Army, but the rebels did not identify themselves in a statement of demands.

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