For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
December 10, 2007
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at a Video Teleconference on Burma in Recognition of International Human Rights Day
9:33 A.M. EST
MRS. BUSH: Thanks, Ambassador. Thank you, Dr. Maung, for joining us this morning.
Let me tell you who's here with us. We have Jim Jeffrey*, the Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs is here by me. Next to him is Elliott Abrams, Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy; Dennis Wilder, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for East Asian Affairs. On this side of the table, Anita McBride, who is my Chief of Staff; Ambassador Chris Hill; and Kristen Silverberg at the table with us.
So I'm so glad that you all have joined us and that they're here with us. And I'd just like to make a few remarks, and then I'm very anxious to hear from Dr. Maung.
Today is Constitution Day in Thailand. And I want to thank each of you for gathering in Bangkok and Chiang Mai on this holiday evening. Today is also International Human Rights Day: the 59th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And on this day especially, our thoughts turn to the millions of people who are denied nearly every right enshrined in the Universal Declaration -- the citizens of Burma.
For nearly 20 years, Burma's military regime has crushed peaceful dissent and jailed thousands of political prisoners. For 12 of the last 18 years, the military leadership have held under house arrest Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma's popularly elected National League for Democracy.
This summer, the world watched with horror the junta's brutal crackdown on the Buddhist monks, who led their fellow citizens in a non-violent protest against a 500 percent spike in the regime-controlled gas prices. Many were killed, and thousands were imprisoned under shameful conditions. Arrests and beatings continue, and many of the demonstrators remain incarcerated.
Regimes with the least respect for basic human rights are often the ones least able to provide for their citizens' basic human needs. In Burma, the generals' arbitrary economic decisions have yielded widespread misery and poverty. Most citizens live on less than $1 a day. In a nation once known for its agricultural abundance, many people can now afford only one meal a day. Basic medical care is lacking. Infectious diseases like AIDS, malaria, and drug-resistant tuberculosis spread unchecked across Burma and post a serious health threat to Southeast Asia.
The junta's policies have taken a devastating toll on children. UNICEF estimates that more than a third of Burmese children under the age of 5 are malnourished. The education system is in shambles. Desperate girls in Rangoon labor in "karaoke clubs" -- poorly disguised fronts for sex parlors.
It seems the generals are indifferent to the Burmese people's suffering, but the rest of the world is not. The European Union has tightened sanctions against the regime, and imposed an embargo on some of its top sources of revenue -- including gemstones, timber, and metal. India, one of Burma's closest trading partners, has stopped selling arms to the junta. The President of the Philippines has said that her country's ratification of ASEAN's new charter depends on Burma's release of the leader Aung San Suu Kyi. And the U.N. Special Envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, is working to bring about reconciliation between the regime and Burma's democratic opposition.
The American people are doing what we can do to help. This year, our government has provided about $15 million in humanitarian aid to the Burmese people. In September and October, President Bush expanded U.S. sanctions against the regime, and tightened sanctions on its top leaders. The State Department extended visa bans on Burmese officials and their family members -- adding about 290 people.
We know that the regime feels this financial squeeze. After the Treasury Department added regime supporter Tay Za to the sanctions list, his airline, Air Bagan, had to stop flights to Singapore, because the company's banks in Singapore ended their business relationship. International outrage is also affecting the sale of Burmese gems, the regime's third-largest source of revenue. Last month, at the gem show in Rangoon, only $150 million was yielded -- half of what the regime hoped to make.
President Bush and I call on all nations -- especially Burma's neighbors -- to use their influence to help bring about a democratic transition. So far, Than Shwe has offered only token gestures of reconciliation. If he and the generals are serious, they should give Aung San Suu Kyi unlimited access to the diplomatic community and other members of the Burmese opposition. She and other political leaders should be released immediately and unconditionally, so they can plan a strategy for Burma's peaceful transition to democracy. Members of the junta have promised to engage in a serious dialogue with democratic representatives of the Burmese people. If Than Shwe and the generals cannot meet these very basic requirements, then it's time for them to move aside and make a clear path for a free and democratic Burma.
Meanwhile, we will not forget the 88 Generation students, the Buddhist monks, Aung San Suu Kyi, and all political prisoners. Especially on Human Rights Day, we stand with the courageous people who are standing up for democracy and justice in Burma.
Dr. Maung, thank you very much for joining us on this conference call. Dr. Cynthia fled Burma in 1988, and soon after founded the Mae Tao Clinic, which serves about 150,000 people along the Burma-Thai border. I'm eager to learn from Dr. Cynthia about her work and about the conditions in Burma. Ambassador Skip Boyce will introduce Dr. Cynthia.
END 9:41 A.M. EST
*Jim Jeffrey serves as Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor.