Letter from the Most Reverend François Thibodeau to the Minister of the Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Hon. Lloyd Axworthy

Tuesday, April 22 1997

The Hon. Lloyd Axworthy
Foreign Affairs and International Trade
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6

Dear Mr. Axworthy,

We are very concerned about the deterioration of human rights in Myanmar where the military junta continues to systematically abuse those persons in civil society who work for the respect of their human and democratic rights.

Despite pressures from certain international organizations and countries (such as the measures recently announced by the European community as well as the U.S. administration), the junta appears to remain determined to maintain tactics of confrontation with the opposition: accusations in government media, interrogations, harassment and prolonged detention of members of opposing parties by the security forces who appear to think that any means are permissible.

Beyond these attacks on political and civil liberties, we wish to draw your attention to the violation of social, economic and cultural rights of the population of that country. According to Amnesty International, security forces are responsible for cruel and inhuman treatment of imprisoned persons who are subjected to forced labour whether it is in the area of military or civilian construction projects in rural regions. Amnesty also noted cases of torture and rape of persons detained by the authorities.

We are aware of the measures adopted and approved by your government in recent years, notably the proposal regarding the establishment of a contact group under the aegis of the United Nations but we believe that the time has come to retake the initiative.

As a founding member of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and in conformity with our commitment to human rights, we hope the Canadian government will call on the members of APEC to manifest their opposition to Myanmar’s immediate membership in that organization.

We feel that before admitting Myanmar to their association the member countries of APEC must demand its government immediately cease violating human rights (for example, an end to repressive measures, forced labour, etc.) and without further delay, begin talks with representatives of the democratic opposition and human rights organizations in order to assure a return to democracy.

We invite the Canadian government, in the framework of the Canada/Asia Pacific Year and on the occasion of the Vancouver Summit that our country is hosting, to accord a more important place to the social and human dimension of development and to the promotion of human rights for the people of the region. We believe the Canadian government could do better in focusing its efforts in this area.

We look forward to hearing from you, Mr. Axworthy, at your early convenience.

Yours sincerely,

+Most Reverend François Thibodeau, C.J.M.
Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

c.c.  Mr. Marius Grinius, Director, South East Asia Division
President, Myanmar Catholic Bishops’ Conference