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«FAILING THE PEOPLE OF BURMA? A call for a review of DFID policy on Burma Produced by The Burma Campaign UK December 2006 Table of Contents Executive ...»

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A call for a review of DFID policy on Burma

Produced by The Burma Campaign UK

December 2006

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

The Humanitarian Crisis in Burma

The Human Rights Crisis in Burma.…

Chapter 1: No Support for Democracy……

Chapter 2: No Cross-Border Aid

Chapter 3: Too Little Aid……………

Appendix 1……………………

Appendix 2………

Executive Summary The Department for International Development (DFID) funds much excellent work in Burma, and this report is not intended as a criticism of its existing work, but rather to highlight glaring omissions in DFID’s current Burma programme. Decades of military rule have reduced Burma to being one of the poorest countries in the world, despite being a country rich in natural resources. The dictatorship spends up to half its budget on arms, and less than 60p per person per year on health and education combined. DFID could play a crucial role in alleviating poverty in Burma and tackling the root causes of that poverty. This report is a call for DFID to fulfil that role. The Burma Campaign UK has three main concerns with the way DFID operates with regard to Burma.

DFID does not provide any support for projects promoting democracy in • Burma.

DFID does not provide any cross border aid to Internally Displaced People • or other vulnerable people who cannot be reached by aid from inside the country.

DFID provides too little aid. The £8m a year budget is not proportionate to • the needs of the country.


As the dictatorship in Burma is at the root of humanitarian problems and underdevelopment, it is impossible to tackle these problems without also addressing their causes, yet DFID is failing to adequately commit to this.

DFID does not provide any resources to projects promoting democracy, despite spending millions of pounds on projects promoting democracy in other countries where oppression and human rights abuses are not so severe.


In many border areas of Burma where poverty is most severe, aid can only reach people by means of aid workers crossing into Burma from neighbouring countries. DFID refuses to fund such aid. Following public and parliamentary pressure in early 2006, DFID held a review of its policy on Internally Displaced People (IDP) funding. The review was due to be complete in October 2006, but has still not been published by December 2006. While DFID dithers, thousands of people are hiding in Burma’s jungles with no food, shelter or medical support.


Given that health, education, and other key indicators are as severe as in many of the poorest African countries, DFID’s budget for Burma - £8m per year - is woefully under-funded. Neighbouring Vietnam receives £50m a year.

If Burmese people were to get as much aid per head as people in Africa, DFID’s Burma budget would have to increase from £8m in 2007 to £80m. The Burma Campaign UK is calling for an immediate doubling of DFID aid to Burma, and a review of funding levels for future years.

NOTE: Figures used in this report regarding DFID’s funding of its work in Burma are based on the limited amount of information that DFID has made public, often only after questions in parliament. The Burma Campaign UK appreciates the difficulties posed by working in an environment such as that in Burma, but believes that DFID could and should be more transparent about its work in Burma. If any omissions have been made regarding projects funded by DFID, this is due to the lack of transparency about their operations.

The Humanitarian Crisis in Burma Burma is one of the poorest countries in Asia. Four decades of military rule and economic mismanagement have resulted in widespread poverty, poor health care and low educational standards. It is estimated that 75% of the population live below the poverty line, although reliable figures are scarce.1 By contrast to the 30-50% of the budget spent on the armed forces, the government allocates only 3% of its budget to health and 8% to education.2 In terms of health care delivery, the World Health Organisation ranks Burma 190th out of 191 countries3. Public investment in education and healthcare combined is less than $1 per person per year - one of the lowest levels of public investment in the world4. Burma’s poorest and most vulnerable population groups lack adequate food supply. There is widespread malnutrition with one quarter of all infants born underweight, one in three children aged five being moderately to severely malnourished and one in ten dying before they reach the age of five.5 Maternal mortality is additionally amongst the highest in the region.6 Although dire across the country, the humanitarian situation for people in ethnic nationality areas along Burma’s borders remains particularly severe.

The regime in Burma has no interest in providing basic services for the population. In 2003 (the last year for which figures are available) the regime claims it spent just $23 million on malaria. This figure is dubious given that the entire health budget for that year was just $18million.7 In 2002 it spent just $22,000 on HIV/AIDS. Its TB budget was only $312,000,8 despite approximately 40% of Burma’s population reportedly infected with TB.9 Over 33% of patients with TB have some kind of drug resistance.10 Only 40% of children complete five years of primary education.11 The root cause of this humanitarian crisis is the lack of an accountable democratic government. Better governance remains the only ultimate answer to Burma’s humanitarian crisis. Any strategy for tackling poverty in Burma must take this into account.

1 Economist Country profile 2004 2 Economist, July 21, 2005, The mess that the army has made of Myanmar 3 Burma: Time for Change: Report of Independent Task Force, Council on Foreign Relations, June 2003 4 DFID Country Plan – Burma, October 2005 5 UNDP Human Development Report, 2005 6 DFID Country Plan – Burma, October 2005 7 Responding to AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria, and emerging infectious diseases in Burma:

Dilemma’s of policy and practice, Page 2, Breyar et al, PLOS October 2006.

8 Responding to AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria, and emerging infectious diseases in Burma:

Dilemma’s of policy and practice, Page 2, Breyar et al, PLOS October 2006.

9 Responding to AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria, and emerging infectious diseases in Burma:

Dilemma’s of policy and practice, Page 3, Breyar et al, PLOS October 2006.

10 Responding to AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria, and emerging infectious diseases in Burma:

Dilemma’s of policy and practice, Page 4, Breyar et al, PLOS October 2006.

11 Special Rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, report to General Assembly 21 September The Human Rights Crisis in Burma Burma is ruled by one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world. It gained independence from British colonial rule in 1948 and there followed a brief period of parliamentary democracy, which ended abruptly with an army coup in 1962. The dictatorship which followed lasted for 26 years until the country's current military rulers, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), formerly the State Law and Order Restoration Council, seized power in 1988.

The coup took place in the wake of nationwide peaceful uprisings aimed at bringing an end to authoritarian rule. The demonstrations were crushed by the military; thousands of people were killed and thousands more arrested in one of Southeast Asia's most bloody episodes in recent history. Worried that they could not hold onto power, the ruling generals held democratic elections in

1990. The National League for Democracy, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, won 82% of seats in parliament.

However, the regime refused to hand over power, and instead unleashed a new wave of oppression. That repression continues to this day. Democracy activists are treated as criminals, under constant surveillance, subjected to harassment, intimidation and arrest for peaceful activities.

There are at least 1,100 political prisoners in Burma, many of whom routinely face physical, mental and sexual torture. Across Burma thousands of men, women and children have been forced to work for the regime without pay and under threat of beatings, torture, rape and murder. Such systematic and widespread use of forced labour has been called a 'crime against humanity' by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The regime continues to wage war against ethnic minorities, such as the Karen, Karenni and Shan, driving hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. More than 3,000 villages have been destroyed, countless civilians killed and rape is systematically used as a weapon of war against ethnic women and children.

Chapter One No Support for Democracy Burma receives an estimated total of $150m in humanitarian aid each year12, but Burma Campaign UK estimates that less than $10 million dollars a year is spent on projects promoting human rights and democracy in Burma.

In addition, the European Commission has more than halved funding for projects promoting human rights and democracy in Burma since 2004; from Euro 522,000 (£353,392) in 2004 to just Euro 200,000 (£134,411) in 2006.13 This is despite human rights and democracy being listed first in the list of areas to receive funding in the EU Common Position on Burma.

DFID’s stated commitments and objectives regarding pro-democracy activities in relation to Burma (see 1-8 below) do suggest concern, on paper at least, that Burma's underlying problems be addressed and not just the symptoms. However, the reality leaves much to be desired.

Whilst DFID's evolving efforts to ensure that a pro-democracy element crosscuts all of its other objectives in Burma is welcome, it is nowhere near sufficient. Despite pledges to actively seek out opportunities to support programmes that would assist Burma's transition (to a democratic society) and specifically to 'consider supporting programmes focused on this objective'14 DFID openly admits it 'does not fund any projects solely focused on promoting democracy'15 in Burma. Given this fact it is the Burma Campaign UK's view that DFID is failing to sufficiently meet its commitment 'to contribute to prospects for a successful transition'16 in Burma and by doing so short-changing the people of Burma.

When compared to the US position on pro-democracy support, the DFID position is even more ashamedly lacking. DFID for example, unlike the US, does not even provide scholarship funding. The British charity Prospect Burma, which provides scholarships to young Burmese, has had to turn to the US government for funding. It now receives an annual grant from the US government but continues to receive no funding from DFID. The funds from the US are, however, still not enough to meet demand for scholarships from Burmese students desperate for an education.

12 Page 4, Myanmar – New Threats To Humanitarian Aid, International Crisis Group, December 2006.

13 European Commission answer to parliamentary Question by Glenys Kinnock MEP, 27/9/2006.

14 DFID Country plan, Oct 2004, page 12 15 Written parliamentary answer Gareth Thomas, DFID Parliamentary Under-Secretary on 19 January 2006 - theyworkforyou.com 16 DFID Country Plan Donors often need to justify their grants based on time-lined quantitative results. On paper, projects that 'increase prospects for a successful transition' may not always seem like good investments because there is often no immediate tangible change as a result of their efforts. The reality is that prodemocracy projects by their nature demand flexibility, vision and patience from genuinely committed donors. At this present juncture whilst the US position certainly represents the required commitment, flexibility, patience and vision, it remains BCUK's opinion that the DFID position regrettably does not.

–  –  –

1) The EU Common Position sets the parameters for DFID’s work.

“Human rights, democracy, good governance, conflict prevention and building the capacity of civil society” are all highlighted under Article 5.17 2) “Progress towards a political settlement in Burma is an essential ingredient for significant pro-poor development and until such progress is made large-scale, sustainable poverty reduction will remain out of reach.”18 3) “Political reform and development are vital to Burma’s development.

Until this takes place, sustainable economic, social and human development will remain difficult, limited and fragile.” 19

4) DFID recognises that its work in Burma should include: “supporting activities that may help strengthen prospects for pro-poor change” and “preparing for change” – “strengthening the preparedness of the Burmese people to take advantage of change, for example by building the capacity of civil society and supporting reconciliation initiatives”.20

5) DFID Objectives in Burma:

Reduced incidence of communicable and vaccine-preventable • diseases particularly in vulnerable and marginalised populations.

Enhanced food security and productive assets for the poor.

• Increased access to quality basic education for poor people.

• Increased prospects for successful transition to a democratic • society.

17 http://europa.eu.int/ 18 DFID country plan, Oct 2004, page 2 19 DFID Country plan, Oct 2004, page 12 20 DFID country plan, Oct 2004, page 11 “The fourth is a crosscutting objective which we will seek to pursue throughout our work.” 21 6) “It is difficult to overstate the enormity and complexity of the changes that will be needed to transform Burma into a modern, prosperous, democratic state capable of eliminating poverty. It will involve creation of new and strengthened institutions to promote faster development, greater accountability, reduced poverty and injustice as well as mediation of conflict. Changes to incentives, mindsets and attitudes that have prevailed for decades will be needed. These changes will take a long time, even with the full support of the leaders of Burma.

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