Burma Today Interview with
Jemery Woodrum ( Director, US Campaign for Burma )
Burma Today, Feburary 17 2004
human rights abuses get more and more systematic, severe and widespread
in Burma, democratic forces need to get stronger to free Burma sooner
rather than later. Campaigns of various forms have been waged in
order to weaken Burma's dictators. They have been proven to be successful
when dictators' sources of income are effectively blocked through
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice
everywhere," said Martin Luther King Jr. That notion in action
can clearly be seen in the people like Jeremy who actively involves
in fighting for the freedom and democracy in Burma. Burma Today
honors him. Read on for his interview with Burma Today.
First, I like to ask you how you have come to get interested in
I became interested in Burma while listening to a speech by Ohmar
Khin when I was a student at American University in 1995. She’s
a very inspiring person and an effective speaker. Almost everywhere
she travels, people get involved and want to help. After hearing
her speech, I read a few books in the library. One thing led to
another, and I ended up spending two summers interning in Thailand
with the ABSDF and EarthRights International. After meeting many
heroic Burmese people in Thailand, I decided to get even more involved.
Even though you have other choices that can provide you with more
money, better living standard, you choose Burma's politics as your
I believe that Americans have a responsibility to ensure that our
government has a responsible foreign policy that supports human
rights, democracy and other common values. I also know that the
struggle for freedom in Burma is not only for the Burmese people,
but for all of humanity. I firmly believe that the Burmese people
will win their freedom. As a friend of mine says, there are over
50,000,000 Burmese people and only a few thousand top leaders of
the military. It is only a matter of time before all of Burma will
live in freedom.
Why was USCB formed? What does USCB do?
US Campaign for Burma, a membership-based organization led by a
board of directors and staff, works to support human rights, freedom,
and democracy in Burma. We are specifically focused on calling for
international political and economic sanctions on Burma’s
military regime and working to ensure that victims of human rights
abuses see some kind of justice. We support 100% Aung San Suu Kyi
and the democratically elected leaders of Burma, the National League
for Democracy. We also support all the Burmese peoples who are struggling
What is USCB aiming to accomplish? Is it focused on campaigns related
only to U.S. government and people in the U.S? Or, will it also
We mainly focus on United States, but we work in coalition with
other Burma democracy groups around the world. We are a grassroots
group, which means that practically anyone can join the organization
and can run for our board of directors. We believe that the key
to rallying international pressure is organizing citizens in mass
in key countries.
Tell me your expectation as to what extent does your organization
can bring success?
We believe that the world community should pressure Burma’s
military regime to engage in tri-partite dialogue with the National
League for Democracy and Burma’s ethnic groups. As for our
part, we want to rally citizens and Burmese dissidents-in-exile
to encourage the United States government to lead this effort.
What do you think is the level of interest U.S. government and
U.S. citizens have in Burma's democracy cause?
The US Congress stands firmly behind Burma’s democracy movement,
but there is room for improvement. We really want the US to assume
an active leadership role on Burma, and that includes working with
US allies. As for citizens, there is not yet enough awareness in
Burma in the United States. If more and more citizens get involved
and work together, the US government will be more active as well.
As a grassroots organization, we believe in people power.
How do you see Aung San Suu Kyi? What is your opinion
about Aung San Suu Kyi ?
Aung San Suu Kyi is a hero not only for the Burmese, but for people
around the world. The Burmese people are very lucky to have her—many
struggles around the world do not have a recognized person that
embodies the aspirations of a movement. In the case of Burma, she
serves as a rallying point. She is also very modest, and everyone
knows she wants the world community to recognize other Burmese democracy
leaders as well.
That western nations want to subsidize Burma politically is the
sole reason they support Aung San Suu Kyi. How do you want to respond
The West has no interest in colonizing Burma. That is just an excuse
the military regime uses to stay in power. Burma as a colony ended
over fifty years ago.
There are accusations on Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD, such as they
do no development works but destructive and destabilizing campaigns.
What do you think of such accusations?
This is nonsensical. How can the NLD do work when the regime refuses
to permit its members to meet? How can the NLD support development
when its people are being slaughtered. You can’t have development
without human rights, and that is a notion that I think more and
more of the world is beginning to realize.
Non-Burmans who are involved in Burma's politics are viewed by
some as the ones who see what they do as merely a job and nothing
more than a job that provides a living without substantial interest
invested in the cause. How do you want to respond to that?
I’m not really worried about that opinion because I don’t
think it is held by many people. I greatly enjoy and am honored
to work with the Burmese people and have made so many wonderful
relationships. I also believe that views should be based on an assessment
of policy, character, and integrity--not on the color of one’s
There are comments on financial helps from foreign countries. Such
financial helps are dedicated to the citizens of the donor countries
rather than to Burmans who are truly in need. How do you want to
Without knowing all the details, I think that’s probably
both right and wrong. Of course, countries usually act in their
own self-interest. On that point, I think the challenge is to find
where the interests of donors and recipients run together, though
I imagine that is easier said than done. At the same time, as someone
responsible for raising money, I understand the frustration of finding
funds to run campaigns. I know this is even harder for people who
need donations and support for survival. We need to find several
billionaires to support a free Burma!
Western countries' contribution to Burma is nothing more than a
lip service. They actually do not help. What do you want to say
to those who say so?
The US contribution to Burma’s struggle is more than lip
service, although I agree that many European countries do little
more than pay lip service. It is the job of Americans, Burmese dissidents-in-exile,
and people from all countries to ensure that our governments do
the right thing. We’re working to do that here in the US.
U.S. does not effectively help Burma's democratization.
Do you agree? Why?
The United States has done more than any other country in the world
to support Burma’s democracy movement. Every time there is
a case of serious rights abuses in Burma, members of the US Congress
are the first to speak up and condemn it. The US funds Radio Free
Asia and Voice of America, important parts of the struggle to get
free information inside Burma. The US grants more money than any
other country in the world to democracy groups. The US has placed
the strongest concrete economic and political sanctions on the regime.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has spoken out more strongly than
any other foreign policy leader.
At the same time, the US could do much more, and could probably
do the things it is doing now more effectively. It is the job of
the democracy movement and others to put ideas forward on how to
improve. It is also the job of the democracy movement to help create
the political will to turn those ideas into reality.
Western countries' respect toward Aung San Suu Kyi is questionable
when they just met her, took photograph with her and nod along and
do not make financial, political or other forms of contribution
to the movement. It is doubtful when they say they support Aung
San Suu Kyi. It is also hard to see what they support. How do you
want to respond to above argument?
There is far too much hand wringing within the European Union on
Burma, and EU leaders are embarrassing themselves by their inaction.
The major leaders of freedom struggles in modern history have called
on the European Union to impose sanctions on Burma—Vaclav
Havel, Desmond Tutu, etc.—but the EU has refused to move.
It’s especially ironic that Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the
Sakharov Prize from the Europeans, but so far they have refused
to support her call for action.
I have great respect for the activists in Europe who are working
hard to rally support for EU pressure on the Burmese regime. It’s
too bad that there is not stronger grassroots support in all of
the key countries, and I hope that changes.
If Americans become more interested in and more supportive of Burma's
democratic revolution, the goal will be accomplished in a relatively
short period. Do you have different opinion?
I don’t want to predict timing like that. But certainly,
yes, a strong and consistent US foreign policy will help a great
deal in bringing freedom to Burma.
Americans occupied Iraq and ousted military dictator Sadam Husein.
It has been four decades Burma suffers under military dictators.
To put an end to Burma's tragedy, can Americans do more? What do
If you are suggesting that the United States overthrow the Burmese
military regime, I believe that at present it is outside the realm
of possibility. United States troops are already engaged abroad
in Afghanistan and Iraq and I don’t see that happening right
Regarding U.N.'s handling of Burma issues, what is your view on
The United Nations and Kofi Anna’s special envoy to Burma
Razali Ismail have so far absolutely failed in their mission and
the UN Security Council has, so far, proved why it is all but useless
in situations like Burma. Razali won’t tell the truth—the
Burmese regime simply refuses to negotiate in good-faith, even after
the regime tried to kill Aung San Suu Kyi and slaughtered scores
of NLD members on May 30th. The problem is that he believes, and
has said repeatedly in public, that there is no other option than
what he is currently doing. The truth is, there is another option:
he could publicly call on the European Union to impose political
and economic sanctions on the regime if they refuse to participate
in tri-partite negotiations. He could also use the moral authority
of the United Nations to publicly shame the countries that are paying
the regime’s bills. There are so many different options—yet
it’s been three years and he hasn’t tried anything creative,
so I find it doubtful that he will now.
If you were asked to give one criticism on regime in Rangoon, what
will it be?
Than Shwe, Khin Nyunt, and the rest of the thugs are destroying
their own country.
Finally, any word you want to say to people of Burma?