Human Rights

Who’s Next for Burma’s Blacklist?

By The Irrawaddy 7 September 2012

When the government announced more than 2,000 names removed from its “blacklist,” many people were clearly bemused. The list included prominent Burmese activists, aid workers, scholars, historians, diplomats, democracy campaigners and politicians.

Kim Dae-jung, the former president of South Korea, and Cambodian politician Sam Rainsy were on the list, while the names of Singaporean activist Chee Soon Juan and former US Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright also cropped up.

Yet there were also many included who are unlikely to take advantage of their newfound emancipation. Corazon Aquino, former president of the Philippines, and respected Burmese journalist U Thaung both died years ago. Sonny Bono, who passed away on Jan. 5, 1998, was also included.

Not to appear cruel, but surely the bright sparks at Burma’s infamous Military Intelligence should realize when someone they are “watching” dies over 14 years ago? Perhaps they confused him with U2’s Bono, the Irish musician who penned “Walk-On” in honor of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The list showed the incompetence of the regime and a dearth of coordination between ministries. For example, many names were obviously misspelled or just plain wrong—such as Sam Rainsy (Ringsi in the list), the mysterious “Mr. Nick” from the UK and “Lee (Buyer)” from South Korea.

And who is this enigmatic Australian “Brian” if not the toast of antipodean espionage who (somehow) managed to keep his full identity so well-hidden from the Burmese military machine? If not a spy, then certainly “a very naughty boy.”

Honestly, dead people? Maybe the list-keepers merely forgot to keep updating or perhaps their computer broke down. Damn you Windows XP!

When exiles returned home this year they were informed that the Ministry of Home Affairs would keep them on the blacklist while the President’s Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs said they had been removed. No wonder everyone is puzzled.

Well, there are undoubtedly more amusing stories in the pipeline. The full list has not yet been disclosed and many in Rangoon predict that Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama will be included. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize would almost guarantee your addition. Of course, they are all criminals!

Last year, the Dalai Lama said that he wanted to visit Burma to pay homage at its holiest shrine of the Shwedagon Pagoda. He is still waiting for his visa, probably due to China’s vitriolic hatred of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

What about former US President George W. Bush and his wife Laura? The couple sent warships to deliver aid to Burma following Cyclone Nargis in 2008 and met Burmese refugees and exiled activists in Thailand that same year. Surely these heinous offenses warrant inclusion.

It is also fascinating to see who these Military Intelligence spooks and blacklist collectors failed to pick out.

Burma is a haven of drug lords—in northern Shan State there is notorious Wei Xuegang who runs his lucrative smuggling business with impunity, while many more remain untouched.

Some dissidents even accused drug lords of becoming lawmakers in the Burmese Parliament. The late Khun Sa died peacefully in a government guesthouse and was never even arrested despite surrendering to the Burmese authorities and having a DEA bounty of US $2 million on his head

These narcotics kingpins launder their illicit gains through mainstream banking and other businesses in Burma to make their dirty money respectable. Many cynical Burmese joked, “Thugs, criminals and butchers who all live peacefully in Rangoon’s Golden Valley and Naypyidaw are not on the list!”

Last week, Zaw Htay, director at the President’s Office, told The Irrawaddy that the blacklist and watch list will remain.

The government will continue to monitor, review and update the list, he said, while declining to elaborate further. Since reform kicked off in Burma, the president invited exiles to come back but they will still remain under surveillance. Do they not see the contradiction? It seems the blacklist blues are set to continue.

The writer asked to remain anonymous to avoid being added to the blacklist.