Cablegate: Burma's National Convention: Ink for the Rubber

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/23/2014

Classified By: COM Carmen Martinez for Reasons 1.4 (b,d)

1. Summary: Members of the National Convention Convening
Work Committee demonstrate scant appreciation for the guiding
principles and mechanics of constitution drafting. There is
no indication the planned drafting process will involve
genuine dialogue, negotiation, debate, or collaboration. By
all appearances, the SPDC and their proxies on the Work
Committee, and not the delegates to a reconvened National
Convention, will unilaterally address fundamental issues such
as separation of powers, state and local authority, and
individual rights. The role of a reconvened National
Convention, it appears, will be to simply bless the finished
product, one that ensures a preeminent governing role for the
military. End Summary.

2. On March 25, Emboffs and a PD-sponsored speaker, a senior
U.S. judge, met with three members of the National
Convention's "Convening Work Committee." The committee is a
35-member group of senior GOB officials, appointed by SPDC
Chairman Senior General Than Shwe in October 2003, that has
the nominal task of preparing draft constitutional language
for a reconvened National Convention. Chief Justice U Aung
Toe chairs the committee and at least seven deputy ministers
are among its members.

3. Our interlocutors from the Convening Work Committee were
committee secretary U Thaung Nyunt and members Dr. Tun Shin
(Deputy Attorney General) and Dr. Thaung Nyunt (Ministry of
Health advisor). Thaung Nyunt described the committee's
objective as "formulating and approving the basic principles
for a new constitution." He said that potential delegates to
a reconvened National Convention will be allowed to make
proposals on the draft constitution, but that the Work
Committee "will give them the facts," implying that any
proposal would have to fit a pre-determined framework
determined by the SPDC.

4. According to the Work Committee members, the GOB intends
to use the 1993-1996 National Convention, which collapsed
with inconclusive results, as the starting point for the
drafting of a new constitution and the reconvening of a new
Convention. The National Convention initially had 702
delegates and, according to Thaung Nyunt, "suffered a number
of casualties" and concluded with only 543 delegates. (Note:
A number of political parties, including the NLD, and ethnic
groups withdrew in protest over a lack of democratic
practices in drafting a new constitution and were
subsequently banned from the Convention. End Note)

5. The Work Committee members said that the 1993-1996
National Convention had already identified chapter headings
and 104 "fundamental principles" for a new constitution.
Furthermore, of the 15 chapters, the suspended Convention had
already completed work on the "detailed basic principles" of
the first six, including the State fundamental principles,
the State structure, the Head of State, the Legislature, the
Executive, and the Judiciary. A reconvened National
Convention, the members said, would not make any changes to
the chapter headings, to the "progress achieved" on the first
six chapters, or to the 104 principles.

6. The task of a new Convention, Thaung Nyunt intimated,
would be simply to sign off on the final nine chapters and on
the overall constitution. There will be no voting at the
reconvened National Convention, he said, "Our job is to avoid
the disintegration of the Union and our objective is to reach
a consensus within the Convention." Thaung Nyunt declared
that the Convention "will be a success, because we have made
a considerable effort." On timing, he would only say that
an announcement on the reconvening of the National Convention
would take place "in the very near future."

7. We pressed the Work Committee members to describe steps
the GOB has taken to address the shortcomings of the
1993-1996 National Convention, which failed to produce a new
constitution. "Res ipso locutor," said the Deputy Attorney
General, "things speak for themselves and you will see the
results soon." We also asked if the Committee had reviewed
existing constitutions to draw on the experience of other
countries. Thaung Nyunt said that the GOB is not ignoring
other constitutions, but declined to identify any models or

Comment: Just Sign On the Dotted Line

8. Many potential delegates to a reconvened National
Convention have held out hope that the SPDC's "road map to
democracy" may actually create opportunities for genuine
dialogue, negotiation, debate, and collaboration in crafting
a new constitution that addresses fundamental issues such as
separation of powers, state and local authority, and
individual rights. Our conversation with members of the
Convening Work Committee, which reports directly to SPDC
leaders, revealed no consideration for such a process.
9. Key details of several constitutional issues not fully
addressed in 1993-1996 are still unresolved, including the
role of the Armed Forces, elections, and the rights and
duties of the citizenry. However, the Work Committee views
the basic principles that address these issues as set in
stone, including language that states the Tatmadaw (Armed
Forces) "has the right to independently administer all
affairs concerning the forces" and "has the right to take
over and exercise State power" in any undefined emergency
that "could cause disintegration of the Union." A reconvened
National Convention, it appears, will be expected to bless a
constitution that ensures a preeminent governing role for the

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