To Hopeland and Back: The 29th trip

Day Three. Friday, 7 April 2017

We should not moor a ship with one anchor
Or our life with one hope.
Dale Carnegie (1888-1955)

Nothing much to report for today. I have lunch at a monastery in Yankin township, where one of my nephews who’s newly wed and his bride are holding a merit-making ceremony.

On the way back, one of my relatives remembers:
Sao Kya Hseng and Die letzte Mahadevi

On the day (24 April 1959) of the Saophas (ruling princes) relinquishing their traditional powers to the Shan State government, Gen Ne Win, who was then head of the caretaker government (from 1958 to 1960), arrived in Taunggyi. He was welcomed by all the Saophas standing in line whom he shook hands with one after another. But when he came face to face with the Saopha of Hsipaw, he turned his head away as it to talk to someone and walked past him to shake hands with the next Sao Pha.”

The said Saopha, who mysteriously disappeared during the 1962 coup, is immortalized in “Twilight over Burma,” the book written by Inge Sargent, his consort. A movie, based on the book, came out last year, but was banned both in Thailand and Burma.

But I also remember what U Ne Win said before his death, that had he learned the impermanence and impartiality of life during his younger days, an event like the 1962 takeover wouldn’t have taken place.

Naturally, I begin to wonder what would have happened to his beloved Tatmadaw and the country had he decided to stay out of politics. Won’t you too, if you’ve heard what I’ve heard?

Day Four. Saturday, 8 April 2017

I believe that drugs have destroyed many lives, but wrong government policies have destroyed many more.

Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, and Commissioner of Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP)

The public event today, held at Novotel Max, is aimed for promotion of a less punitive approach to drug users.

A government official, reports Transnational Institute (TNI), estimated the total proportion of Myanmar prison population incarcerated for drug related offenses to be 70%.

The key reason for this, the conveners say, is the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law adopted on 27 January 1993 by the then State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), in line with the 1988 UN Convention, which Burma acceded on 11 June 1991. It stipulates that drug users are liable to imprisonment from 3-5 years, and a person found in possession of a minimum of:
§  3 grams of heroin
§  3 grams of opium
§  25 grams of cannabis
will be sentenced to 10 years imprisonment or longer. 
Madam Ruth Dreifuss (

But since the quasi-civilian government of U Thein Sein took power in 2011, a review of many of the country’s laws, including the 1993 drug law, has been taking place. The result is the draft amendment bill which was published last month in newspapers for public consultation. One official from the National Human Rights Council (NHRC) who attends the event sums the bill up this way:

We will not take users to jail. We will be taking them to treatment centers instead.

Madam Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland and a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP), says Myanmar is not alone in employing harsh measures against drug users. But pilot programs in decriminalization have been paying off in the West.

For example, Portugal, since 2001, after decriminalizing drug possession for personal use, has experienced a reduction of drug use, drug-related deaths, and new cases of AIDS among others.

“Equally, the Netherlands, which decriminalized drug possession in the mid1970s, has reported lower rates of ‘hard drug’ use when compared to many of its Western European neighbors and the US,” says its 2016 report, entitled Advancing Drug Policy Reform: A new approach to decentralization, which is launched at the event.

In Burma, prohibition has been one major cause for an upsurge in drug use and the consequential social instability, and the emergence of vigilante groups like Pat Jasan, initiated by frustrated local populace.

Sai Sarm Kham of Metta Foundation who has been working in 3 Shan townships has a lot to say about the group and other related topics:
§  They need to be shown there are options other than punitive measures
§  During the 1990’s, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) introduced buckwheat as a substitution crop in Shan State North. People were forced to grow it. But when the harvest was shipped to Japan, by the time it reached there, its quality had suffered and there was no one to purchase it
§  China also encouraged its businessmen to initiate crop substitution programs in the form of coffee and rubber plantations. On the contrary, these projects led to land grabbing, pushing the farmers out of their ancestral homes and land
§  Drugs and development are interrelated. But political and social factors must also be taken into account
§  In the end, according to a Kachin elder, there are no such thing as substitution programs, That’s a misleading way of thinking. What we need to do is a social-politico-economic improvement of the people.

I have prepared a number of questions for the panelists. However, time is extremely limited (13:00-
16:00), and there are too many people who want to ask and want to make comments during the Q & A session.

The big question is, of course, how decriminalization can work where criminalization hasn’t. Because, clearly, amendment to the 1993 drug law alone, like a magic wand, won’t do away with the drug problem that has for more than 60 years been closely associated with war and strife.

Still I have another meeting to attend. And much as I want to talk to my friends, old and new, I decide that there’ll be another time and take a French leave.

I haven’t much to say about the next meeting except that I keep learning things, which, if put into good use, will do a lot of good to the peace process.

The next day I’m back in Chiangmai at attend more meetings and, then to return home for the Songkran. Which, for the past two years, I had missed. The warning from my better half says if I’m going to miss it again this time, I may just as well miss it forever. 


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