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Free Burma

Transnational Legal Action and Corporate Accountability

John G. Dale

Publication Year: 2011

When the military’s ruling party violently quashed Burma’s pro-democracy movement, diplomatic condemnation quickly followed—to little effect. But when Burma’s activists began linking the movement to others around the world, the result was dramatically different. This book is the first to explain how Burma’s pro-democracy movement became a transnational social movement for human rights.

Through the experience of the Free Burma movement, John G. Dale demonstrates how social movements create and appropriate legal mechanisms for generating new transnational political opportunities. He presents three corporate accountability campaigns waged by the Free Burma movement. The cases focus on the legislation of “Free Burma” laws in local governments throughout the United States; the effort to force the state of California to de-charter Unocal Oil Corporation for its flagrant abuse of human rights; and the first-ever use of the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act to sue a corporation in a U.S. court for human rights abuses committed abroad. Dale’s work also raises the issue of how foreign policies of so-called constructive engagement actually pose a threat to the hope of Burma’s activists—and others worldwide—for more democratic economic development.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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p. vii-vii

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pp. ix-xviii

This book examines how Burma’s pro-democracy movement, beginning in the 1990s, became increasingly transnational in scope, organization, and strategy. Burma’s activists incorporated new actors from outside Burma to join in its struggle to reclaim from the military some form of democratic civilian governance. As it did so, Burma’s once state-centered movement ...


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pp. xix-xxi

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Introduction: Theorizing Transnational Legal Action

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pp. 1-37

He is frustrated, yet hopeful, as he joins the long march of ten thousand, maybe one hundred thousand, others like him. He is defiant, yet willfully peaceful, as he raises his alms bowl upside-down toward the sky above his head. He is no more than eighteen years old, but he is the moral conscience of the people of Burma who have suffered for forty ...

Part I. The Emergence and Transformation of Burma’s Democracy Movement

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1. Burma’s Struggle for Democracy and Human Rights before 1988

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pp. 41-62

Burma today remains dominated by a military- ruled state that sees democracy and human rights as a grave threat to national security and treats proponents of democracy and human rights as enemies of the state. Accordingly, the Myanmar state has one of the worst civil rights records ...

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2. Locating Power in the Free Burma Movement

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pp. 63-97

At 8:08 a.m. on August 8, 1988, nearly one hundred thousand people walked off their jobs and into the streets of cities all over Burma, calling for an end to military rule. In what has since become commonly referred to in Burma as Shitlay Loan A-Yay A-Hkin, or the “Four Eights Affair (8– 8–88),” these citizens protested against the ruling military’s then ...

Part II. Transnational Legal Action and Corporate Accountability in Three Types of Campaigns

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3. Free Burma Laws: Legislating Transnational Sanctions

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pp. 101-140

The Massachusetts Burma law, passed in 1996, restricted the Commonwealth’s own ability, including the ability of all of its agencies and authorities, to purchase goods or services from any individuals or corporations that were engaged in business with Burma.1 The strategy behind this law was to use Massachusetts’s purchasing power in a transnational ...

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4. Corporate “Death Penalty”: Executing Charter Revocation

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pp. 141-169

For the Free Burma movement, the legislative struggle of the selective purchasing law campaign raised an important question: under political conditions in which the federal government seems unwilling to challenge existing relations between U.S.-chartered corporations and the Myanmar government, what, if any, existing legal powers then are fundamentally ...

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5. Alien Tort Claims: Adjudicating Human Rights Abuses Abroad

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pp. 170-195

Free Burma activists’ transnational legal strategies were not limited to partnering with sympathetic local lawmakers to create new legislation, nor to pressuring politically unwilling state executives to simply enforce existing law to rein in corporate partners sustaining the Myanmar government’s abusive regime. They also developed a transnational legal strategy ...

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Conclusion: Where Do We Go from Here?

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pp. 196-213

I have argued that, contrary to the perspective of most scholars, the pro-democracy movement in Burma did not start down a path of inevitable decline after 1990. Instead, it reincarnated itself as the Free Burma movement through its transnational legal action. After nearly fifteen years, the movement is alive and well. Nevertheless, predicting the ...

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pp. 214-216

This book has been a long time in the making. I owe thanks and more to a long list of people. First and most important, I thank my wife and closest companion, Daniela Kraiem. She lived with this project from start to finish, debating the twists and turns in my interpretation all the way. She invested countless hours helping me edit and conceptualize ...


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pp. 217-249

Select Bibliography of Key Legal Documents

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pp. 251-253


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pp. 255-272

E-ISBN-13: 9780816676538
E-ISBN-10: 0816676534
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816646470

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2011