Toward Democracy, Human Rights and Federalism

Friday, February 3, 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi Trial an Indication of Junta's Panic

Friday, May 15 2009, 12:10 AM EDT

Published in the "News" Section
Bangkok Post 15/05/2009

In Burma, things just keep going from bad to worse. Last week, the country's revered democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was taken ill. Her doctor reported she was short of breath, had low blood pressure and needed an intravenous drip.

That was just before he was detained.

Then there was news of US national John William Yettaw, 53, who swam across Rangoon's Inya Lake to Daw Suu Kyi's house, where he stayed for two nights in her basement.

Now Daw Suu Kyi has been taken to the notorious Insein prison to be tried on clearly trumped up charges.

This presents an opportunity for the international community to act. To anyone with even a passing notion of Burma's Orwellian political context, this latest development is oddly predictable, even given the surreal circumstances.

To reach an understanding of this awful turn of events, one has only to reach back a few months. In April, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Aung San Suu Kyi's incarceration was not only in violation of international law, it was in contravention of Burmese law.

Since then it has been incumbent on the Burmese military regime to find a means to justify the continued imprisonment of the country's leading democracy figure. This compulsion became particularly pressing as Daw Suu Kyi's current period of house detention was scheduled to end on May 27.

Desperately reaching for an excuse to put the country's legitimate democracy leader in prison, the regime has cooked up a bizarre scheme to use the uninvited visit of the American and to then apply Article 22 of the State Protection Law, which prohibits any Burmese from accepting a foreign visitor for an overnight stay without state permission.

This is quite apart from the fact that it is the regime which should be on trial for failing to protect someone supposedly under their watch.

The trial looks set to drag on for days yet. It will be behind closed doors, of course, and likely removed from any connection to basic legal due process. This development highlights a number of issues.

For one, it should not be forgotten that Aung San Suu Kyi's fate mirrors that of Burma's many other political prisoners. There are now some 2,100 political prisoners in Burmese prison cells and each and every one has landed there on the back of unfounded charges and hollow legal processes.

Her fate is that of so many in Burma.

The second issue is that Daw Suu Kyi's widely reported health problems have clearly driven the regime to seek ways to take her even further away from scrutiny. This is clearly a dangerous course, but it does at least suggest that the regime is increasingly reactionary and that international pressure to release Daw Suu Kyi is gaining traction.

While we all fear the health consequences should she be imprisoned, we can at least find some motivation in this fact.

A third point highlighted is that this situation is as clear an indication there ever was -- if one were needed -- that the proposed 2010 national elections are an absolute sham. Finding scant reason to lock up the country's bona fide democracy leader is this regime's obsession, not democracy. This election has zero credibility and zero democratic accountability.

As the regime has seen fit to look to imprison their greatest threat, we can all be emboldened by her spirit and by her fortitude. That she has stayed in Burma to face such threats to her safety and well-being, despite being allowed to leave Burma at any time (so long as she does not return), shows she has chosen a harsh course.

For her, it is the only course, for she must be where her people are.

Over the last months, there has been debate over policy on Burma among the international community. The case of Aung San Suu Kyi underlines that any policy must have at its core a push for the release of all political prisoners and to be driven by the need for a democratic transition to be initiated in Burma immediately.

Moreover, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's arrest offers a firm basis for the continuation of targeted economic sanctions and for ongoing international pressure, as this is an obvious motivator for the regime and is a sign that they fear the opprobrium of global governments and institutions.

The solution to Burma is, and has always been, a combination of carrot and stick.

What we learn from the case of Aung San Suu Kyi, as she awaits her fate in Insein prison, is that there is hope even in disaster and that her sacrifices are at last undermining the regime. Perhaps this appears paradoxical and counter-intuitive, but such is the shape of politics in today's Burma.

The world must not let this moment pass without swift and sure action. It is time for the international community to end Burma's descent into hell and to use Daw Suu Kyi's kangaroo court trial as a base upon which to build greater democracy in our country.

This "Article History" by Bo Hla-Tint was also carried by the Guardian of UK under the title: "Hope for Burma, even in disaster" on 14 May.

Bo Hla Tint is Foreign Affairs Minister for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, headquartered in Washington, DC

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