Toward Democracy, Human Rights and Federalism

Friday, February 3, 2012

U Bo Hla-Tint Addresses Nobel Peace Laureates Summit in Paris

Monday, December 29 2008, 11:40 AM EST

Address by Hon. Bo Hla-Tint, Elected representative of the National League for Democracy and Member of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, at the Nobel Peace Laureate Summit in Paris on 9 December 2008

Mr Chairmen, Honorable Nobel Peace Laureates, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am deeply humbled and much honored to be here at this Summit meeting of distinguished leaders who have done so much for the betterment of humankind.

I am also very grateful that the freedom of our leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is also the focus of this Nobel Peace Laureate Summit.

As you are no doubt aware, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has spent the better part of the last two decades under house arrest in Rangoon simply because her views and popularity are deemed a threat by the Burmese generals whose sole intention is to continue ruling Burma under a military-dominated government.

Today, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi remains a prisoner held incommunicado. Her only companions are two female live-in companions, members of her party, the National League for Democracy.

Until a few months ago, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was not even permitted to receive letters or books, meet her personal physician for medical care, or see her lawyer to legally challenge her unlawful detention. In fact, restrictions were also imposed on her two housemates who were not allowed to leave the residence without military agents following them.

Restrictions on her and her housemates were eased only after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi decided to stop taking food delivered daily to her home for almost a month. She became very weak and one of her housemates was hospitalized in that incident.

She accepted food again only after the authorities gave in and allowed her to receive letters, meet her doctor and lawyer, and eased restrictions on her housemates.

Such shining examples of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's resolve to fight for justice and right regardless of personal consequences that may arise make her very popular among the people of Burma who adore her as their sole leader.

We know for a fact that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is not a vindictive person. She has on numerous occasions spoken about the need to be fair to people with opposing views and ideas. She recognizes the important role of the military in Burma, but not as a permanent ruler. She is willing to accommodate the demands of the Burmese generals but not to the extent that they ignore the freedom and rights of the people. In other words, she will honor the rights of the military provided the rights of the people are held sacred.

Even then, the Burmese generals, who claim that they are building democracy in Burma, are stubbornly pushing ahead with their plan to legitimize military rule. We firmly believe that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's role is vital for the future of Burma. The main problem facing the nation today is that the military leaders do not appear to know that or are mistakenly seeing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as their rival instead of a ray of hope for them as well. Ignorance may be bliss for some but when it is pervasive among a clique of ruling Burmese generals it spells disaster for the nation which, despite the potential to become one of the most prosperous countries in the region, is a failed state. The average Burmese makes less than US 66 cents a day and a third of the country's children are malnourished. Mismanagement, nepotism, and corruption have destroyed not only the economy but also public education, health, and the environment.

The Burmese generals and their cohorts who are unaffected by the ills of the nation have scheduled new elections in 2010.
The National League for Democracy, which won the elections in a landslide in 1990 but which have yet to be honored, the Committee Representing People's Parliament, a body of political leaders and elected representatives mandated by the majority of elected representatives to represent them before the Parliament could be convened, and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, which is the party with the second largest number of elected representatives, and other ethnic political parties, have already publicly declared their opposition to the 2010 election because the constitution unilaterally written by the junta is designed to perpetuate military rule and allow the generals to dominate every aspect of life for generations to come. The constitution is also designed to make it impossible to amend without the support from military-appointed delegates in the Parliament.

The generals are also going ahead with their plan for eliminating opposition along the way. Recently, they imposed severe prison sentences on many political activists opposed to the plan with the objective of instilling fear among the people and clearing "obstacles".

Monks who took to the streets in support of the protesting people in September 2007 have been sentenced anywhere from 68 to 16 years each. Other activists got 28 to 65 years prison terms because they sent e-mail, are a blogger, or used cell phones. The charges are so preposterous that no one in his right mind can understand the mentality of the Burmese generals. For example, a young Burmese blogger was imprisoned by over 20 years for updating the world about the monks' peaceful marches in 2007; and Comedian Zarganar has been jailed 59 years on charges, which include emailing and using his cell phone, in connection with his relief efforts for the victims of Cyclone Nargis after May this year; and members of 88 Generation Students are imprisoned for 65 years, a monk who led the 2007 Saffron Movement, almost 68 years.

The generals are not only jailing political activists but also their pro bono lawyers. So far, four of them have received prison sentences for "contempt of court".

The generals are also vindictive. The political prisoners and lawyers have now been transferred to distant prisons which makes it difficult for family members to visit them to provide support. Superficially, the situation did not seem too drastic, but given the fact that Burmese prisons do not provide nourishing food, have no proper medical care, or even the basic necessities to survive, sending political prisoners to distant prisons is practically cutting off family links which are vital for their survival.

Despite the dire situation, the people of Burma ardently continue to aspire for democracy and the democracy movement remains undaunted by temporary setbacks. The undercurrent of the movement for democracy and ethnic and democracy organizations in exile is to continue resolutely to strive for change in Burma.

In light of the current developments in Burma, the international community, particularly neighboring countries, cannot remain divided in their dealing with the Burmese junta. The UN Secretary-General has often been calling "for all political prisoners to be released and for all citizens of Burma to be allowed to freely participate in their country’s political future as part of an inclusive national reconciliation process." Government leaders, particularly Chinese leaders, attending the Seventh Asia-Europe Meeting in Beijing recently urged the Burmese generals "to engage all stakeholders in an inclusive political process in order to achieve national reconciliation and economic and social development" and "called for the lifting of restrictions placed on political parties and early further release of those under detention".

It is, therefore, time for governments to move to translate their words into action. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners must be freed immediately and a negotiated settlement reached between the democracy movement and the military in Burma before the generals can legitimize military rule in 2010.

In conclusion, and on behalf of the people of Burma, I wish to express my thanks to the distinguished Nobel Peace Laureates who have for so long been working assiduously to gain freedom for our leader. The people of Burma will never forget who their friends are.

Thank you.

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