Despite a note of guarded optimism struck by one of Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyers and notwithstanding mounting international pressure, there is no real indication that her trial in Rangoon will end in her acquittal and release.
“We don't accept pressure and interference from abroad,” said Burma’s Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint.
“The case against Aung San Suu Kyi is an internal legal issue,” he told a meeting of the European Union and Southeast Asian ministers in Cambodia.
Since the pro-democracy leader was first arraigned on a charge of violating the terms of her house arrest, international pressure has been increasing to unexpected levels, even from the organization where the regime traditionally finds protection, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Strong statements came from world leaders such as US President Barack Obama, who said, “It is time for the Burmese government to drop all charges against Aung San Suu Kyi and unconditionally release her and her fellow political prisoners. Obama’s administration—which had been reviewing its hard-line policy towards Burma—also extended its economic sanctions against the junta right after her arrest on May 14.
Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown delivered a particularly strong and impassioned statement, talking of action to ensure the release of Suu Kyi.
The statement, issued to mark Suu Kyi’s 64th birthday on June 19, declared: “I add my voice to the growing chorus of those demanding your release. For too long the world has failed to act in the face of this intolerable injustice. That is not changing. The clamour for your release is growing across Europe, Asia, and the entire world. We must do all we can to make this birthday the last you spend without your freedom.”
The UN Security Council was prompted to break its silence, expressing its concern over Suu Kyi’s arrest and trial and the current deadlocked political situation.
Asean, which is always cautious about criticizing its members, said the action now taken against Suu Kyi had damaged the image of the grouping. Asean’s Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said Burma’s treatment of the pro-democracy leader and other political prisoners has damaged Asean’s image. The Thai government, the current chair of Asean, also expressed its concern over Suu Kyi’s trial and her state of health.
All these expressions of concern, however, fall on deaf ears in Naypyidaw. The junta’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that the trial “will not have any political impact. The government, therefore, will hold multiparty general elections, fifth step of the roadmap in 2010.”
There it is. Now it’s clear. Suu Kyi will be sentenced to three or five years imprisonment at the end of this carefully orchestrated trial, which is likely to end next week, according to Suu Kyi’s legal team.
So, what then? What can be expected from world leaders such as Obama and Brown and organizations such as the UN Security Council and Asean?
For his part, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma from 200 to 2008, has called for the Security Council to establish a commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity committed by the junta, with the possibility of obtaining an indictment by the International Criminal Court.
In the case of Asean, it is being suggested that the grouping might want to suspend Burma because of the damage it is doing to its image.
World leaders like Obama and Brown can work with the international bodies, the UN, EU and Asean, and even with Burma’s closest allies, China, India and Russia, which are quietly guarding their business interests with the junta by turning a blind eye to the trial and other injustices.
All need only one thing—political will.