By Frédéric Debomy (president of Info Birmanie) and Stéphane Hessel (French ambassador, co-redactor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
The junta could not miss such an opportunity. The intrusion into Aung San Suu Kyi’s house of a possibly exploited American citizen gives the military regime the unhoped-for possibility to justify a more and more disputed detention.
Let us remind that the Burmese opponent, who was granted the peace Nobel Prize in 1991 for her courageous fight against one of the world’s most oppressive regimes, has spent more than thirteen of the last nineteen years in house arrest. Almost six years have elapsed since she was placed in almost complete isolation, in violation of international as well as national Burmese law. Indeed, the 1975 law on State’s protection, according to which the “Rangoun’s lady” was placed under house arrest, allows the renewal of the custody orders for a maximum duration of five years only. Faced with this blatant violation of the Burmese state’s own law, the UN already demanded the opponent’s liberation in March 2009. This call had no effect whatsoever. Therefore, the absurd act undertaken by an irrational individual is just about to provide this highly disputable detention with some renewed legality. For having sheltered him without even being willing to do it, Aung San Suu Kyi and the other two women who live with her, together with the opponent’s personal doctor, now risk from three to five years of prison for having violated the restrictions that are imposed on them.
In order to understand the reasons for such an attitude from the junta, it is necessary to go back to the generals’ so-called “roadmap to democracy”, a process which was supposed to culminate with the organisation of multiparty elections in 2010. The junta is actually trying to curb any opposition before these elections. In a communiqué from the Quai d’Orsay released on May 14th, Bernard Kouchner and Rama Yade were perfectly right to remind that the elections in Burma were, under current circumstances, totally deprived of legitimacy and credibility. Previous steps of the roadmap are also worth reminding when trying to make out Rangoon ’s real aims. During the referendum of May 2008 – to which any “no” response was prohibited – the military power had a new constitution approved at a 92,4% rate, aiming at providing a fake legality to its domination on the country with, this constitution providing no guarantee at all for any civil nor political kind of liberty. That is why the national League for democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, which in 1990 won the last free elections that the country has known, declared in April that it would accept to take part to the elections only under three conditions: the liberation of all political prisoners (currently more than 2100), the amendment of every article of the constitution that contradicts democratic principles, and the organisation of free and fair elections under international monitoring.
These demands have to be strongly supported by the international community. However, nothing will be achievable without the regional powers such as China , India and the ASEAN. Amidst the voices that rose after Aung San Suu Kyi’s indictment, the one of the ASEAN countries was, once more, particularly weak. ASEAN countries pretend too often to consider the generals’ roadmap as a credible process. We still expect from Asian nations, on the contrary, that they firmly invite the generals to review their roadmap according to acceptable principles.
Without such a determination, it is to be feared that the worse may end up happening. For the obvious fact has to be repeated: the idea that the junta would secure in any way national stability is wrong. The regime might well try to justify its clinging to power by the need to maintain national unity in a country made up by 40% of minorities. Nevertheless, because of the systematic and generalised human rights abuses, together with a catastrophic management of the economy and a clear disregard of its population’ basic needs, the regime appears as the very cause for highly dangerous instability.
Aung San Suu Kyi, thanks to the attention she has always paid to the fate of the minorities, as well as her huge popularity, is the best guarantee of a peaceful transition to democracy. It is time for the international community to fully realize that and to support, through her, all who, at the risk of their lives, work to achieve democracy in Burma .