viernes, 19 de noviembre de 2010

Election Bulletin: Burma’s Elections Marked by Violence, Intimidation and Ethnic Inequality

19 November 2010

"Voters were watched closely while casting votes. It was not free. There will not be change… We were scared and there was nothing we could do".
- A voter in Shan State

Burma’s November elections took place in an environment marked by widespread violence and intimidation as the regime sought to exploit the pervasive climate of fear in Burma to ensure complete control over the electoral process. Intimidation and threats were carried out in the lead up to the elections, in order to ensure a lack of a viable political opposition and to guarantee popular support for regime-backed parties. These threats proved to be largely successful, and when they were not, the regime often followed up with prompt repercussions. Such election related human rights violations took place across the country, but were noticeably worse in ethnic areas, highlighting the regime’s long-standing policy of ethnic discrimination and persecution. This disregard for ethnic rights has translated in heightened tension between ethnic communities and the central regime, and an associated risk of increased armed conflict in ethnic areas.

Burma Election Tracker has collected over 200 reports involving violence and intimidation; sources range from media groups, to citizen reports, to inside networks and personal interviews.

As a whole, many incidents of intimidation relied upon, and perpetuated the deeply entrenched climate of fear in Burma. The polling booths were designed to diminish voter secrecy, and allow for greater surveillance of voters. A Peace and Diversity party candidate Aung Myo Oo stated:

The polling booth officials … are sitting near the voters while they are voting … So there is no security for them. I think this is deliberate … This is not a secret ballot. This insecurity means the voters are afraid of possibly being watched from behind and have doubts over the privacy of their ballot. It’s not good if the voter feels insecure at a polling station. They might think they will be in trouble unless they vote for the USDP
Aung Myo Oo’s statements corroborated with citizen reports gathered by Burma Election Tracker from voters. An Arakan voter stated, “I voted for USDP because there were may security officers. Others also did the same,” while another voter in Rangoon said, “There were USDP members 10 yards away form the polling station and as well as in the polling station telling people to vote for them. I voted for USDP as I was afraid of them.” This climate of fear was present during the pre-election and post election period, and significantly affected the ability of voters to truly voice their opinions. [...]

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From time to time, Burma hits the world headlines. It did so in September 2007, when Buddhist monks courageously led peaceful protests against the country’s brutal military regime, and faced a bloody crackdown. The following year, when Cyclone Nargis struck and the regime initially rejected international aid and access for aid workers, horrific stories of the dead, dying and displaced were again on our television screens. Then last year, after an American Mormon, John Yettaw, swam across the lake to the home of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the international spotlight was briefly on Burma. Ironically, it was Aung San Suu Kyi who was put on trial, and sentenced to a further three years for having a visitor without permission – even though he arrived uninvited. Burma’s dictator, Senior General Than Shwe, reduced the sentence to 18 months, in an act deliberately designed to make him look compassionate while keeping her out of the way until after the regime’s sham elections.

Once again, Burma is in the news. The scenes last weekend of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi emerging from her latest stretch of seven years’ house arrest, and greeting crowds of thousands waiting at the gate of her home, were as visually inspiring as Nelson Mandela’s walk out of prison twenty years ago. Scenes of her addressing crowds the next day from the offices of her banned party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and giving interviews to the BBC and ABC, had been unimaginable even a few weeks ago. She has, after all, spent a total of 15 of the past 20 years in detention.

Yet Burma has suffered from the international media’s short attention span. Each time a key event occurs, the media spotlight shines into the darkness of Burma for a few days, and then the media circus moves on and world attention moves with it. This time, we must not let that happen.

While Aung San Suu Kyi’s release is very welcome, there is a long way to go before Burma’s suffering at the hands of this regime is over. Comparisons with Mandela’s release have been made by many commentators, but the parallel stops at the gate of her house. Mandela was freed because South Africa’s apartheid regime was crumbling, and FW de Klerk knew he had to reform. He engaged with Mandela to chart a peaceful transition to democracy, and Mandela’s release was part of a process of change. In Burma, if the generals have their way, there will be no change.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been freed not because Senior General Than Shwe, Burma’s dictator, has become a reformer, but because he cares more than we realise about his international image, and offers this fig leaf to divert attention from the sham elections, offensives against Burma’s ethnic groups and crimes against humanity.

So the international community must ask what next?

Aung San Suu Kyi has signalled her determination to unify the democracy movement and engage in dialogue with the generals. She has displayed a remarkable absence of bitterness, and extraordinary magnanimity in suggesting she would like the generals to have the opportunity to be the real heroes in this. They can do that by defying all expectations, abandoning their past track record, and taking up her offer of talks. For this to happen, the international community must help.

First, pressure on the junta must be maintained and intensified. Now is not the time to go soft. The message must be given, clearly and unambiguously, to the regime that until it frees all the remaining 2,200 political prisoners, declares a nationwide ceasefire in the ethnic areas and engages in a meaningful dialogue with the democracy movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi and genuine representatives of Burma’s ethnic groups, we cannot speak of progress.

The regime’s widespread and systematic use of rape as a weapon of war, forced labour, torture and the recruitment of child soldiers must stop, and there must be access for international humanitarian organisations to all parts of the country. The military must end its shoot-on-sight policy in which ethnic civilians, including the elderly, women and children are killed at point-blank range.

Since 1996, more than 3,500 villages in eastern Burma alone have been destroyed. In other parts of the country, particularly Chin, Arakan and Kachin states in western and northern Burma, religious persecution of Christians and Muslims is a policy alongside rape and forced labour. Only when all the people of Burma, regardless of ethnicity and religion, are assured equal rights and real peace can we talk of progress.

Equally, however, the junta should be assured that if it does these things, its relationship with the outside world can change and sanctions can be eased. A carefully co-ordinated strategy of targeted pressure and high-level engagement must be developed. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon must take personal leadership of these efforts, and lead a new UN initiative to encourage dialogue in Burma. Australia should play its part in encouraging this.

Dialogue is the one policy which unites everyone. The UN, the European Union, the United States, the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and even China have called for dialogue. Aung San Suu Kyi and the ethnic nationalities have always indicated their readiness to talk. Now a sustained effort to begin talks must be made. For Burma’s regime, this is an opportunity to prove us all wrong and respond to the wishes of Burma’s people. For Ban Ki-moon, and the entire international community, this is an opportunity to restore the UN’s credibility, show leadership and finally stand by Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma with action rather than rhetoric. This is a carpe diem moment.

Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist working with Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) based in London. He has made more than 30 visits to Burma and its borderlands, and is the author of 'Than Shwe: Unmasking Burma’s Tyrant' (Silkworm Books, 2010).

jueves, 18 de noviembre de 2010

Think janata, not junta

The release of Aung San Suu Kyi comes at an important juncture in India’s relations with Burma. During the visit of General Than Shwe — leader of the junta and Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council — to India earlier this year, the two sides concluded a raft of economic and security deals and agreements. The lengthy joint statement issued at the end of the visit made no reference to the political situation within Burma, let alone anything about the internment of Ms Suu Kyi. This was particularly problematic in the context of political developments in the country: the adoption of undemocratic election laws; the disqualification of Ms Suu Kyi and the dissolution of her party, the National League for Democracy.

India’s stance has been criticised by Western democracies. US President Barack Obama’s pointed observations in his speech to the Indian parliament captured the prevailing views on this subject. India, he noted, had “often shied away” from condemning gross violations of human rights. When the Burma junta openly suppressed democratic aspirations of its people, “democracies of the world cannot remain silent”. India’s concerns, he suggested, stemmed from a misplaced concern about violating the principle of state sovereignty.

In fact, concerns about state sovereignty have seldom inhibited India from speaking its mind. Think of India’s consistent and vocal criticism of apartheid in South Africa — not least when Western democracies were mealy-mouthed on the issue. Rather, India’s stance on Burma reflects both its better understanding of the problem and its realpolitik calculations. The latter, however, seem to be based on questionable assumptions. And there is scope to finetune and bring them in sync with our democratic identity and values.

The dominant Western narrative about Burma is of a struggle dating back to the 1980s between forces of democracy led by Ms Suu Kyi and the repressive junta. This captures an important facet of the political context in Burma, but it is too simplistic and myopic. Any meaningful attempt towards a democratic transition will have to address a larger set of problems — issues that played a critical role in weakening democracy and tightening the junta’s grip in the first place. The country’s debilitating problems date back to World War ii. Some of the most difficult and brutal battles of the war were fought in Burma. The British decided that a war-ravaged Burma was not worth holding on to. By the end of 1946, they began to parley with the leader of the Burmese resistance forces, Aung San (father of Ms Suu Kyi). The following year tragedy struck, as Aung San and several members of his cabinet were murdered under circumstances that still remain obscure. Worse, by 1948 the situation in Burma had spiralled into a civil war.

The communist party was the first group to take up arms against the government. Soon, an Islamist insurgency erupted in the north of Arakan. Shortly thereafter, the Karens and Kachins of the highlands turned against the Rangoon government. A couple of years later, the Shans joined the ranks of rebelling tribes. These groups had enjoyed considerable autonomy under the British and feared that their standing would be eroded in a self-proclaimed Buddhist Burma. Some of the groups were rather well armed, having played a major role in the anti-Japanese resistance during World War ii. Others benefited from covert support by China and Thailand.

This anarchical situation resulted in gradual militarisation of the Burmese state. The military began to consume the largest slice of the financial pie and became by far the most powerful actor. Only in 1989 did the government begin to negotiate ceasefire accords. These have been concluded with 16 groups so far. But the underlying disputes are yet to be resolved. A broad attempt at national reconciliation will have to focus on these disputes as well as the demands of Ms Suu Kyi. Reacting to her release, foreign minister S.M. Krishna expressed hope that this would be “the beginning of the process of reconciliation in Burma”. But New Delhi can do more than simply hope for “an inclusive approach to political change”. It can certainly nudge the junta to move further and faster.

Part of the reason why India is unwilling to do so is its concern about China’s influence in Burma. China is its largest trading partner, supplying everything from military equipment to foodgrain. China’s involvement in a range of infrastructure projects has also been a matter of concern for India. These are seen as facilitating China’s access to the Indian Ocean. Yet New Delhi should not over-estimate China’s clout nor regard every Chinese move as detrimental to Indian interests. Historically, Burma’s relationship with China was rarely smooth. Although the two sides managed to resolve the boundary dispute, China continued to assist Burmese communists and insurgents. At the height of the Cultural Revolution, anti-Chinese riots erupted in Rangoon. It was only after 1989 that China and Burma grew closer, united by the international criticism of their human rights record.

Nevertheless, in the past few years the Sino-Burma honeymoon appears to have ended. The junta purge of 2004 and the dismantling of military intelligence network removed key Chinese contacts. The decision in November 2005 to relocate the capital to Naypyidaw took the Chinese by surprise. Beijing made its displeasure clear in January 2007, when its envoy told the UN Security Council that the problems in Burma were “quite serious”. Later that year, Beijing allowed the Security Council to issue a presidential statement critical of the junta. In the wake of Cyclone Nargis the following year, the Chinese urged the junta to cooperate with the UN.

New Delhi need not assume that a more forthright stance towards the junta will necessarily redound to Beijing’s advantage. Our Burma policy has to remain ahead of the trajectory of political developments inside that country. Let’s not forget the central feature of recent democratic transitions: before it happens every revolution seems impossible, but after it happens it seems inevitable. The challenge is to avoid being caught out by history.

- Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

miércoles, 17 de noviembre de 2010

Now We Must All Stand With The Lady by Jared Gensen

She hasn’t been able to talk to her supporters in over seven years. But two days ago, they gathered at the iron gates surrounding the decaying home that has been her prison for 15 of the past 21 years. As they cheered and cried, she said to them, “Thank you for welcoming me like this. We haven’t seen each other for so long, I have so much to tell you.”

Aung San Suu Kyi has been the face and heart of the democracy movement in Burma since the 1988 pro-democracy uprisings were brutally crushed by the military junta. “The Lady,” as she is affectionately known, has suffered in her home while the junta has so cruelly isolated her from the world. It has been her Buddhist faith, her almost supernatural inner strength, and her commitment to restore democracy to Burma that has carried her forward. To see her set free felt like the world was witnessing history – a moment of extraordinary joy and hope for the Burmese people and for people everywhere whose lives are held hostage by dictatorial regimes.

But, it’s only a moment. Today, the real work begins. The international community must not naively think that democracy will now come to Burma. Suu Kyi has been released from her illegal detentions before. And the junta only tightened its grip on power.

Now, Suu Kyi’s work of freeing her own people must begin anew. And the international community must redouble its efforts to support her and them. There are still some 2,200 other political prisoners in Burma. And beyond them, the junta has systematically and thoroughly repressed the fundamental human rights of the more than 50 million Burmese people. Freedom of expression and freedom of association are tightly controlled. The regime uses tens of thousands of child soldiers. Hundreds of thousands of people are regularly conscripted to perform forced labor. But most shocking is the junta’s brutal repression of its ethnic minority peoples. The junta has destroyed over 3,500 villages in a relentless scorched-earth campaign of killing, torture, and rape.

Perhaps contrary to the inclinations of those watching Burma from afar, the international community must now increase pressure on the Burmese junta—not reduce it. The world should celebrate Suu Kyi’s release. But her release did not happen because of a change of heart on the part of the junta leader Than Shwe. Instead, it is a sign of how confident he feels that his sham elections held a week ago have relegated her irrelevant to the future of the country. Make no mistake. This regime has been uncompromising and relentless in its drive to consolidate and make permanent its grip on power. Suu Kyi’s release is anything but a sign of flexibility.

What is required in Burma is national reconciliation between the junta, Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party, and ethnic leaders. Empowered by the UN Security Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should immediately travel to Burma to initiate such a process. It must be the Secretary-General himself because there have been more than 40 visits by lower-level UN envoys to Burma in the last two decades that have not achieved any significant concession from the regime. Suu Kyi’s last release in 2002 was, in part, a result of the UN-led initiative to persuade the junta to participate in such a dialogue. Than Shwe, however, later refused to participate. For any process to work, it must therefore have benchmarks, deadlines, and consequences for those parties which obstruct progress.

To get the junta to the negotiating table, the international community must impose legal, political, and economic pressure on the military junta. The UN must follow the recommendation of its own Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma and establish a commission of inquiry into the junta’s perpetration of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the people of Burma. The United Kingdom, United States, and a dozen other countries have embraced this call to action. Ultimately, it will be for the Burmese people to decide how they wish to achieve justice and accountability. But initiating such a process will send a clear message to the ranks of the military that if they do not resolve the situation through negotiation, accountability may be externally imposed.

Furthermore, the current regime of economic sanctions against the junta is toothless and so poorly implemented that it is little more than symbolic. Not only should sanctions name the junta’s bankers in Singapore and Dubai and deny them access to global markets, but the UN Security Council should be urged to enact a global arms embargo to deny the regime the weapons it uses to repress its own people.

I harbor no illusions about the difficulty of implementing such a challenging agenda. But now, more than ever, the international community must rally around Aung San Suu Kyi and her people. Although she is finally free from her house arrest, the people of Burma are not free so long as the military junta remains in power. We must take to heart what Suu Kyi has so powerfully pleaded, “Please use your liberty to promote ours.”

Aung San Suu Kyi has so much to share with her people. And her people have so much to tell her. I can only hope that the world’s leaders have just as much to tell the junta.

Jared Genser is president of Freedom Now, a campaign group that advocates for the release of political prisoners, and served for four years as international counsel to Aung San Suu Kyi as retained by a member of her family. The views expressed here are his own.

The future of Myanmar and ASEAN after the elections

Bambang Hartadi Nugroho, Jakarta | Tue, 11/16/2010 9:54 AM | Opinion
A | A | A |

The Nov. 7 general election in Myanmar has become a cause for concern for many, with critics calling it undemocratic, because it prohibited the leading opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), from contesting.

The military junta went farther by keeping NLD leader and Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, together with many of her colleagues in custody. The only significant opposition party allowed to put up its candidates was the National Democratic Force (NDF) with only 164 candidates, compared to the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the National Unity Party (NUP) with 1,112 and 995 candidates respectively. Moreover, the Constitution of 2008 mandates that 25 percent of the seats in the parliament should go to military appointees in any case.

The outcome of the election announced Wednesday saw the USDP win by landslide, with around 80 percent of the available seats in the parliament. This result, however, was not unpredictable given the composition of the parties allowed to stand.

From the beginning, the junta had designed the poll to maintain the status quo and hold on power regardless of mounting criticism from across the world. Thus, it is hard to imagine there will be a significant change in the domestic situation in Myanmar.

The question now is how this election result will impact on the future of Myanmar and its people, including the opposition and ethnic minorities, and on the future of ASEAN as the main regional actor that has constantly been defending Myanmar from external pressure, although lately ASEAN also has shown signs of impatience towards the slowness of change in its youngest member.

The Burmese government finally released Suu Kyi on Nov. 13 as planned, around a week after the election. However, based on previous experiences, there is no real guarantee that the junta will keep its promise. And even if she really is freed, there are doubts she can do much under the current situation and in the future.

Some believe Suu Kyi still has a chance to gain support from Burmese people as she did soon after her release in 2002, when she held rallies all around the country and made speeches in front of her supporters. However, in terms of political movement, it is unwise to rely solely on charisma and influence, because it is going to take a lot more than that to push for political reforms.

This effort will even be tougher assuming that the junta will not be kind enough to simply let Suu Kyi and her colleagues to stage anti-government rallies, especially now that the junta can claim to have secured a mandate from the people.

For the ethnic minorities that account for approximately 30 percent of Myanmar population, there is a little hope the election will bring any changes to their fate. Historically, the military regime has always been discriminatory against ethnic minorities such as the Karen and Rohingya.

In a wider context, the result of this poll can affect the development of ASEAN cooperation. It would be exaggerating to say that the future of ASEAN will be determined by what happens in Myanmar, but we must admit that problems in the Indochinese sub-region could probably impact negatively on ASEAN.

From the beginning, ASEAN has always rejected the western approach towards these issues, which focus on pushing agendas through political and economic sanctions.

Through its “constructive engagement” approach, ASEAN has tried to engage Myanmar since the early 1990s by building economic cooperation, while at the same time trying to counter pressures from the US and Europe. SEAN believed that by engaging Myanmar, it would be able to exercise influence to persuade the junta to adopt political reform. However, recent developments indicated that this belief did not hold true.

Of course ASEAN’s future development does not depend solely on the issue of Myanmar, but Myanmar has become and will remain an unsolved matter for ASEAN if it insists on the principle of non-interference, which has justified its non-action against Myanmar.

Some ASEAN members have, to some extent, violated this principle, including Indonesia which recently suggested that the junta should have allowed media coverage on the election process to ensure its fairness and impartiality. Yet, that was the most they could do: They commented only on individual basis, unable to use a stronger and more formal institutional mechanism to put pressure on Myanmar.

Evidently, ASEAN has lost very precious momentum to push Myanmar to reform itself.

Finally, the issue of democratization in Myanmar is vital for ASEAN not only to rebuild its reputation — after being heavily criticized for protecting the military regime — but more than that, it is also important in order to strengthen political and regional security cooperation.

ASEAN states have set the common goal of creating a Political and Security Community by 2015, in which one of the strongpoints is to promote democracy and the protection of human rights within the region.

That is why the need to encourage Myanmar to carry out political reform is vital to ASEAN.

Nevertheless, the group has failed to do so, and they will have to wait — if unable to create—new momentum in the future to mount pressure on Myanmar.

Hopefully, when the new momentum comes, ASEAN will be able to maximize it, for the sake of Burmese citizens, and for the sake of ASEAN’s institutional development.

The writer is assistant lecturer at the Department of International Relations, University of Indonesia.

Myanmar's Suu Kyi seeks to revive political party

November 16, 2010 12:00 AM

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi began the nuts and bolts work of reviving her political movement Monday, consulting lawyers about having her now-disbanded party declared legal again.

Suu Kyi was released over the weekend from 7½ years in detention. On Sunday, she told thousands of wildly cheering supporters at the headquarters of her National League for Democracy that she would continue to fight for human rights and the rule of law in the military-controlled nation.

The 65-year-old Nobel Peace laureate must balance the expectations of the country's pro-democracy movement with the realities of freedom that could be withdrawn any time by the regime. Although her party is officially dissolved, it has continued operating with the same structure. But without official recognition, it is in legal limbo, leaving it — and her — vulnerable to government crackdowns.

The junta recently staged Myanmar's first elections in 20 years, and in a step that will blunt some of the long-standing international criticism of its conduct, released Suu Kyi a week later. Having made those ostensible moves toward democratization after five decades of military rule, it is unlikely to make more concessions — like restoring the NLD's legal status — without getting something back from Suu Kyi and her party, such as dropping opposition to Western sanctions.

Suu Kyi, who has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years, has indicated she would continue with her political activity but not whether she would challenge the military with mass rallies and other activities. She has been noncommittal on sanctions, saying that she would support lifting them if the people of Myanmar provided strong justification for doing so.

In an interview Monday with the BBC, Suu Kyi said she sought "a nonviolent revolution" and offered some reassuring words for the military.

"I don't want to see the military falling. I want to see the military rising to dignified heights of professionalism and true patriotism," she said.

The British-educated Suu Kyi also said she did not fear being detained again.

"I'm not scared," she said. "I know that there is always a possibility, of course. They've done it back in the past, they might do it again."

Nyan Win, who is her lawyer as well as a party spokesman, said Suu Kyi met with her lawyers Monday morning and also party officials from areas outside Yangon who have been keeping her political network alive during years of repression.

He said Myanmar's High Court this Thursday will hold a hearing to decide whether to accept a case from Suu Kyi arguing that her party's dissolution "is not in accordance with the law." The party was disbanded earlier this year under a new law because it failed to reregister for Nov. 7 elections, complaining conditions set by the junta were unfair and undemocratic.

Suu Kyi's side says the new Election Commission has no right to deregister parties that were registered under a different Election Commission in 1990. The party also contends that the court is legally bound to hear their case.

Full results from this month's elections have yet to be released, but figures so far give a military-backed party a solid majority in both houses of parliament.

In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons he talked to Suu Kyi by telephone on Monday morning.

"Her tenacity and courage in the face of injustice has been truly inspiring. I spoke to her this morning to pass on the congratulations of everyone in the country on her release and her remarkable stand on democracy and human rights," Cameron told lawmakers. "We must now work to ensure that her release is followed by freedom for more than 2,000 other political prisoners."

Many observers have questioned whether her release on Saturday was timed by the junta to distract the world's attention from the polls, decried by Western nations as a sham designed to perpetuate control by the military which has ruled Myanmar, also known as Burma, since 1962.

The NLD won 1990 elections by a large margin but the regime barred it from taking power.

Nyan Win said Suu Kyi's lawyers are also pursuing a separate legal case against the junta, involving an appeal to the Human Rights Council, a U.N. body, over her latest 18-month sentence of house arrest which has just ended.

Suu Kyi was convicted of violating conditions of a previous term of house arrest by briefly sheltering an uninvited American who swam to her home. Her legal team argues that the ruling — also applied to two women companions living with Suu Kyi — was illegal and unlawful as it was based on the 1974 Constitution, which was abrogated in 1988.

Since Myanmar's Special Appellate Bench on Nov. 11 turned down an appeal to overturn lower court decisions in that case, Suu Kyi's lawyers are taking her case to the U.N. council.

Although the junta often seems to defy critical international opinion, it has shown sensitivity to pressure from U.N. organizations. Past condemnation by the U.N.'s International Labor Organization over the junta's use of forced labor led to the opening of a special U.N. office in Yangon to hear workers' complaints.

Myanmar people overjoyed but worry about Suu Kyi

YANGON (Reuters) - The release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is still being celebrated in Myanmar but fears about her safety or re-arrest are running high among her adoring supporters.

The Nobel laureate and daughter of the country's independence hero was released on Saturday after seven years in detention but many are concerned her freedom could be short-lived if the country's oppressive army rulers decide to wield their power.

"I'm very worried about her security," said Soe Myint, a taxi driver in Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon.

"If something happens to her, they will be responsible for this," he added, referring to the army regime that has ruled the former British colony for 48 years.

In a country where distrust of the military runs deep, her supporters would have every reason to be concerned.

Suu Kyi's motorcade was attacked in May 2003 by pro-junta thugs in the town of Depayin while on a countryside tour. She was placed back under house arrest, which the regime called "protective custody."

Suu Kyi has spent 15 of the past 21 years in some form of detention because of her fight against military dictatorship in Myanmar and there is little doubt the junta sees her as the biggest threat to its power.

"The Depayin incident is still haunting us," said Hla Thein, a retired teacher. "To be honest, I doubt we can expect any meaningful changes following her release but we are all worried about her."

Suu Kyi has twice been freed and twice re-arrested since she was first placed in detention in July 1989 for "endangering the state."


In May last year, Suu Kyi was weeks away from the expiry of a term of house arrest when American intruder John Yettaw swam to her lakeside home saying God had sent him to warn her terrorists would try to assassinate her.

She allowed the intruder to stay for two nights and as a result was given an 18-month extension to her term for breaking a law protecting the state against "subversive elements."

Critics said the charges were trumped up to sideline her from politics. Some of her supporters fear something similar could happen again.

"To my great relief, another John Yettaw did not show up before she was released," added taxi driver Soe Myint. "I thought the military would create some reason to extend her house arrest." Suu Kyi was greeted by thousands of her supporters when she was released on Saturday and she appears not to have lost her charisma and mesmerizing influence on the people. Although she will play no official political role following a November 7 election boycotted by her party and won convincingly by a pro-military party, few think she will fade from the spotlight.

Her supporters expect her to push for reforms and freedoms but know there are limits to how much she can do in a country tightly controlled by the military and governed by a new constitution critics say was designed to keep Suu Kyi at bay.

They are just happy to see her free.

"I don't think we can expect anything out of her release since it does not depend on her alone. I'm just happy to see her free," said Khin May, a retired bank clerk.

"I will be very glad if nothing happens to her. I hope she doesn't get arrested again."

Story & Photos Copyright 2010 Reuters

Aung San Suu Kyi freed, but Burma taken hostage by the generals

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma)
Burma Lawyers' Council (BLC)
Joint Press Release

Paris-Bangkok, 15 November 2010 - The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma), and the Burma Lawyers’ Council are pleased to see Daw Aung San Suu Kyi regain her freedom on 13 November after spending 15 of the last 21 years in detention in Burma.

FIDH, ALTSEAN-Burma and BLC assert that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention was arbitrary and unlawful, as is the detention of all other political prisoners in Burma. The organisations therefore demand their immediate and unconditional release and the full restoration of their civil and political rights. Their release will be a crucial first step towards genuine national reconciliation. FIDH, ALTSEAN-Burma and BLC further demand that the prior convictions of these political prisoners be overturned and that redress be provided to them and their families for the physical and psychological suffering resulting from the deprivation of their fundamental rights.

While Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s release is technically unconditional, it remains to be seen whether she will be able to fully exercise her fundamental rights and freedoms, including her right to participate in political activities. It is to be remembered that the junta considerably restricted her freedom of movement following her previous releases from detention.

Suu Kyi’s release came six days after the 7 November general elections which violated internationally accepted standards. Not satisfied with the pro-military provisions of the 2008 Constitution and the repressive election laws and decrees, the Burmese junta perpetrated blatant electoral frauds by intimidating and manipulating voters to ensure a landslide victory for their proxy parties.

The oppressive and exclusive elections and the provisions of the 2008 Constitution have placed Burma in grave danger of a serious intensification of its long-running internal conflicts. Such an increase in violence will almost certainly be accompanied by a spike in serious international crimes. The post-election clash between Burmese troops and a splinter group of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which drove as many as 20,000 people across the border to Thailand, as well as military clashes in Shan State is a sign that the general elections and their results are aggravating the root causes of conflict in Burma. This is why the international community must renew its efforts to work with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to ensure that the peoples of Burma are free.

“While Suu Kyi is freed, her country has effectively been taken hostage by the SPDC generals who designed the fraudulent 7 November elections to extend their illegitimate hold on power,” said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President. “The message from the international community must be unequivocal and steadfast at this critical juncture: the SPDC and the next military-dominated regime must cease all human rights abuses, hold perpetrators to account, and commit to a process of inclusive and transparent dialogue with all stakeholders in order to enable a genuine transition to democracy and national reconciliation.”

“The release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should be unconditional and she must be allowed to contribute meaningfully to the process of national reconciliation and the democratic transition of Burma. This must include a fundamental review of the 2008 Constitution, which entirely fails to guarantee peace and stability to civilians,” said U Thein Oo, Chairman of BLC.

“The international community should not be complacent now that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is free. The regime stole an election last week, 2,200 people continue to be arbitrarily detained as political prisoners, ethnic nationality communities continue to be threatened by serious international crimes and escalating conflict. The entire country remains hostage to impunity. Burma needs concrete action now,” insisted Debbie Stothard, Altsean-Burma Coordinator, and FIDH Deputy Secretary-General.