World’s Most Prominent Political Prisoner’s Detention Extended, Again (click to view PDF)

Time for Action at the UN Security Council, Say Activists

For Immediate Release

May 27th, 2006
Contact: Jeremy Woodrum and Cristina Moon, (202) 223-0300 (office) or (202) 246 7924

(Washington, DC) In defiance of numerous and repeated requests by world leaders, including United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, his deputy Ibrahim Gambari, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma Paulo Sergio Pinheiro and many governments around the world including the U.S, European Union and ASEAN, General Than Shwe, leader of Burmese military regime, has extended the detention of the world’s most prominent political prisoner, 1991 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi. Known for her charisma and Gandhian essays on nonviolence and peace, she is the world’s only incarcerated Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

This extension comes as pressure builds at the UN Security Council for its first-ever action on Burma after the ruling military junta launched a major attack on ethnic nationalities that has driven thousands of innocent civilians from their homes. This extension also undermined the message of UN Under Secretary-General Ibrahim Gambari, who just visited Burma and held a press conference offering his high expectations that Burmese regime is willing to turn a new page in its relations with international community. Kofi Annan appealed to Than Shwe to release Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday while he was in Bangkok, Thailand. In his statement, Kofi Annan said, “I’m relying on you Gen. Than Shwe to do the right thing.”

Aung San Suu Kyi has spent over 10 of the past 17 years in prison and under house arrest and was last arrested on May 30th, 2003. She led her political party the National League for Democracy to a landslide victory in Burma’s last democratic election, garnering an overwhelming 82% of the seats in parliament. She rose to the forefront of Burma’s democracy movement in 1988 as millions of people marched in the streets demanding a transition to democracy.

Her admirers include music bands R.E.M., U2, Damien Rice, and Ani DiFranco, Nobel Peace Prize recipients Desmond Tutu and Jody Williams, and political leaders Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright.

“This is a clear signal to UN diplomats who have time and time again fell into the trap of the military junta,” said Aung Din, a former political prisoner in Burma and policy director at U.S. Campaign for Burma. “These diplomats can’t seem to understand that the Burmese military junta doesn’t keep its promises. Mr. Gambari and Kofi Annan should ask the UN Security Council to work toward a resolution requiring an end to attacks on ethnic minorities and the release of all 1,100 political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi. If the Security Council doesn’t act, many more people will die.”

The military junta ruling Burma, led by Senior General Than Shwe, has destroyed 2,800 villages in eastern Burma alone over the past 10 years. In order to stamp out an ethnic insurgency, the junta has carried out a brutal campaign against civilians, burning villages, rice barns, and fields, and raping women. Over the past several months, an additional 17,000 civilians have been forced from their homes, adding to over ½ million living, as internally displaced person. Survival is extremely difficult as the junta hunts down villagers and kills them like animals. According to the respected human rights organization Refugees International, over 1 million refugees have fled the country. Human Rights Watch reports that the Burmese junta has conscripted up to 70,000 child soldiers in Burma, far more than any other country in the world.

The United Nations and other bodies have attempted countless failed attempts at diplomacy on Burma, passing 28 consecutive UN General Assembly and Commission on Human Rights resolutions that have been summarily ignored by the ruling military regime. The European Union has sent several failed “troika” missions to Burma, while the Association of Southeast Asian Nations “Bangkok Process” fell apart in 2004. Bilateral efforts at provoking change by Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand have all fallen on deaf ears.

However, international views toward Burma changed significantly when 1984 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Bishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa and former Czech President Vaclav Havel commissioned a groundbreaking report outlining a proposal for a UN Security Council Resolution on Burma. Unlike other UN mechanisms, a UN Security Council resolution is legally binding and would compel Burma’s military regime to make changes. The report explained how Burma’s refugee flows, HIV/AIDS, and production of methamphetamines are not just internal issues but undermine regional stability.

Following the release of the report, the UN Security Council debated Burma for the first time in history on December 16th, 2005. Russia, China, and Japan initially tried to block the discussion but 10 countries supported a debate, clearing the way for discussion (9 are required to hold a debate). After the briefing, notes from Kofi Annan and his deputy Ibrahim Gambari were widely leaked to the media, which reported that they suggested the first-ever course of action on Burma for the Council. They also said to the military regime that “dialogue with the representatives of all ethnic nationality groups and political leaders should resume without further delay. Such a step should be accompanied by the release of all political prisoners, the lifting of remaining constraints on political leaders, and the reopening of NLD offices.” They added they hoped that such changes would take place by mid-2006.

With mid-2006 rapidly approaching and abuses in Burma only growing worse, leading members of the UN Security Council are mulling a set of more serious measures. “There are already enough reasons for the UN Security Council to get involved in Burma, and the extension of Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention is just one more reason,” Aung Din said.

After each time Aung San Suu Kyi was released in the past, the junta rearrested her when her popularity was displayed by thousands of persons attending her speeches. Aung San Suu Kyi was last arrested on May 30th 2003 after the military junta organized an attack on her and her convoy. Junta thugs attacked and killed up to 100 of her supporters after blocking her vehicle caravan as she traveled in the middle of the night on a speaking tour. 

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