Imprisoned Icon Of Moral Courage

21 Jan 2004
Aung San Suu Kyi, imprisoned Burmese leader, needs uncompromising international support write US Senator Mitch McConnell and Bono. Writing in the International Herald Tribune, the pair argue that this 'Heroine of Democracy' has been 'Left Far Too Lonely'. Whether in Ireland or Kentucky -- our disparate homes -- or in thousands of other places, the inspiration of a remarkable woman makes itself felt far outside of Burma, the country she loves and struggles for. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate who maintains a heroic and tenacious fight for freedom and democracy, is a modern icon of moral courage. Yet for all the respect and accolades, she remains, in effect, a prisoner in the country where she has spent her whole adult life fighting for democracy. The blatant abuse of human rights orchestrated by the misnamed State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC, the junta that controls Burma and has even changed its name, calling it Myanmar, is perpetuated by those who look the other way. And on it goes. Last May 30, state agents ambushed Aung San Suu Kyi and fellow democrats in the National League for Democracy, returning her to full imprisonment. She was released to house arrest in September only because of an urgent need for major surgery. Unlike the other 1,500 political prisoners, Aung San Suu Kyi is someone the rulers know they cannot allow to die. Countries were quick to condemn the violent attack in May on Aung San Suu Kyi and her associates. The United States swiftly imposed import sanctions against the SPDC. Japan suspended all new foreign assistance. Even the Association of Southeast Nations, which has too often remained silent, found a collective voice to condemn this blatant assault of freedom. But this is not enough. Without more pressure from trading partners and regional powers, the SPDC has little to fear. Myanmar must remain a top priority for the Bush administration. Secretary of State Colin Powell should discuss it with his counterparts around the globe. Europe must take a much tougher stance. This is also an issue the Irish presidency should take forward in 2004. Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations should use every opportunity to push Myanmar's neighboring nations to take action to secure Aung San Suu Kyi's release and should consider imposing an arms embargo on the SPDC. The U.N. Security Council should discuss economic sanctions. Finally, ordinary people from Dublin, Ireland, to Dublin, Kentucky, should join the effort to free Aung San Suu Kyi. People planning to visit Myanmar should reconsider their holiday plans. Public pressure and outrage should be directed at corporations that continue to do business with the regime. Elected officials must hear from their constituencies that Aung San Suu Kyi and her country are important to them. The future of Myanmar rests with the return of democracy and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and her colleagues. Unlike the SPDC, they care about the welfare of the Burmese people, who are among the poorest in the world and are rapidly losing the fight against AIDS and other diseases. Unlike the SPDC, the supporters of democracy will work for educational and economic opportunities for all, and they will chart a course for human rights and the rule of law. Aung San Suu Kyi does not need the tributes or the unbridled admiration of a rock singer and a U.S. senator. She needs unwavering, uncompromising international support -- as tough and determined as she herself is. We can't wait for another atrocity appalling enough to hit the international headlines. Now is the time for courage in defense of her freedom.


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