“Free Aung San Suu Kyi now”
THIS ARTICLE IS FROM MALAYSIAKINI.
The whole civilised world is watching in anguish, as Aung San Suu Kyi is being trialed in Insein Prison in Burma, for violating the conditions of her house arrest.
Her offence was not of her making. An American ex-serviceman by the name of John Yettaw had reached her house swimming across her lake, and she was seen as having breached he conditions of her house arrest.
In reality, the trumped up charge has been cooked up by the military junta to ensure that Suu Kyi shall stay behind bars, until the sham general election next year. Her six-year term for house arrest will expire on May 27.
Insein Prison has been described by human rights campaigners as the “darkest hell-hole in Burma.” It is ancient, dirty, and over-crowded. Built to house 5000 prisoners, it boasts of 10,000 inmates, many of them political dissidents.
Prisoners are constantly tortured. Diseases like tuberculosis and HIV are rife. Put Suu Kyi there for a couple of years, and she may die. She is already 63, and reportedly in ill health.
The whole civilised world is concerned for the lady’s health. Apparently, Malaysia is not a part of that noble world. Our newly named foreign minister with the very forgettable name has yet to break wind on this issue. He is too busy attacking Anwar Ibrahim in Washington.
Some Asean countries make some noise. But you know Asean. It is not a tangible international organisation like the European Union. Can anybody please enlighten me as to the greatest achievement of Asean in the past decades?
Already, international human rights bodies are calling for the UN secretary-general Ban Kee Mun to visit Rangoon and meet General Than Shwe, the military headman in Burma. They also call on the UN security council to convene an emergency meeting to lobby for the release Suu Kyi.
Armed rebellion – the only way out
The overfed generals in Rangoon will probably twit their noses at the rest of the world. They have the whole country tightly locked under military control. They have let numerous people die and suffer during and in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in May last year. They have shot dead monks who marched on the street peacefully. They are still hunting down and killing the Karen rebels. What can they not do next?
Only India and China have some influence over the generals it seems. This is what the Times Online has to say on May20:
“Principles, however, carry little weight with the junta. Neither engagement nor sanctions have moderated the generals’ repression. Only two governments have any influence: India, Burma’s reticent neighbour, and China, its largest trading partner.
“The Chinese, intent only on securing a port for their navy, a pipeline for their oil and a source for raw materials, remain silent, as they have been over Darfur, Sri Lanka and anywhere where they seek advantage. It is a contemptible policy, likely only to prolong Burma’s misery.”
It would seem that only an armed rebellion can remove the military regime. For some strange reasons, that has not happened. Perhaps, being Buddhists who shy bloodshed, the Burmese people would not easily take up arms.
Alternatively, an international military force could go in, defeat the generals, and then place Burma under the United Nations, before holding a free and fair election. A precedent has been set in the recent past in Kosovo. But China would probably veto such a proposition; they may even threaten to back the generals militarily.
The generals must have feared just such a possibility. That is why they had moved their capital from Rangoon to a place they named Naypyidaw 230 miles north of Rangoon. Buried deep in the jungle, the place is heavily fortified.
The place is so lacking in basic facilities like telephone service that embassies and international agencies prefer to stay back in Rangoon.
Military dictatorship was in vogue shortly after WW2 in many parts of the developing world. When the colonial masters had left, many of these new political entities in Asia, South America, and Africa experienced great political instability in their experiment with nationhood. The political vacuum so created often became the hot-bed for coup detat launched by military strongmen.
Burma is one such country.
Democracy died in 1962
Ruled by the British from 1886 to 1948, the Burmese people went through great hardship during the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945. The infamous Death Railway was built over River Kwai during that time, at the costs of countless lives.
After the Japanese surrendered, Aung San, Suu Kyi’s father, became the deputy chairman of the executive council of Burma, a transitional government in 1947. But in July that year, political rivals assassinated Aung San and several cabinet ministers.
On Jan 4, 1948, the nation became an independent republic, named The Union of Burma. In 1961, U Thant was the first Asian to be made the secretary-general of the United Nations, a post he served for 10 years. He made many Asians proud. Among the Burmese who worked under him in the UN, was a young Suu Kyi.
In 1962, democracy died in Burma when General Ne Win led a military coup and took power for 26 years. In 1990, the military government held the first free general election for the first time in nearly 30 years.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Suu Kyi won 382 of the 489 seats. The military junta refused to yield power and annulled the election results.
In 2006, The International Labour Organisation ILO announced it would seek prosecution of the military junta at the International Court of Justice for crimes against humanity – specifically for forced labour of 800,000 people in the country.
Nearly five decades under military dictatorship has taken its heavy toll on the people, while the generals get fat on the gems and natural resources, as well as from the drug trade gushing out from the Golden Triangle.
While on primary school in the 1960s, I had to memorise the fact that Burma was the biggest rice exporter in the world. Geographically, Burma is still the largest country in South East Asia, famous for her natural resources, including teak. Amidst this land of plenty, her people are now living scrounging for food everyday.
That is why there are so many Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia, doing menial lowly work that Malaysians shun. Here, at least, they can have enough to eat, and earn a living to send some money back home.
Her courage is unrivalled
For me, the generals hiding in their mountain hideout are criminals who have indeed committed a crime against humanity. Their practice of state terrorism against the citizens has robbed them of all semblance of legitimacy to any claim to power. They should indeed be captured and trialed at the International Court of Justice.
For me, Suu Kyi is still the legitimate democratically elected head of government of Burma. Her courage in the face of persecution is unrivalled anywhere in the world.
To understand the strength of her conviction, I append below some of her famous quotations:
“The value systems of those with access to power and of those far removed from such access cannot be the same. The viewpoint of the privileged is unlike that of the underprivileged.”
“Peace as a goal is an ideal which will not be contested by any government or nation, not even the most belligerent.”
“It is often in the name of cultural integrity as well as social stability and national security that democratic reforms based on human rights are resisted by authoritarian governments.”
Those inspiring words apply universally, including Malaysia. We Malaysians can learn from this noble lady as well. Let us pray to our respective gods that her struggle will prevail soon.
Free Aung San Suu Kyi now!
SIM KWANG YANG was MP for Bandar Kuching in Sarawak from 1982 to 1995. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.