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Finding justice for Myanmar


International community's growing sense of outrage must be translated into action, the British prime minister declares.

Photo by: AFP

A Myanmar activist holds a portrait of detained Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during protest outside Myanmar's embassy in Bangkok on June 11.  

TODAY is the 64th birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi. The fact that she remains under arrest is tragic for Burma [Myanmar's former name] and for all those throughout the world who believe in democracy and the rule of law. The trial of Aung San Suu Kyi is an absurd mockery of justice. The real injustice was not that someone broke into her compound, but that she was imprisoned in the first place.

Aung San Suu Kyi has now been imprisoned for 13 of the last 19 years since the party she led won the last elections in her country. More than 2,000 others are imprisoned across Burma for sharing her commitment to a better and brighter future for the long-suffering population. Even in the face of such injustice, Aung San Suu Kyi has always supported the path of peace and reconciliation. But the regime has consistently spurned her offer of dialogue and reconciliation. They want to isolate her from the people of Burma, for whom she has long been a symbol of hope and defiance.

Her refusal to buckle in the face of tyranny is an inspiration. But words of support are not enough. The region, the EU and the UN are all urging the junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi. So far all requests for moderation have been spurned. In the face of such obstinacy the world must now act. I believe there are three things we must do.

  ...Long-promised elections in 2010 will remain a charade while political prisoners are being tortured.

Firstly, we need support the countries of the region as they step up efforts to secure democracy and reconciliation. I have been struck by how Burma's neighbours have led the world community in calling for Aung San Suu Kyi's release. We need to translate this outrage into ongoing political pressure for change.

Secondly, we need the UN Security Council to reinforce its calls for Aung San Suu Kyi's release and to support the secretary-general's efforts to bring about political progress through an early visit to Burma.

Thirdly, we should impose a new set of tough sanctions that target the regime's economic interests. We will be pushing for stronger European Union action in this regard. Such a step would hit the business interests of the generals and their cronies. I also believe we should identify and target those judges complicit in the recent political show trials.

The growing sense of outrage and the unity of the international community behind this message should mark a turning point. The regime is at a crossroads. Long-promised elections in 2010 will remain a charade while political prisoners are being tortured, ethnic minorities are persecuted, the media muzzled, freedom of speech and assembly are non-existent, and Aung San Suu Kyi is silenced. The regime can choose to ignore the clamour for change. But this will only condemn the country to deeper isolation, poverty, conflict and despair.

Or it can choose the path of reform as the region has urged. Burma is rich in natural and human resources, at the heart of a dynamic continent. Democratic reform would unleash the country's enormous potential. Britain and the international community would be ready to extend the hand of friendship. If the Burmese generals rethink their ways, we will be ready to recognise and embrace any genuine reforms they make.

Some may question why Burma warrants so much attention. There are other countries where human rights are ignored or people live in poverty. But the Burmese junta stands virtually alone in the scale of its misrule and the sheer indifference to the suffering of its 50 million people. How we respond to this injustice will send a message about our resolution to tackle similar injustices across the globe. To those that stand for human rights, freedom and democracy, our message remains clear - you are not alone.

Gordon Brown is the prime minister of Britain.



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