Leaders of 5 original ASEAN nations should join call for Aung San Suu Ky’s release

The cause of democratization in Burma is a hard nut to crack and it is so easy to give way to despair as there does not seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel after years and decades of sacrifice and struggle by the people of Burma for democracy, freedom and justice, with many tempted to dismiss it as a “lost cause”.

Burma has in fact been described as the world’s longest-running civil war that has lasted nearly 60 years and sent millions fleeing into Thailand and displaced 500,000 people in Myanmar — a period that saw the tragedy of the transformation of once Asia’s rich country into a basketcase.

Developments in Myanmar can both be interpreted as signs of weakness or consolidation of the repressive, ruthless and mendacious military junta, whether it be the abrupt relocation of the national capital from Yangon to Nay Pyi Taw, about 390 kilometres north of Yangon in November 2005 or the construction of four vast hydro-power dams on the Salween River which have already destroyed 232 villagers in the country’s resource-rich east, drove 82,000 people from their homes, triggering a new wave of forced labour and devastating Salween’s ecosystem.

National and international attention is now focused on the date next week, May 27, when the latest period of detention of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi ends after having spent more than 11 of the past 17 years under some form of detention.

Would the Myanmese military junta, which has ruled Myanmar in various guises since 1962, ignored international calls for her release on May 27 and extend her detention as happened last year?

Last week, 59 former heads of state and government took the unprecedented step of issuing an Open Letter to the Myanmar military junta, calling for the immediate release of the Burmese Opposition leader and the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi.

The signatories to the Open Letter included not only former U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter, George Bush Sr and Bill Clinton, former Prime Ministers like Margaret Thatcher and John Major (United Kingdom), Kjell Bondevik, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Thorbjorn Jagland (Norway), Poul Rasmussen (Denmark), Paavo Lipponen (Finland), Goran Persson (Sweden), Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell (Canada), Lionel Jospin (France), Mary Robinson (Ireland), Maria Soares (Portugal) but also distinguished Asian personalities, including former Presidents Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos (Philippines), Nobel Prize Prize Laureate Kim Dae Jung (South Korea), Abdulrrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri (Indonesia), Chandra Shekar (India) but also former Prime Ministers, Junichiro Koizumi (Japan), Chuan Leekpai (Thailand), Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan), Lee Hong-Koo (South Korea), V.P. Singh (India) and Ung Huot (Cambodia).

Malaysia provides the “surprise of surprises” in the Open Letter by 59 former President and Prime Ministers –Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad who was also a signatory although he was the man solely responsible for admitting Myanmar into ASEAN exactly a decade ago with a total failure in ASEAN’s “constructive engagement” policy with Myanmar.

Leaders of ASEAN, particularly from the five original ASEAN nations – Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore — should use their collective influence with the Myanmar military junta to publicly call for the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

If the Myanmese military junta continues to be impervious and contemptuous of regional and international opinion, and Aung San Suu Kyi is served with another extension of her detention next Monday, ASEAN governments, Parliaments and civil societies should make their condemnation loud and clear.

However difficult the long road to restore democracy in Burma, there can be no capitulation in the cause until final victory is achieved.

The next half-year will be very challenging and critical times because of two factors:

  • The 40th ASEAN Anniversary and 13th ASEAN Summit in Singapore in November 2007, which will adopt the ASEAN Charter with the critical question of whether it will provide for sanctions against an ASEAN member country for being a rogue state completely heedless of the ASEAN spirit and mission; and
  • Whether a resolution on Burma could secure support to be presented to the United Nations Security Council later this year, now that it has passed the first hurdle of being accepted as an agenda of the Security Council.

I hope the Japanese Parliament, Government and Civil Society can play a more pro-active role in promoting democratization in Burma.

Japanese Parliamentarians formed a cross-party caucus in support of democracy in Burma almost a decade before the formation of the AIPMC, as the Diet Members’ League in Support of Democracy in Myanmar (GIREN) was formed in the early nineties. However, its influence has dwindled from its heyday when it had the support of over 200 Japanese Parliamentarians to the present score of some 40-odd Parliamentarians.

Japan has more Prime Ministers than any other country in Asia but there is only one signatory in the Open Letter of 59 former heads of state and government calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi – Junichiro Koizumi.

Although the Japanese Government has commendably improved its position at the United Nations from the previous abstention to current support of Burma as an agenda on the United Nations Security Council, more is expected of Japan because of its important global position, such as:

  • Support in United Nations for a resolution on Burma to be tabled at the Security Council;
  • Review of its ODA aid assistance to the Myanmar military junta to ensure that it is not instrumental in an increasingly repressive regime spurning all calls for democratization and national reconciliation; and
  • Extending annual aid assistance of US$100 million to pro-democracy movements and groups worldwide to keep alive the beacon of hope for democracy in Burma.

(Speech in Japanese Diet at the International Conference of Japanese Diet Members and ASEAN Parliamentarians on “The Way to Democratize Burma” in Tokyo on Monday, May 21, 2007)

  1. #1 by k1980 on Tuesday, 22 May 2007 - 12:11 pm

    Why are the 59 former heads of state and government so overtly concerned over Myanmar while ignoring the most urgent humanitarian crisis on the planet today in Iraq. Hundreds of Iragi civilians die in their American-installed democracy every day, surpassing that of Somalia and even Darfur. The Iraqi Hell-on-Earth will remain the true heart of darkness of the early 21st century, as it slowly but surely returns to the Stone Age. So why not settle the Iraqi issue first before coming to the problem of Somalia, then Darfur and then finally Myanmar? Or are the 59 former heads of state and government in reality too scared of George Bush?

  2. #2 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 22 May 2007 - 2:59 pm

    A regional bloc like ASEAN got to know what it wants to be. To divine that, one looks at the objectives stated in the ASEAN Charter 12th December 2005.

    These include among others:
    1. Commitment to strengthen ASEAN’s competitiveness, to deepen and broaden ASEAN’s internal economic integration and linkages with the world economy;
    2. Promotion of democracy, human rights and obligations, transparency and good governance and strengthening democratic institutions;
    3. the right of every state to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion and non-interference in the internal affairs of one another; and
    4. Adherence to a set of common socio-cultural and political community values and shared norms as contained in the various ASEAN documents.

    Because of objective 2., yes, Southeast Asian legislators would call for the expulsion of Myanmar from ASEAN. But because of objectives 1 & 3. member countries like Singapore can also argue otherwise that expulsion will not help but constructive engagement would be more suited, though specifically how to produce the desired results, we have no idea and meanwhile Singapore could still profit from trade (some say sale of arms) to Myanmar!

    Because of objectives 1 & 3., our ex premier Dr Mahathir could earlier on lobby for Myanmar’s admission into ASEAN (then he was arguing ‘The East is East, the West is West’. Eastern and Western democracies are different”) that he now could now, pursuant to objective 2, make an aboutface change to float the idea of expelling Myanmar from ASEAN if it did not respond to the mounting international concerns as if he were a great statesman championing democracy!

    In order not to be forever a “talk shop” member states got to determine whether objective 2 is more important. Know thyself.

    That is objective 4 : but what are ASEAN members’ “common socio-cultural and political community values and shared norms”? Democracies or Dictatorship?

    Well it is a flux situation – Indonesia was military junta but now more democratic under Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono; in Thailand democratically elected Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted and replaced by military strongman purportedly taking orders from the King; Malaysia and Singapore neither here nor there in the continuum of Democracy!

    But all talk shop and pretend that they want to promote the objective of “democracy, human rights and obligations, transparency and good governance and strengthening democratic institutions” and yet couldn’t find amongst themselves that “common socio-cultural and political community values and shared norms” for “democracy, human rights and obligations, transparency and good governance and strengthening democratic institutions”.

    Just like a person, so it is with a supra national organisation – one has all kinds of objectives wanting to be different things at different times according to what suits self interest depending on the circumstances, in the end, not knowing who and what you are and just talking cock & bull and becoming hypocritical!

    Myanmar junta can see through the foibles, lack of resolve and ambivalence of the rest of ASEAN member states. It can always cite objective 3 to justify its continued detention of 1000 political dissidents including Opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

    Politicians are ‘Cakap Tak Serupa Bikin’ whether in national or regional politics of ASEAN!

    If ASEAN member states really believe in bikin serupa cakap’ they should expel the renegade Myanmar regime, downgrade, if not cut-off diplomatic relations with it, support the call on UN to impose financial and other sanctions on the international transactions involving the country and not grant visa to or restrict the right to travel of Myanmar’s military generals to the sites of UN bodies in the US, Europe or other parts of the world.

  3. #3 by Jimm on Tuesday, 22 May 2007 - 3:25 pm

    Should Myanmar today were reported to have rich reserves of GOLD and OIL, things will be different totally. Malaysia will be one of those to offer their expertise in oil refineries and MMC will invest on the gold mining projects. SV will bring our ‘AKITEK’ to offer infrastructural projects. SAJ will offer women rights seminar, RA will be consultant for international business trading policies, OKT will assist to build houses, CKC will bring Air Asia there, JJ will bring IT there, KJ will run the full youth program, AA will introduce sport excellence complexs and many many more … enrich our neighbor projects… too bad …. Myanmar only have ‘cheap’ labour with brains for Malaysia lower job market .. That’s why …

  4. #4 by Jimm on Tuesday, 22 May 2007 - 3:30 pm

    Country without global commodities like GOLD and OIL … that’s how long the process takes ..

  5. #5 by Unladen Swallow on Tuesday, 22 May 2007 - 3:39 pm

    The trouble is, how does a junta that has nearly total control over a country, and responsible for the basketcase that is Myanmar today release Aung San when they’ve been doing so for the past few decades? You’ve got to hand it to her though. She has great guts.

  6. #6 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Tuesday, 22 May 2007 - 8:33 pm

    Let’s put it very simply: ASEAN leaders need balls (or moral courage) to call for the unconditional release of AUng San Su Kyii.

    Too many ASEAN leaders have other motives and motivations. Period.

    Being a Nobel Peace (Peace, not Literature or Physics!) Prize Laureate, indeed the irony cuts deeper that such an icon can be incarcerated willy-nilly by a military regime that has nothing but brute force to its name! The Myanmar military regime is like the ‘naked emperor’, the barrels of whose guns mask the public shame and frustrations.

    Besides being the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Aung San Su Kyii was also awarded the 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, which was given in her absence at Strasbourg on July 10, 1991.

    In an essay to commemorate the award, she wrote these words..”COurage .. could be described as ‘grace under pressure’ – grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure.” She is certainly quite a gal.

    Many of the world’s nations have fallen into the hands of illegitimate regimes and ‘gangsters’. They flaunt their might and flout the rule of law.

    May GOD strike the Myanmar generals dead and set the Myanmar people free and grant Aung San Su Kyii the peace and happiness she so richly deserves.

  7. #7 by k1980 on Friday, 25 May 2007 - 10:50 am


    …Another day begins for the 5 million residents of a city that was once the most advanced in the Arab world. Those days are long gone. Today Baghdad is a nightmare — the world’s most horrible city….Baghdad is a city in which life lost its value long ago, a place where no one really knows how many murders, kidnappings and rapes the war has in fact brought to the city.

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