Stop tip-toeing around and save Suu Kyi

May 14, 2009

Zoya Phan- Zoya Phan is international coordinator at The Burma Campaign UK. Her autobiography, Little Daughter, was published by Simon and Schuster in April. The opinions expressed are her own. -

If statements of concern were enough to influence the brutal dictatorship ruling my country, then opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma would have been freed many years ago. It is impossible to count the number of statements from world leaders condemning the dictatorship, whether it be for imprisoning Aung San Suu Kyi, crushing democracy uprisings, or blocking aid after Cyclone Nargis last year.

But while these statements are welcome, they are clearly not enough. Burma is not run by politicians or diplomats. The generals ruling my country are brutal killers. They spent years in the jungles of Burma engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against ethnic people. They use rape as a weapon of war, torture and shoot on sight. Babies are snatched from the arms of their mothers and thrown into the burning homes of innocent villagers. Landmines are laid in church doorways, deliberately aimed at those going to pray. Why do the United Nations and so many other countries think that statements and soft diplomacy is the way to influence people who are involved in such horrors?

Now, once again, Aung San Suu Kyi has been taken to the notorious Insein Jail. Once again there is an international outcry. So far, once again, the generals are ignoring it. How many times will we have to go over the same old ground before the international community wakes up to the nature of the generals they are dealing with? These generals are not immune to pressure. They depend on international trade and investment for their survival. It funds their luxury lifestyles and pays for the guns they use to keep their grip on power. They crave international acceptance and legitimacy, which is why they are pushing ahead with sham elections next year. They are vulnerable to real pressure, but it has never been properly applied.

It is time to hold Burma’s generals to account. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma has said that the dictatorship is breaking the Geneva Conventions by deliberately targeting civilians in Eastern Burma. That makes them war criminals. Why aren’t they in an international court? The International Labour Organisation has said the dictatorship is committing a crime against humanity for its use of forced labour. Why aren’t they facing a case at the International Court of Justice? The United Nations has also said that Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention is illegal under international law. Why has no action been taken?

It is time to stop tip-toeing around the generals, and treat them like the criminals they are.

In most countries if someone commits a serious crime they are hunted down, tried and imprisoned. Imagine if someone committed a murder in London, and the response of the police was just to issue a statement saying they are deeply concerned by the murder, and asks the murderer not to do it again, or they’ll issue another statement.

Burma’s generals belong in jail. Until they face a real threat of being held accountable for their criminal behaviour, they will keep on jailing Aung San Suu Kyi, keep slaughtering ethnic civilians, and keep ignoring the international community.

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