Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Loudspeaker Diplomacy vs. the Rule of Law

The Irrawaddy News

More than a week after Aung San Suu Kyi apparently refused to meet with UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, rumors that she is continuing her silent protest—by rejecting her weekly supply of food—have raised questions about her motives, as well as concerns about her health.

Officials from her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), told The Irrawaddy that Suu Kyi’s latest act of defiance may be linked to her continuing detention and the harassment of her housekeepers, who are subjected to stringent restrictions by the military authorities, despite the fact that they have not been charged with any offense.

Suu Kyi’s confinement to her lakeside home in Rangoon was extended in May, despite international pleas to the ruling generals to end her latest stretch of detention, which began in May 2003.

The NLD insists that her ongoing house arrest is illegal and has demanded that the junta accept an appeal against her detention. Suu Kyi met with her lawyer to discuss the case just before Gambari started his latest Burma visit.

When Suu Kyi failed to appear for a meeting with the UN envoy, it served to highlight the nature of the severe constraints placed upon her freedom, said lawyers for the NLD. Under normal circumstances, Suu Kyi is forbidden to leave her home or have any contact with foreign diplomats.

However, the junta conveniently ignores these rules when it suits its own purposes. NLD lawyers noted that when UN and military officials appeared outside her home with loudspeakers, they were trying to get her to do something that “would have forced her to violate the restrictions” imposed on her by the regime.

Suu Kyi was thus perfectly justified in declining to meet with Gambari, who is supposed to be working for her release—not providing the regime with a pretext for continuing her detention.

The UN Security Council has repeatedly stated that Suu Kyi’s release is a necessary first step towards political dialogue and reconciliation in Burma. But the world body is looking increasingly ineffectual in its efforts to get results in the country. It has failed not only to secure the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners, but also to ensure that a referendum held in May met even the most basic standards for a “free and fair” vote.

It seems that the UN, like the junta, badly needs to be reminded of its own rules.

Political activists in Burma have suffered prolonged and unlawful detentions, and the UN has done virtually nothing to change this sad state of affairs. According to family sources, the leaders of the 88 Generation Students group are calling for open trials and protections which guarantee their rights under the prison law.

However, Gambari, on his latest visit to Burma, failed to focus on the current lack of political freedom and rule of law. Instead of working to fulfill his mandate to negotiate between the military regime and the opposition, he followed a schedule set by the junta and offered to help prepare for regime-controlled elections in 2010.

Gambari still has no comment about what, if anything, his trip accomplished. It is time the UN, as well as China, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to speak out sincerely and energetically about how to break Burma’s political deadlock.

This time, the UN and its “Group of Friends on Myanmar” must call on Burma’s supreme military leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, to come out of his bunker in Naypyidaw and begin a dialogue with Suu Kyi. This time, they might be justified in using a loudspeaker.

No comments: