11/16/07

Update on Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi

Dear all,
There is some news from Burma to report which has positive possibilities, though we are cautious. Today the military regime allowed Aung San Suu Kyi to leave her home to meet the leaders of the National League for Democracy, her political party. It was the first time she was able to see her friends since May 2003 after she survived the assassination attempt. That is very good for her personally. She is an incredibly strong woman (needless to say), but still everyone needs human interaction so we are very much pleased for her on a personal level.
The military regime also announced that it is willing to negotiate with her, and she responded by saying she is willing to negotiate with the military regime. Her statement was delivered through the United Nations. After seeing so many of her friends gunned down, her magnanimity and humility is breathtaking.
If the regime follows through on its promises, we should be seeing full-scale negotiations aimed a transition to democracy in the near future. Wow! However, the regime has made many similar statements in the past in order to decrease international pressure, so we are cautious. This is a regime that kills, so of course they tell lies too. Nevertheless, Aung San Suu Kyi believes in peaceful negotiations so she wants to give this a chance to see if it is real.
It is likely that the regime made these promises because of the heat from the UN Security Council. As you know, over the past two years we have led an effort to get the Security Council to require the regime to make changes. Unlike other parts of the UN system, the Security Council is the only body that can require a country a change -- such a requirement carries the full force of international law. We made a major step forward in September when the Council, for the first time in history, called on the regime to enter negotiations, free all political prisoners, and commence a transition to democracy.
The UN Secretary General then dispatched an envoy to travel to Burma to carry this message. He has been in Burma for the past week. If his trip would have been a disaster and the regime would have refused to budge, it was presumed that we could successfully press the Security Council to impose a global arms embargo on Burma in response. That would have made it illegal for all countries in the world to sell weapons to the military regime. However, since the regime promised to enter negotiations it will be easier for China to stop an arms embargo from happening. China can claim that as long as there is progress we shouldn't rock the boat.
So that is probably why the regime made these promises and allowed Suu Kyi to meet her colleagues -- to avoid the arms embargo. The intentions by the regime appear to be bad, although the outcome is good but small. Nevertheless, Suu Kyi wants to see what happens so she will attempt to proceed with the dialog process.
In the meantime, we have reached a tipping point on Burma and have to push forward. We are going to re-double our efforts at the UN Security Council, in the US Congress, and most importantly among people throughout the world. We hope that more and more voices will speak up calling for human rights in Burma and freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi. Our efforts are working, and now is the time to really turn things up.
In human rights work we have to savor the small steps forward, so wherever you are raise a glass to Aung San Suu Kyi tonight.
Jack and Jeremy

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