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More Steps Needed for Genuine Democracy and Reconciliation in Burma

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[Bangkok, 16 November 2010] — The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) celebrates with the rest of the world the return to freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi, with the end of her house arrest on 13 November. Aung San Suu Kyi is an important symbol not only to the people of Burma, but to all Asians struggling for democracy through peaceful means against military and authoritarian rule. Her steadfastness in struggle, despite the military regime’s attempts to silence and imprison her for 15 of the past 21 years, has been nothing less than inspirational for human rights defenders across the region.

We assert that Aung San Suu Kyi has the right to be free, and the right to fight for democracy and human rights through peaceful means. Her arrests and sentences have been unjust and go against the principles of basic human rights and genuine rule of law.  For now, we can only hope that the end of her house arrest, apparently without conditions, marks the end of the attempts of the regime to imprison her unjustly.

FORUM-ASIA notes that Aung San Suu Kyi is stepping into freedom into a country that is not free. The peoples of Burma face many restrictions on their basic freedoms, which for a high profile political figure like Daw Suu may mean that it is only a matter of time before the regime can find another reason to imprison her. A vast majority of the peoples of Burma are also mired in poverty as a result of economic mismanagement and deeply embedded corruption. Aung San Suu Kyi is stepping into freedom into a country that deeply yearns for change.

FORUM-ASIA is aware that the State Peace and Development Council would like to make it appear that Aung San Suu Kyi’s release is part of its steps towards democratisation. Her release comes in the wake of Burma’s first elections in 20 years, and appears to be timed to give this sham exercise some legitimacy which it sorely lacks.

FORUM-ASIA recommends SPDC to take the following measures if it really wants the world to view Aung San Suu Kyi’s release as a sincere step towards democracy:

  1. Release all political prisoners in Burma. According to some estimates, there are still more than 2,000 political prisoners languishing in jails across the country.
  2. Address rising tensions with ethnic nationality groups, as evidenced by the recent flare-up with the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army near the border with Thailand and implement immediate ceasefire with all ethnic nationality groups.
  3. Conduct genuine dialogue on how to reform Burma’s law and society with the broad range of pro-democracy opposition and ethnic nationality forces towards a truly inclusive national reconciliation.

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