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The Burmese struggle for democracy

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

International pressure on Burmese junta to give up anti-democratic rule and  open political dialogue with the opposition is mounting.The military regime has shown signs of acceptance of democratic policies in the country. The Burmese Democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi had called for direct talks with the military regime following the visit of two senior US diplomats as part of the US’s new diplomatic policies towards Burma.

 On November 19, United Nations, the 192-nation world body, approved a resolution condemning Burma for its systematic violation of human rights and fundamental freedom of the Burmese people .The resolution urged for the immediate and unconditional release of more than 2,000 political prisoners in the country including Suu Kyi. The resolution also advocates the freedom of assembly, association, movement and freedom of expression.

 The Burmese Permanent Representative to the UN condemned the resolution as “anachronistic and flawed.” He defended the junta’s position by saying that Burma had already approved a new constitution and is preparing for a general election in 2010 which would be free and fair. The junta has recently released 1000 political prisoners. However China, Russia, India and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries have a different take on the issue. They maintain that constructive dialogue and cooperation are the only way to promote human rights and a resolution pinpointing the flaws would be counter productive.

 During the recent US-ASEAN summit, US President Barack Obama called for the unconditional release of Suu Kyi and to open genuine dialogue between the government, democratic opposition and ethnic minority groups.

 Burma is under military dictatorship since 1962 and the junta’s repressive and abusive policies have dragged the country into civil war forcing the ethnic groups of remote areas to engage in armed struggle. The military campaigns of the Burmese junta have left thousands of people internally displaced, especially the ethnic minority groups.

 Thanks to the military junta, Burma ranks as the third most corrupt country in the world according to the ‘2009 Corruption Perceptions Index’ by Transparency International, a Berlin-based global civil society organization. Forced labour, human trafficking and child labour are rampant in the country; and according to the human rights organizations, there is no independent judiciary in Burma. The women’s pro-democracy movements in exile and international movements to defend women’s rights are formed to protest against sexual violence against women by the military regime as an instrument of control.

 The totalitarian regime seized power in a coup in 1988 and the opposition was brutally suppressed .Suu Kyi who was under house arrest won the general elections held by the regime in 1990 but the regime refused to hand over power. Ne Win, a believer  in Stalinist ideologies, led the country along the ‘Burmese Road to Socialism’ by implementing ideas like  nationalization, isolationism, ethnic cleansing, and a police state. The oppressive rule of the regime, now known as the ‘State Peace and Development Council’, continues even today.

 Aung San Suu Kyi

 Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s pro-democratic campaigner and leader of opposition National League (NLD) has been fighting against the unjust and suppressive rule of the military junta since 1988.She has spent the last 14 years of the past 20 years in detention under the junta regime. Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her tireless efforts to bring in democracy in Burma.

Suu Kyi, born on 19 June 1945 , is the daughter of Burma’s democratic hero, Aung San, who was assassinated during the transition period of Burma in July 1947. Suu kyi came to India in 1960 accompanying her mother Khin Kyi, who  was appointed as Burma’s ambassador to India. She was inspired by the non-violent methods of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi and campaigned for peaceful democratic reforms in Burma. She went back to Burma in 1988 and led the revolt against General Ne Win. Suu Kyi who was under house arrest won 82% votes in the general elections held by the regime in 1990 but the regime refused to hand over power .

 Suu Kyi was released after six years but was again arrested in 2000 when she tried to travel to the city of Mandalay defying travel restrictions. She was released in 2002, but was again arrested in a year following a clash between her supporters and the government. Government rejected NLD’s pleas to release her as she was suffering from low blood pressure and dehydration. Her detention was due to expire on May 2009 but she was convicted and sentenced for another 18 months of detention  for breaching the conditions of her house arrest as a US person broke into her compound to meet her. There are criticisms that the whole episode was designed by the junta to keep her away from the general elections that are to be held in 2010. But in a surprising move, on 9 November 2009, the military government has indicated that Suu Kyi may be released soon and also that she’ll be allowed to take part in the general elections. But the Burma’s constitution has provisions that bar her from holding office.

 Aung San Suu Kyi’s non-violent campaigns have won support from Western nations in Europe, Australia and North and South America, India, Israel Japan and South Korea. Suu Kyi, referred to as ‘Daw’ by the Burmese people, a term that denotes respect for older women, has become one of the international icons of democracy and fight against injustice.

 

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