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Tuesday 19th June 2012 | 00:01
On 21 June 2012, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will address both Houses of Parliament and guests, not via a satellite from her home in Burma where she has been confined for the last 22 years but physically present on the steps of Westminster Hall.
Now an MP of the Pyithu Huttlaw, the lower house of the Burmese Parliament, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her colleagues in the National League for Democracy (NLD) had won the national election in 1990 but were prevented from taking power by the Military. Sustained International campaigning, diplomacy and the Burmese people’s resistance has resulted in the release of some but not all the political prisoners and the participation of the NLD in by- elections.
The pictures of the political prisoners as they were released showed many who were elderly and having difficulty walking. Human rights abuses including the raping of women by the Burmese army are currently being used as a political tool. According to the Shan Women’s Action Network there is a concerted strategy by the Burmese army to rape Shan women as part of their anti-insurgency activities. Evidence of these incidents show they were committed by soldiers from 52 battalions and 83% of rapes were committed by officers. Such rapes also involve the use of violence and torture.
But the Constitution places the Burmese military outside the jurisdiction of civilian courts and grants state officers an amnesty for war crimes, including crimes of rape and gender violence, extrajudicial killings, abductions and uses of slave labour against ethnic minority civilians. The Army are breaking ceasefires and attacking ethnic civilians in the Kachin State, forcing around 70,000 people to flee their homes. Despite this violation of International law, Burma’s Government has taken no steps to investigate the crimes committed by its troops and there are suggestions it is blocking humanitarian aid to the victims.
The issue of political prisoners has always been prominent in Burma; however the recent by-elections and release of some political prisoners enabled the Burmese Government to embark on its first steps on the roadmap to democracy. One of the tests of the progress to a fully democratic country for the International community would be the unconditional release of all political prisoners.
With just 9.7 % of the seats in the Lower House, this weekend Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made it clear that the NLD have to work both within Parliament and outside for lasting change. The current Constitution of Burma put to a referendum in 2008 despite concerns about the poll, puts the Defence Services firmly at the heart of the Government. There is even a separate military tribunal which separates the military from the civilian judicial process. And it states at clause 20 (f) that “the Defence Services is mainly responsible for safeguarding the Constitution.” Changing the 2008 Constitution, which the NLD opposed at the time of the Poll is imperative.
At the launch of Peter Popham’s book “The Lady and the Peacock” which I hosted in the House of Commons in November last year, no-one in the room, which included Michael Aris’ (Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s husband who died in 1999), sister and his sister-in-law, expected that our calls for her to come to the House of Commons would be realised so soon.The Reith Lecturer of 2011 kept Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s profile high and the committed civil servants at the Foreign Office kept Members of both Houses informed of the situation in Burma as it was developing.
Sustained International pressure will be the only way to ensure that the Burmese people are not forgotten until they achieve democracy.
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