Human Rights: Suu Kyi marks one-year anniversary of release; China plans to help Tibet

Updated On: Nov 15, 2011

Democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi says Myanmar has made some progress toward political reforms. She was speaking to mark the one-year anniversary of her release from house arrest. In other human rights news, China has announced plans to improve "stability" in Tibet, including welfare benefits for monks.

Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi, One Year After Release

"Looking back at the past year, I think I can say that it has been eventful, energising and to a certain extent encouraging," said Suu Kyi, who was detained for most of the past two decades by the former military government.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner was released shortly after elections to choose a new civilian government. Her own party, the National League for Democracy, boycotted the vote.

But in a speech to more than 100 journalists and diplomats, Ms. Suu Kyi cited her meetings with minister Aung Kyi and Thein Sein, Myanmar's president, as progress.

In addition to her own yearnings for political freedom, she "deeply believed that the president also wants a change."

But the one issue she said was more important than any other was the need for the rule of law. Without it, she said, progress would never be sustainable. She added there is a lot of work to be done to create an atmosphere in which co-operation could flower.

Ms. Suu Kyi revealed that her party plans to meet on Friday to discuss the possibility of registering with election officials and standing candidates for election.

Over the past year, Myanmar has won limited praise for making some progress toward political freedoms. Human Rights Watch reported this month that the civilian administration has loosened restrictions on the media and passed laws protecting basic human rights.

The new government, which replaced a long-ruling military junta, also pardoned more than 6,300 prisoners, including about 200 political detainees, in a much-anticipated amnesty in October.

But hundreds of political prisoners are still said to be in detention. The release of political prisoners is one of the major demands of Western nations, a necessary condition before sanctions can be lifted.

"An issue of great importance to all of us who are working for democracy in Burma is that of political prisoners," said Ms. Suu Kyi, using the name for the country that the pro-democracy movement prefers. "Some have been released over the last year, but there are still many who remain in prison."

Some analysts say that Myanmar's efforts are aimed at placating Western countries. Since taking direct power in March, President Sein has also defied China by suspending work on an unpopular mega-dam project. Myanmar may also be trying to improve its image as it seeks to become ASEAN Chair in 2014.

Myanmar was expected to announce another amnesty of prisoners on Monday, before Mr. Sein attends the ASEAN Summit and related meetings later this week in Bali. But officials said the move was put off at short notice after a last minute decision by the high-powered National Defence and Security Council.

The reasons for the delay were not clear, but the authorities are now expected to decide on a case-by-case basis which prisoners to release.

Report: Myanmar moving in right direction, freed democracy activist says [CNN, 14 Nov 2011]

Report: Aung San Suu Kyi cautiously positive on Burma reform [BBC, 14 Nov 2011]

Report: Suu Kyi urges Myanmar to free more prisoners [Al Jazeera, 14 Nov 2011]

Report: Burma prisoner amnesty delayed [Sydney Morning Herald (AFP), 14 Nov 2011]

China: Welfare for Tibetan Monks

In other human rights news, Chinese news reports say the government will give monks welfare benefits to improve "stability" in Tibet. Over the weekend, China also announced other extra central government spending and policy improvements in Tibet.

This follows a series of incidents in which monks and nuns have set fire to themselves, revealing continuing discontent in Tibetan areas. At least 11 people have set themselves on fire since March, and six are thought to have died.

Chen Quanguo, the recently appointed Communist Party chief in Tibet, said: "The government will take great pains to ensure that public services such as electricity, water, telecommunications, radio and TV stations are provided to the local monasteries".

He also told the Global Times newspaper that there would also be personal help, including allowances, for monks and nuns living in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Previously monks and nuns had to rely on monasteries, public donations or themselves to fund daily living expenses.

China's government will also spend nearly US$60 million on farmland irrigation and water conservancy projects in Tibet. It will also ensure there is more information - books, magazines and TV programmes - published in the Tibetan language.

China claims that Tibet is part of its territory, but historically the region has enjoyed long periods of autonomy. Opposition to Chinese rule led to a bloody uprising in 1959. Currently, Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, advocates a "middle way" with Beijing, seeking autonomy but not independence.

Report: China 'to give Tibetan monks welfare benefits' [BBC, 14 Nov 2011]