Myanmar: International outrage over sentence

Updated On: Aug 12, 2009

The sentencing of Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been met with outpourings of outrage on the international stage.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added her voice, demanding her release and stating that Myanmar’s scheduled elections next year would be illegitimate.

“She should not have been tried, and she should not have been convicted,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters in Congo, where she is on an African tour. “We continue to call for her release.”

“We also call for the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners, including the American, John Yettaw,” she said, referring to a 53-year-old man who swam across a lake in central Yangon last May and spent two nights in Mrs. Suu Kyi’s villa. This incident led to the charges of violating the terms of her house arrest that prompted the trial.

European governments also demanded the immediate and unconditional release of Mrs. Suu Kyi, threatening stricter sanctions against the military regime, restricting arms supplies and tightening the embargo.

In a statement, the European Union announced that it was ready to impose “targeted measures against those responsible for the verdict” and to stiffen existing measures, including an arms export ban, visa restrictions and financial sanctions.

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, called for her release and for the junta to engage with her immediately as a move towards national reconciliation.

Across the world, Mrs. Suu Kyi's trial has been followed closely and she has received support from a broad range of political leaders and human rights advocates. She won the Nobel Peace prize in 1991. Fourteen other winners have issued a letter calling on the Security Council to investigate the junta for “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Irene Khan, the secretary general of Amnesty International stressed that while the Myanmar authorities “will hope that a sentence that is shorter than the maximum will be seen by the international community as an act of leniency”, it “must not be seen as such.” Mrs. Suu Kyi “should never have been arrested in the first place,” she said.

It is not yet clear how Myanmar’s neighbors would react. Asian nations generally react cautiously to events in Myanmar, sometimes offering criticism. According to experts, they may be willing to accept Myanmar’s protestations of leniency this time.

The Obama administration has been reviewing American policy toward Myanmar since February, when Secretary of State Clinton declared that existing measures against the junta had been ineffective.

During the meeting of the Association of South East Asian nations in Thailand last month, Mrs. Clinton spoke in exceptionally detailed terms when discussing the country’s human rights record and its treatment of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi.

She dismissed the charges against Mrs. Suu Kyi as “baseless and totally unacceptable” and stated that an improvement of ties with Washington depended on the Myanmar junta’s handling of human rights issues.


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