The human face of Burma's tragedy

Britain's prime minister condemns Burma's "mockery of justice," calls for tougher stance

Published August 12, 2009 10:12AM (EDT)

Victim of the regime: Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, faces a further 18 months under house arrest.
Victim of the regime: Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, faces a further 18 months under house arrest.

The appalling but inevitable outcome of Aung San Suu Kyi's sham trial is final proof that the military regime in Burma is determined to continue defying the world.

Depressing news that she has been sentenced to up to one and a half years further house arrest is not only a tragedy for her and her family, but also for the Burmese people who suffer daily at the hand of tyranny.

This was the moment for the generals to embrace the growing clamor for change and choose the path of reform demanded by the region and the global community.

They comprehensively shunned it. The charges were baseless, the verdict outrageous.

So the international community must respond to this latest injustice with a clear message to the junta that its tyrannical actions will no longer be tolerated.

Further sanctions to target directly the regime's economic interests have been agreed upon by the European Union in response to the verdict and must be implemented as quickly as possible.

And determined action in the United Nations Security Council must follow. Nothing less than a worldwide ban on the sale of arms to the regime will do as a first step.

An absurd mockery of justice

I also believe that we should identify and target those judges complicit in these political show trials, which are an absurd mockery of justice.

The generals should be in no doubt about the strength of international solidarity with the cause of freedom, democracy and development in Burma. Political and humanitarian conditions in the country continue to deteriorate.

When over 140,000 were killed and millions made destitute by Cyclone Nargis last year, the world's efforts to help were resisted, a peaceful uprising by monks in 2007 was violently quashed, ethnic minorities are persecuted and under armed attack.

The media is muzzled, freedom of speech and assembly are non-existent and the number of political prisoners -- jailed only for their unwavering commitment to peace and national reconciliation -- has doubled to more than 2,000.

Aung San Suu Kyi is the most high profile of them. She has long been a symbol of hope and defiance during her 14 years as a prisoner of conscience. She is a most courageous woman. In those long years of isolation, she has barely seen her two sons yet is resolute in her faith in democracy and the Burmese people. Her refusal to buckle in the face of tyranny is an inspiration.

The facade of her prosecution is made more monstrous, therefore, because its real objective is to sever her bond with the people for whom she is a beacon of hope and resistance.

Her treatment can only be read as the junta's reluctance to move toward freedom, democracy and rule of law with Aung San Suu Kyi a central figure in a new Burma.

So unless they immediately free her -- and all political prisoners -- and start genuine dialogue with opposition and ethnic groups, elections next year will have no credibility.

In July, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded such measures on a visit to Rangoon. With this verdict, the generals have publicly snubbed him.

Now comes our greatest test.

In the face of this arrogance, we cannot stand by and effectively sanction the abhorrent actions of a violent and repressive junta -- but must show them that the international community is united and coordinated in its response.

We have seen an extraordinary consensus building around the world against the Burmese regime, encompassing the U.N., the E.U., ASEAN and more than 45 heads of state.

Enormous potential

All of us must continue to push for genuine political reconciliation and change, especially those countries in the region with the greatest influence.

Burma is rich in natural and human resources and sits at the heart of a dynamic continent. Democratic reform would unleash the country's enormous potential.

And I have always made clear that the United Kingdom would respond positively to any signs of progress, but attitudes must harden in light of this verdict.

The generals are condemning the country and its people to ever deeper isolation, poverty, conflict and despair.

Some may question why Burma warrants so much attention. There are other countries where human rights are ignored or people live in poverty.

But the Burmese regime stands virtually alone in the scale of its misrule and the sheer indifference to the daily suffering of its 50 million people.

Once again my thoughts are with Aung San Suu Kyi -- the human face of Burma's tragedy. But words and thoughts are no longer enough.

By Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown is the prime minister of the United Kingdom.

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