x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Suu Kyi trial provokes strong words but little action from the UN

As the closed trial of the Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi continues at Insein Prison near Yangon, at the United Nations the Security Council has called for the release of all political prisoners in Myanmar, formerly Burma. Ms Suu Kyi is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest after an unauthorised and unwelcome visit from John Yettaw, a US citizen.

As the closed trial of the Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi continues at Insein Prison near Yangon, at the United Nations the Security Council has called for the release of all political prisoners in Myanmar, formerly Burma. Ms Suu Kyi is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest after an unauthorised and unwelcome visit from John Yettaw, a US citizen. Mr Yettaw is being held by Myanmar authorities and has been charged with illegally entering a restricted zone and breaking immigration laws and could receive a prison sentence if convicted of either offense. Kyi Win, one of Ms Suu Kyi's lawyers, told reporters: "Everyone is very angry with this wretched American. He is the cause of all these problems. He's a fool." Issuing a press statement, the Security Council reiterated earlier statements made in May 2007 and October 2008 which called on the government to release all political prisoners and remaining detainees and called on all parties concerned "to work together towards a de-escalation of the situation and a peaceful solution". Britain's ambassador to the UN, John Sawers, said on Friday, it is "inconceivable" that Ms Suu Kyi's trial and imprisonment could in anyway contribute to achieving a genuine national reconciliation, Voice of America reported. "It is inconceivable that the trial and imprisonment of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi could in anyway contribute to that. She is the most prominent of the opposition leaders in Myanmar and she heads the party which won the only credible elections in recent memory in Myanmar, and the regime needs to come to terms with that. They are failing to do so," he said. The US envoy Rosemary DiCarlo said the council needed to speak with one voice on this issue and it did, pointing out that countries which do not normally want to comment on this issue did. Russia and China are two prominent council members with ties to the Myanmar government who generally reserve criticism in the name of respecting the country's internal affairs. Although the US had initially urged the adoption of a stronger presidential statement from the council, diplomats said it was downgraded to a press statement to get approval from China and Russia. The statement said: "The members of the Security Council affirm their commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Myanmar and, in that context, reiterate that the future of Myanmar lies in the hands of all of its people." Several items left by Mr Yettaw, including a book on the Mormon faith and a letter, could be used to convict and imprison Ms Suu Kyi, according to the state-run Myanmar Ahlin newspaper. Mr Yettaw left at least six books including the "Book of Mormon," the newspaper reported. He also left a letter from his daughter which Ms Suu Kyi later tore up. These were among 23 items that Ms Suu Kyi handed over to police including two black robes, a torch and three sets of goggles. Police Col Win Naing Tun told the court that Suu Kyi breached the conditions of her house arrest by receiving books and documents from the outside, the newspaper said. The order also bars her from communicating with the outside world by phone or mail and from meeting diplomats and politicians. Writing in The Irrawaddy, Aung Zaw said: "If the regime leaders were looking for an excuse to extend Suu Kyi's house arrest, [Mr Yettaw] has given them one on a plate. "Indeed, Suu Kyi can be deemed to have broken the 'law' - in Burma, you must inform the authorities if you want to invite a guest to stay overnight at your home. "John William Yettaw probably didn't know this; he apparently didn't conduct much research into the knock-on effects of his stupidity. "Burma's pro-democracy movement has long been an attraction for fantasists, fanatics and adventure tourists. "Apart from the usual Walter Mittys that roam the Western world, Burma's self-appointed saviors have included activists, experts, apologists, lobbyists, scholars, opportunists, do-or-die religious zealots and mercenaries... "Foreign activists know that the Burmese authorities won't keep them in jail forever. They know that their arrest in Burma will make headlines back home." In The Times, Richard Lloyd Parry wrote: "The sad truth is that nothing very much has helped in Burma, and there is nothing obvious left to try. The two extremes of policy are engagement - as pursued by Burma's neighbours in the Association of South-East Nations (Asean) - on the one hand, and isolation, practiced by the US and EU, on the other. "Several of Asean's members have rotten human rights records of their own. Part of the reason they have embraced Burma as a member, one suspects, is because, compared to the Burmese junta, even the communist dictatorships of Vietnam and Laos look progressive by comparison. "Officially, they argue that the friendly encouragement of neighbours is more effective in bringing about change than the reproach of governments half a world away. But 12 years after joining Asean, Burma has made no genuine progress towards democratic reform. "But sanctions have done no palpable good either - and there is a strong argument that, whatever inconvenience they have caused for the junta and its cronies, they have done great harm to ordinary Burmese." The Boston Globe reported: "A Harvard Law School human rights group says it's time to do more than just issue another statement about Burma. Rather, the report argues, the United Nations Security Council should hold a formal commission of inquiry into human rights abuses that could lead to an international tribunal like those for the former Yugoslavia and Darfur. "The Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic issued a detailed report today finding that 'human rights abuses in Burma are widespread, systematic and part of state policy.' It said the evidence suggests the Burmese regime 'may be committing crimes against humanity and war crimes prosecutable under international law.' "The clinic's 114-page report examines sources including 15 years worth of UN documents reporting on abuses including the forced displacement of 3,000 villages in eastern Burma and 'widespread and systematic sexual violence, torture and summary execution of innocent civilians.' "

pwoodward@thenational.ae