/ 5 October 2011

Suu Kyi: Tutu, Mandela ‘inspire Burma’s quest for peace’

Suu Kyi: Tutu

Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi says the people of Burma seeking peace and reconciliation have been inspired by SA’s great men: Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

It didn’t matter that Nobel Laureate and Burma pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi was speaking from Burma in a prerecorded video; when she finished addressing the auditorium at the University of Johannesburg on Tuesday night, the audience rose to their feet and applauded her.

“The peoples of Burma want peace, they want freedom, they want security, they want reconciliation. All these you have taught us we can achieve through courage and endeavour. We look up to your great men — Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu”.

In a video address to South Africans, pro-democracy activist and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has urged the country to support Burma in its struggle for democracy.

Suu Kyi’s message was broadcast at a university graduation ceremony when she awarded an honorary doctorate on Tuesday night. The university said they chose to honour her because of her “revolutionary journey to bring democratic change to Myanmar, formally known as Burma”.

Suu Kyi was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her activism in peacefully protesting against the military junta that has led Burma with an iron first since the sixties. When Suu Kyi returned from living overseas to Burma in 1988 to see her ill mother, she started to lead pro-democracy protests against the military government.

Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won elections two years later but the military remained in control. Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest where she has spent 15 of the past 22 years.

She was released in November last year but told a group of activists and academics via a live-video link-up at UJ on Monday night that 1 300 political prisoners remain behind bars.

She said that she believed the widely published figure of about 2 000 Burmese political prisoners was not accurate and that she had heard the revised figure was lower. She said she hoped some prisoners would be released in the coming weeks but would have to wait and see.

“But even if there is one single political prisoner in the country, it is too many” she said. “One of the most important [pieces of] evidence of genuine democracy is that there should no political prisoners.”

No Democracy, No Freedom. No Human Rights
Suu Kyi’s first cousin, Dr Sein Win, flew from the United States to accept the honorary degree on her behalf. It is believed that Suu Kyi does not leave Burma for fear she will not be allowed back into the country.

On Tuesday night Win told audience members attending the graduation that in Burma “there is no democracy, there is no freedom, there are no human rights”.

He echoed sentiments of his cousin that the military had too much power in the Burma. The Burmese government has been technically run by civilians since elections last year, which Suu Kyi’s party boycotted. However the government is still heavily influenced by the military who have ruled Burma with an iron fist since 1962.

On Monday, Win told the Mail & Guardian in an interview that “torture of prisoners in Burma and human rights violations had to stop”. He also said exiles living outside the country could not return home saying it was not “safe” and they would not be able to do any political work if they went back to Burma. He slammed the fact that “ethnic cleansing” was taking place.

Ethnic tensions
The military government has waged war against ethnic groups in Burma over the years laying landmines in villages to prevent displaced residents from returning home, using teenage soldiers and being accused of genocide and torture.

Suu Kyi, in her video link-up on Monday, expressed concern about conflict between different groups in Burma. “Burma is a union of many peoples” she said. “If we achieve unity between many ethnic groups, it will be first time in history” she said, but added that “hostilities breaking out do not help”.

Helping Burma along the way
Suu Kyi asked the “world at large” and South Africa to “give encouragement when it was due to the peoples of Burma”.

In her address at the university on Tuesday, she said: “When we reach our goal, we will remember that we have helped along the way by good friends like you. I look forward to the day when I can visit you in Johannesburg, walk around your campus, get to know your students, get the feel of South Africa, imbibe the spirit and air of South Africa that I can bring back to my country renewed hopes for the future.”

Win said he met Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Ebrahim Ebrahim to ask for support from the South African government on Monday.

“He will think about it. He has sympathy,” said Win.

South Africa startled observers when joined China and Russia in 2007 to vote against a United Nations Security Council Resolution to urge Burma to become more democratic, release all political prisoners and respect human rights.

South Africa and the Dalai Lama and foreign policy
Win on Monday night told the M&G that China was to blame for South Africa’s stance on the Dalai Lama. “China is a big question not only for South Africa — but for many countries. People don’t like to annoy China.”

He added that China’s wishes were noted across Asia. “Especially in Asia, the China factor is very dominating.”

Suu Kyi, when asked on Monday about the Dalai Lama, said the South African government did not show the same concern for human rights as some of its people like Desmond Tutu did.