It's time to heed Suu Kyi's words

[This Editorial appeared in the 2000 September 6 issue of the Edmonton Journal.]

"A bright collection of strange victories." That's the English translation of Aung San Suu Kyi. It's an apt name for the indomitable woman who leads the forces of democracy in Burma.

In 1990, her party, the National League for Democracy, won the Burmese election, with over 80 per cent of the vote. But Burma's savage ruling junta refused to accept the election results, kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, and tortured and killed many of her party members. In 1991, Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize -- an honour that gained her little in the way of freedom.

Last month, Suu Kyi attempted to leave her house. The military blocked her way. After a nine-day stand-off, soldiers took Suu Kyi and more than a dozen of her party colleagues into custody. As of Tuesday, the Burmese government refused to confirm Suu Kyi's whereabouts.

Democracies around the world have rushed to condemn the latest actions [of] the Burmese government. But these condemnations do little to improve life in Burma, one of the most oppressive dictatorships in the world. For the West, Aung San Suu Kyi is the symbol of her country's great suffering. But while the junta may prove too cowardly to execute this high-profile international heroine, Burma has no compunction about jailing or shooting its more anonymous citizens.

When we turn Suu Kyi into a political poster girl we diminish the reality of Burmese suffering. Suu Kyi herself once wrote, "It is not enough merely to call for freedom, democracy and human rights. There has to be a united determination to persevere in the struggle, to make sacrifices in the name of enduring truths."

She's spent years making that sacrifice. It's time for corporations and governments still doing business with Burma to heed her message. "Constructive engagement" with butchers does not, cannot work.

Date last changed: 2007 September 25

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