Myanmar’s desperate pleas for help heard by too few
Much news coverage has been given to the war in Iraq – well, more to the fight about pulling U.S. troops from the country – and to the latest tropical storms which may or may not make landfall as hurricanes on the shores of the U.S., than has been given to the imprisonment of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Thanks to the efforts of Hollywood funnyman Jim Carrey – who has filmed a spot on YouTube drawing attention to Suu Kyi – you may have heard of Suu Kyi, who in 1990 was democratically elected as prime minister of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The election ultimately went unrecognized by the prevailing military junta. Suu Kyi has been held under house arrest for 12 of the last 17 years for trying to bring democracy to the nation which her father, General Aung San, helped free from British colonial rule in 1948 before he was assassinated six months prior to the handover of power from English control to one of sovereignty.
Burma survived from then until 1962 as a representative democracy, when a military coup by the Burma Socialist Programme Party put an end to any freedoms the Burmese people had come to know. Demonstrations calling for a return to a democratic state were instantly squelched; human rights abuses including torture and political imprisonment became commonplace. In 1988 hundreds of thousands of Burmese citizens nation marched to demand the military rule be cast aside for a democratic government. BSPP soldiers fired on the unarmed protesters, leading to many civilian deaths.
Another coup, in name only, followed and in late 1988 the junta – calling itself the State Law and Order Restoration Council (then in 1997 it became the State Peace and Development Council) – took to machine-gunning those people who took to the streets calling for an end to military rule. It is estimated that more than 10,000 Burmese citizens were killed in the attempts to quell such protests.
In 1990 Aung San Suu Kyi, who felt tied to her country not only as a citizen who wanted democracy within its borders but perhaps because her father helped free Burma in the first place, ran as head of the National League of Democracy in elections allowed by the ruling military government. When Suu Kyi’s party went on to win 82 percent of the vote in nationally held elections, the junta refused to bow out and allow a democratic state renaissance.
Anti-military dissidents in Burma are arrested, tortured and even killed according to an Aug. 29 CNN article. Many citizens are reluctant to take part in demonstrations against the ruling government out of fear of such treatment.
Other entertainers – from Carrey to Dustin Hoffman to Jennifer Aniston – have signed their name to a letter addressed to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling for the U.N. to intervene and secure the release of the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient. If such a release were to occur, I doubt Suu Kyi would leave her nation.
Much more has to be done. Burmese citizens are crying out for the freedom and democratic process the U.S. is trying to instill in Iraq. The Iraqi people have the U.S. military to help them secure such a government while no such force exists in Burma to back up the call for democracy which is going out into the world only to go unheeded. Hollywood, it seems, is listening; this is all well and good and whatever can be done to draw attention to the strife in Burma should be done.
Letters to the U.N. from actors and actresses calling for the release of one person – albeit the leader of the elected party – is an important step to drawing attention to the problems in Burma, but is it the right step?
Every week, Burmese people are being killed for showing that they want a democratic government. The elected government is one that should be governing but is not because of the military regime’s unwillingness to step aside and allow a new era of government rule to unfold and change the face of Burma.
Instead, protesters are subjugated to torture, imprisonment and death. Suu Kyi is but one of hundreds of thousands trying to democratize Burma and bring a freedom and liberty the country has not known for some 45 years.
The world – and Hollywood – should come together to work toward freeing all citizens in Burma so its people can finally breathe in the air of emancipation they have chosen to live under.
Lopez, an English senior, can be reached via [email protected]