Will Suu Kyi Be Soon Free? And What Then? COMMENTARY

Persistent rumors have been circulating since late last year predicting that Burma’s opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi will be released soon from house arrest.

Several Western governments and international campaign groups accuse the Burmese regime of detaining her illegally and have been stepping up their demands for her release. Some diplomats in Rangoon and Bangkok even suggest that Suu Kyi will be released in May this year, the sixth anniversary of her current term of house arrest. Some analysts maintain, however, that the regime will benefit nothing from releasing her at this point in time, but say she could be freed after the 2010 election.
Suu Kyi is being held under the terms of Burma’s State Protection Act of 1975, which provides for the detention for up to five years of persons judged to pose a threat to the sovereignty and security of the State and the peace of the people. Under the provisions of the Act, Suu Kyi should have been released in May 2008, and the Burmese regime is being accused of transgressing its own laws by continuing to detain her.

UN Special Human Rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana raised her case with government officials when he visited Burma this month. He was told by the country’s Chief Justice that since the detention was an administrative order, the legal case had not been sent to the Supreme Court.

Government officials also said that Suu Kyi had been placed in “quasi-judicial” detention. But even experts in international law are asking what this means.

Since there is no rule of law in Burma, it would be naïve to expect the regime to honor existing laws it doesn’t respect, let alone hope the junta will bow to demands for Suu Kyi’s release.

Nevertheless, important questions are raised by the rumors that she could indeed be freed soon.

A dinner meeting between the regime leaders and NLD leaders in Rangoon (undated photo)
Question: What will happen if
Suu Kyi is freed in May this year?
Answer: The Burmese people will be very happy and the regime will try to win kudos and much needed recognition by its most vocal critics, particularly the US and the international community.

It’s probably wishful thinking to suggest that her release in May could show that Snr-Gen Than Shwe wants to include her in the “road map” process and may want her National League for Democracy (NLD) to participate.

If she is freed after the 2010 election it will be because the current regime wants to hand the matter over to a new government. Why should Than Shwe want her and the NLD to contest the election anyway? This is Than Shwe’s election, and it’s likely to be rigged in his favor.

It is possible that after her release she will continue to ask for the release of all political prisoners, including women and Buddhist monks.

The hard fact must be faced that even after her release, Suu Kyi could be rearrested and placed under house detention for a further six years.

In a worst case scenario, Suu Kyi could risk the same kind of physical attack that preceded her detention in 2003, when pro-regime mobs set upon her convoy of supporters in Depayin. That fear has prompted some analysts and diplomats to suggest that if she is freed she should be confined to the city limits of Rangoon.

Q: Some Burma watchers suggest that she should be suspended from the NLD. They say she should be a figurehead and invest her energy on reconciliation with the regime on a national level.

A: The statement by Suu Kyi released through UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari in November 2007 provides the best answer to that question.

4 pages http://www.irrawaddy.org/opinion_story.php?art_id=15364

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