by Maura Stephens, journalist and humanitarian, coauthor of “Collateral Damage: The Iraqi People”
The world’s only incarcerated Nobel Laureate, the democracy leader of Burma, sits imprisoned in her own home. She has, this time, been kept from the world since May 2003. Aung San Suu Kyi was not present at last week’s Nobel Women’s Initiative, founded in 2006 by the other six living female Nobel Peace Prize laureates.
It should be no surprise that the plight of this great woman and her country are subjects long paid lip service to by the United States and other nations, and indeed by the United Nations under Kofi Annan. But that’s all there has been, really: lip service. Perhaps new Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon will do better.
The UN Security Council must be the place where meaningful action on Burma is taken. But four of the G8 nations sit on the UN Security Council: France, the UK, the USA, and Russia. (Only China, of the five permanent UNSC members, is not represented on the G8.) China and Russia are unwilling to even allow Burma to be discussed in the UNSC.
But right now there’s the opportunity for the G8 to take an official stand about Burma. All the G8 nations except for Russia are willing (and in some cases, such as the United States, eager) to take action against the brutal military regime in Burma — a regime that routinely, officially, and blatantly practices torture, rape, forced labour (slavery), child conscription, the burning of entire villages, and the proscription of anyone who does not toe the political line of the military.
This is an opportune time for the other seven nations to work to convince Russia that the world must insist on full transparency by the Burmese regime and the admittance of international journalists, the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners, the establishment of a multinational oversight body with full access to monitor the human rights situation, the immediate cessation of all Burmese regime-sponsored hostilities against the Burmese people, and the beginning of a political dialogue and national reconciliation process.
With Russia’s understanding that Burma’s human rights violations are totally separate from its own human rights situation, perhaps it will be persuaded that it is okay to act against the Burmese regime. And with Russia won over, China may well cave in.
So I urge the G8 nations to discuss Burma immediately, and to begin to work on Russia within this forum, where 7 versus 1 makes for better convincing than 3 versus 2 in the UN Security Council. Aung San Suu Kyi and her suffering people deserve the attention of the world, and the clock is ticking away.