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Burmese Regime Holds World's Only Imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate


Location: Washington, DC

Burmese Regime Holds World's Only Imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Congressman Joe Pitts

The brutal military regime currently ruling Burma is guilty of grave violations of human rights. Just this week President Bush, in a speech in Australia, criticized the regime's arrest, harassment and assault of peaceful protestors.

Burma has been in the equivalent of martial law since the 1988, when the army cracked down on anti-military demonstrations. The Burmese government has jailed several prominent human rights activists, claiming their agitation was causing civil unrest. However, the civil unrest in Burma is not the result of human rights activists, but rather the oppressive military regime that is carrying out a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against the nation's ethnic minorities.

The people of Burma continue to suffer as the brutal military dictatorship engages in ethnic cleansing against the minority populations, using rape as a weapon of terror, and using ethnic peoples as human landmine sweepers. There are approximately 1 million internally displaced people inside Burma. Government forces have destroyed over three thousand villages as it attempts to rid the country of ethnic minorities.

In June of this year, I hosted a visiting delegation of ethnic leaders from Burma. They confirmed that these atrocities continue.

This same military regime has the dubious distinction of holding under house arrest the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Aung San Suu Kyi is a human rights activist in the mold of Nelson Mandela. She has been a tireless pro-democracy campaigner and leader of the opposition National League for Democracy party.

In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her peaceful activism in attempting to bring democracy to Burma. At the presentation ceremony, the Chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, Francis Sejested, called her "an outstanding example of the power of the powerless."

In addition, she had received over 60 international awards for her tireless, peaceful efforts to bring democracy to the suffering people of Burma, including the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-President Bill Clinton.

In May of this year, former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik released a letter with the signatures of 59 former heads of state calling on the Burmese regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi. The signatories included former leaders from Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and South America.

Aung San Suu Kyi led her National League for Democracy party and its allies to a landslide 82 percent victory in Burma's last democratic election in 1990. The ruling military regime refused to recognize the results and she has been under house arrest for more than 11 of the last 17 years. She is the rightful, democratically elected President of Burma, but the thuggish regime has kept her detained rather than hand over power. She was to be released from detention on May 27, but the military regime arbitrarily extended her captivity.

Aung San Suu Kyi is a fearless leader and incredible women who has sacrificed her life in the name of freedom and self determination for the people of Burma. It is heartening to see international leaders take notice of her plight. I can only hope that continued international pressure will force the Burmese regime to acquiesce to the demands for freedom of all people in Burma.

Aung San Suu Kyi's sacrifice is humbling. She, the National League for Democracy and the Ethnic Nationalities Council are fighting for the most basic, inalienable human rights for their people. This is why we must continue to pressure the Burmese regime, and the Chinese and other governments that enable the brutality, to end its campaign of ethnic cleansing and restore the rights and liberties of its citizens.

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