Baroness Kinnock: Release should be the start of a process of real change

Ban Ki-Moon must take the lead in persuading the regime to start genuine talks with ethnic groups

Tuesday 16 November 2010 01:00 GMT

I met Daw Suu some years ago at her home in Rangoon. A slight and graceful figure, she has more serenity and humanity than anyone I have ever met. Then, as now, she showed breathtaking heroism and courage in the face of the world's most tyrannical and secretive regime. Her composure and dignity affected me deeply.

The most striking thing about Aung San Suu Kyi is her modesty. Though her suffering has been great – more than 15 years in detention; denied the right to see her beloved husband before he died – she plays down her personal struggles and her many achievements and instead emphasises her failings. But as she knows, having been put through a revolving door of imprisonment and arrest by Burma's junta, there are wider concerns than her own story. There are still 2,200 other political prisoners in Burma. And the recent shamelessly rigged elections and the new constitution, which legalises military rule, as well as continuing large scale human rights abuses, are all clear indicators that the dictatorship has no interest in genuine democratic change. The reality is that the junta have released Suu Kyi as a public relations exercise to distract from their sham elections.

It is a tactic that the generals have employed in the past and the international community have fallen for it every time. This time must be different. The global community must seize the opportunity Aung San Suu Kyi's release provides to increase pressure on the dictatorship to enter into dialogue.

Ban Ki-Moon must personally take the lead in persuading the regime to start genuine negotiations with the democracy movement and ethnic groups.

Top priorities for this dialogue process must be to secure the release of all political prisoners and a nationwide ceasefire to end military attacks against ethnic groups.

An International Committee of Inquiry must be established into war crimes and crimes against humanity, ensuring an end to impunity and sending a strong message to Burma's leaders that such behaviour will no longer be tolerated. Aung San Suu Kyi's release is only the first step on a long walk to freedom.

We must ensure we continue to march shoulder-to-shoulder with her and the people of Burma.

Baroness Kinnock is board member of the Burma Campaign UK and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Burma

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