Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is Amnesty International’s “Ambassador of Conscience”
Scroll down to read fellow Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu's tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi
(Dublin) -- Amnesty International today announced that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is being awarded its most prestigious honour – the “Ambassador of Conscience” Award for 2009.
This year’s award will be announced in Dublin by Amnesty International and the Irish rock band U2, previous recipients of the award and long-time supporters of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
“This month marks the twentieth anniversary of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrest and twenty years since Amnesty International declared her a prisoner of conscience. In those long and often dark years Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has remained a symbol of hope, courage and the undying defense of human rights, not only to the people of Myanmar but to people around the world,” said Irene Khan, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
Vaclav Havel, who received the inaugural “Ambassador of Conscience Award” in 2003, joined in the congratulations:
“I know from my own experience that international attention can, to a certain extent, protect the unjustly persecuted from punishments that would otherwise be imposed. That is why, shortly after I was elected President, I nominated Mrs Suu Kyi for the Nobel Peace Prize, which she did subsequently receive. Goodness knows what would have happened if her fate had not been highlighted as it is again today. I welcome Amnesty’s decision and am delighted at the solidarity, that U2 and all of you are showing towards this courageous woman – the Ambassador of Conscience of each one of us.”
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the Myanmar opposition party the National League for Democracy, and has been detained for over 13 of the past 20 years, mostly under house arrest. Her house detention order was set to expire on 27 May 2009, but she was arrested and placed on trial on 18 May. Over 2,100 other people are currently imprisoned in Myanmar for their political beliefs and should be freed.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial for violating the terms and conditions of her house arrest resumed on 24 .July. If convicted Daw Aung San Suu Kyi could face up to five years in jail. Background The Ambassador of Conscience Award, now in its sixth year, recognises exceptional leadership and witness in the fight to protect and promote human rights. Past winners of the award include Peter Gabriel, Nelson Mandela and Mary Robinson.
The Award -- inspired by a poem written for Amnesty International by Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney -- aims to promote the work of the organization by association with the life, work and example of its 'Ambassadors', who have done much to inspire the world through their work and personal example.
Notes to editors To request an interview with Amnesty International spokespeople please contact Tom Mackey on +44 207 413 5810
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International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UK www.amnesty.org
Aung San Suu Kyi in May 2002 Photograph: STEPHEN SHAVER/AFP/Getty Images
I think of my sister Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi every day. Her picture hangs on the wall of my office, reminding me that, thousands of miles away in Asia, a nation is oppressed. Every day I ask myself: have I done everything I can try to end the atrocities being committed in Burma? And I pray that world leaders will ask themselves the same question. For if they did, the answer would be "no", and perhaps their conscience will finally force them to act.
Humankind has the ability to live in freedom and in peace. We have seen that goodness has triumphed over evil; we have witnessed political transitions in South Africa, and elsewhere, evidencing that we live in a moral universe. Our world is sometimes lacking wise and good leadership or, as in the case of Burma, the leadership is forbidden to lead.
Aung San Suu Kyi has now been detained for more than 13 years. She recently passed her 5,000th day in detention. Every one of those days is a tragedy and a lost opportunity. The whole world, not just the people of Burma, suffers from this loss. We desperately need the kind of moral and principled leadership that Aung San Suu Kyi would provide. And when you add the more than 2,100 political prisoners who are also in Burma's jails, and the thousands more jailed in recent decades, the true scale of injustice, but also of lost potential, becomes heartbreakingly clear.
Like many leaders, Aung San Suu Kyi has had to make great personal sacrifices. It is cruel enough to deprive an innocent person of her freedom. Burma's generals are crueller still. They try to use her as leverage to make her submit to their will. They refused to allow her husband to visit one last time when he was dying of cancer. She has grandchildren she has never even met. Yet her will and determination have stayed strong despite her being kept in detention for so many years.
More than anything, the new trial and detention of Aung San Suu Kyi speaks volumes about her effectiveness as a leader. The only reason the generals need to silence her clarion call for freedom is because they fear her and the principles she stands for. She is the greatest threat to their continuing rule.
The universal demand for human freedom cannot be suppressed forever. This is a universal truth that Than Shwe, the dictator of Burma, has failed to understand. How frustrated must he be that no matter how long he keeps Aung San Suu Kyi in detention, no matter how many guns he buys, and no matter how many people he imprisons, Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma will not submit. The demands for the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners of Burma grow louder and echo around the world, reaching even his new capital hidden in central Burma. Words, however, are not enough. Freedom is never given freely by those who have power; it has to be fought for.
The continuing detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's other political prisoners is a crime and an indictment of an international community that often substitutes the issuance of repeated statements of concern for effective diplomacy. The UN treats the situation in Burma as if it is just a dispute between two sides, and they must mediate to find a middle ground. The reality is that a brutal, criminal and illegal dictatorship is trying, and failing, to crush those who want freedom and justice. The international community cannot be neutral in the face of evil. That evil must be called what it is, and confronted.
Change is overdue to the framework within which the international community approaches Burma. Twenty years of trying to persuade Burma's generals to reform has not secured any improvement. Forty visits by UN envoys have failed to elicit any change. The warm embrace of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) did not improve the behaviour of the regime towards Burma's citizens whether Christian, Buddhist or Muslim. The regime rules with an iron fist and those under its rule have suffered long enough.
Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters have time and again offered to dialogue with the regime. They offered a path of reconciliation and non-violent transition. Even as Aung San Suu Kyi stood before the regime's sham court, facing five years' imprisonment, we heard her voice loud and strong. She said: "There could be many opportunities for national reconciliation if all parties so wished."
Burma's generals must now face the consequences of their actions. The detention of Aung San Suu Kyi is as clear a signal as we could get that there will be no chance of reform and that the regime's "road map to democracy", including the call for elections, in 2010, is an obstacle to justice.
A new report from Harvard Law School, Crimes in Burma, commissioned by some of the most respected jurists in international law, has used the UN's own reports to highlight how Burma's generals have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Burma's generals are criminals, and must be treated as such. Than Shwe should be held accountable for abominable atrocities: his soldiers rape ethnic women and children, they torture, mutilate and murder at will. In eastern Burma, more than 3,300 ethnic villages have been destroyed, more than in Darfur. Civilians are deliberately targeted and shot on sight.
Than Shwe spurned the compassion of those willing to provide assistance following Cyclone Nargis. Instead, he conducted a referendum and he declared his undemocratic constitution the victor while victims perished from the cyclone's devastation. These are war crimes and crimes against humanity. Than Shwe and the rest of the generals cannot be allowed to go unpunished. The UN must establish a commission of inquiry, with a view to compiling evidence for prosecution. Failure to do so amounts to complicity with these crimes.
An international arms embargo must also be imposed immediately. Those countries supplying arms to Burma are facilitating these atrocities. Countries across the world must declare their support for a global arms embargo, making it impossible for China to resist such a move at the Security Council.
Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma deserve nothing less than our most strenuous efforts to help them secure their freedom. Every day we must ask ourselves: have we done everything that we can? I pledge that I will not rest until Aung San Suu Kyi, and all the people of Burma, are free. Please join me.
Desmond M Tutu is the former Archbishop of Cape Town and recipient of the Nobel peace prize
U2 says Suu Kyi is envoy of conscience for Amnesty
By STEVEN CARROLL
IMPRISONED BURMESE opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is to be the new Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience, U2 lead singer Bono announced last night during the last of the band’s three concerts at Croke Park in Dublin.
The Nobel peace prize winner leads the National League for Democracy and has been detained for 13 of the past 20 years in Burma because of her political beliefs. This month marks the 20th anniversary of her detention.
Last night, Bono said he was proud to deliver the message as Suu Kyi was a “strong leader” like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. “Her crime is that if she were free to participate in elections she’d win,” Bono said.
Her situation has been frequently highlighted by U2 on this tour, and during a rendition of Walk On last night scores of people bearing Suu Kyi masks came on stage as footage of her played on the giant video screens.
Irene Khan, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said yesterday that the imprisoned leader was an inspiration to the world.
“In those long and often dark years, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has remained a symbol of hope, courage and the undying defence of human rights, not only to the people of Myanmar but to people around the world,” she said.
U2’s 360° Tour, featuring a giant claw-like stage, will now move on to Gothenburg in Sweden for two sold-out concerts having been watched by a total of more than 200,000 people at the three concerts in Dublin.
Last night’s gig was a mixture of the polished performance and political activism U2 have become renowned for. Taking the stage shortly before 9pm to rapturous applause, Bono, The Edge, Larry and Adam, in a pun on the title of their recent album, promised that there was “plenty of craic on the horizon”.
Their set opened with a series of songs from No Line On The Horizon including Breathe and Get On Your Boots , before touching on hits from their back catalogue such as Beautiful Day, Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and New Year’s Day .
Bono paid tribute to the Dublin crowd for the “overwhelming” reception the band received over the three nights and said that, in spite of the current economic difficulties, Ireland had a “special spirit that won’t be easily broken”.
Meanwhile, local residents near Croke Park began a series of protests last night following the gig over what they say is the contempt shown to them by Dublin City Council, the GAA and the U2 concert promoters.
Protests were planned for 1am, 7am and 6pm today.
One of the demonstrations will involve a slow-moving convoy of residents in their cars, designed to disrupt the work of dismantling the stage used for the concerts and putting down a new pitch.
The residents are particularly incensed that the works will take place continuously over a 44-hour period to get the stadium ready in time for the All-Ireland football quarter-finals next weekend.
Patrick Gates, chairman of the Croke Park Area Residents Alliance, said the dismantling works being carried out over two nights were the “salt in the wound” to follow the massive disruption caused by the three concerts.