The political climate in Burma is gloomier than ever as pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, general secretary of the National League for Democracy and winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, is in grave danger. Suu Kyi, known affectionately as "the Lady,"- is the hope of the Burmese people; her bad fortune will be the fate of her poor people and country.
The Lady was transferred to Insein Prison in Rangoon on May 14 from her home, where she had been under house arrest. The dishonest junta started a closed-door mock trial of the Lady on Monday inside the notorious Insein Prison. She has been charged with violating the terms of her house arrest and could face a prison sentence of up to five years. But the people see the trial as a farce and a conspiracy by the junta.
Even though a few diplomats and journalists were allowed to attend the third day of the trial on Wednesday, most of them still expect her to be found guilty on trumped-up charges.
The Association of South-East Asian Nations has been criticized for its lack of practical efforts to tame its rogue member. Releasing statements and rhetorical comments are not enough. The leaders of ASEAN may remember "Black Friday,"- the premeditated ambush of the Lady near the town of Depayin in military-ruled Burma.
In the hours of darkness on May 30, 2003, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy convoy were fiercely attacked, leaving numerous dead and injured. Hundreds of democracy supporters were taken into custody, including Suu Kyi.
There was convincing evidence that the attack was a premeditated assassination attempt on Suu Kyi and members of the NLD. A report by the special rapporteur on human rights to Myanmar, Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, said, "There is prima facie evidence that the Depayin incident could not have happened without the connivance of state agents."-
This brutal attack was the regime's response to the people's support of the NLD during Aung San Suu Kyi's various trips throughout the country, following her release from 19 months of house arrest in May 2002. In response to the Depayin bloodbath, there was a remarkable outcry from ASEAN and unique pressure on the regime, including calls for Suu Kyi's release.
Nonetheless, the regime mollified ASEAN by offering a seven-step "roadmap to democratization"- in response to the pressure. However, the roadmap has not led to democratic reform in Myanmar.
Six years later the voice of ASEAN has diminished. There should have been an independent investigation into the Depayin attack and Aung San Suu Kyi and fellow activist U Tin Oo should have been unconditionally released. But the military regime has endlessly made empty promises to the people of Burma and ASEAN.
At the U.N. General Assembly meeting on Sept. 29, the junta's Foreign Minister Win Aung misled the international community by saying, "We don't call this house arrest "- We are helping her to overcome health problems."- Unfortunately, this move has reduced pressure within the region for the release of Suu Kyi.
ASEAN should keep in mind that at Depayin, Than Shwe, the chieftain of the junta, was the key criminal and Aung San Suu Kyi was the victim. But when the junta declared that it had put Suu Kyi under "protective custody,"- ASEAN did not stand with the Lady. Hence, the Burmese people thought ASEAN supported the criminal against the victim.
As international pressure mounted, in a departure from its noninterference policy, ASEAN issued a statement calling for the early release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD members during the 36th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in June 2003 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It also urged Myanmar to seek reconciliation and dialogue "leading to a peaceful transition to democracy."-
But ASEAN's statement was all for naught. People have been deeply disappointed by the group's lack of collective will to take a strong position against Burma's military dictators. Instead, the group seems to be going along with the dictators and opposing democratic norms. This makes a mockery of the ASEAN charter, which asserts that the region be more responsive to human rights issues.
The charter was intended to transform ASEAN into a systematic institution similar to the European Union, entrusting its members to strengthen democracy, to enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. ASEAN should be recognized internationally not only as a cohesive alliance of economically developed nations, but also as a regional body that is ethically and politically responsible.