I watched the coverage of Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest with an overwhelming sense of relief and joy. Like millions of people around the world, my fellow Elders and I shared the delight of the Burmese people at seeing her freed after such a long time.
Just last week, I was finally able to have a wonderful telephone conversation with our honorary Elder.
The Lady – or my Sister, as I call her – is so dignified, poised and self-assured yet also has a tremendous sense of fun. She constantly seemed to be on the verge of bursting into laughter. Her grace and forbearance despite all she has been through is a lesson to us all.
During our conversation, I told her that we always have an empty chair draped in Burmese silk for her and her country’s other political prisoners at our meetings. She in turn expressed her appreciation for all the support that she has received.
She told me about the need for national reconciliation and of her hope that the people of Burma will soon be able to enjoy the fruits of democracy. She said that, despite her release, now is not the time for the international community to turn its attention away from Burma – the country is not yet free.
Just as my Sister said that she will not be ‘free’ until Burma is ‘free’, I say that no one in the world is truly free until we – including the people of Burma – are all free.
In Burma’s hour of need, we must stand with those who stand for democracy and justice. Daw Suu Kyi’s release is just the beginning of a long process; Burma’s immediate future is still uncertain.
The elections earlier this month cannot be described as free or fair, and we must all continue to insist on the release of Burma’s 2203 political prisoners. Indeed, the number of ‘prisoners of conscience’ in the country – among them human rights defenders, journalists, labour activists and Buddhist monks and nuns – has more than doubled over the past few years. They are languishing in Burma’s prisons and labour camps, and many are suffering from ill-treatment and torture. The world, and in particular Burma’s ASEAN neighbours, must speak louder for their release.
When I think back to the situation in South Africa, I remember that there were many times when it felt like we would never see freedom in our country, when those who oppressed us seemed invincible. As I always say though, this is a moral universe, injustice and oppression will lose out in the end. Led by a lady of great moral courage, the people of Burma are doing their utmost to hasten that day. We must do all we can to support them.