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Democratic Reforms in Burma Sought by Congress, White House

19 December 2007

Aung San Suu Kyi nominated for Congressional Gold Medal

Washington -- The U.S. House of Representatives values the efforts of Burmese democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi so highly that it votes to award her the United States' highest civilian honor.

On December 17, the House voted to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Suu Kyi, the only imprisoned recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She has been under house arrest in Burma for 12 years.

The award has yet to be confirmed by the Senate, and officials know that Suu Kyi would not be freed to accept the award. The award is intended as a message from U.S. elected officials to the Burmese junta led by General Than Shwe, who renamed the country Myanmar in 1989.

“Aung San Suu Kyi is a hero of our time,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos. “She has devoted her life to the peaceful struggle for democracy and freedom for her people."

The moves by Congress, along with new proposals to tighten further U.S. economic sanctions, are a small part of a wider U.S. policy to join with the international community, including the United Nations, the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to urge the military government in Rangoon to end political crackdowns, release Suu Kyi and other political prisoners and enter into talks with democracy movement leaders.

As the House voted, U.N. Special Advisor on Burma Ibrahim Gambari met at the White House with first lady Laura Bush and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley to brief them on his three visits to the region aimed at encouraging Burma’s military regime to pursue democratic reforms.

“The junta has made no meaningful attempt to meet and talk with democratic activists,” the first lady said in a December 18 statement.  “While they reject international calls for a democratic transition, they have put Burma in shambles and placed its people in a perilous state.”

Laura Bush said Gambari outlined actions by the military leaders that included trafficking of children and their forced recruitment into the military and outflows of Burmese citizens seeking work and basic health care even as infectious diseases, including AIDS and malaria, continue to spread unchecked.  Following his visit to the White House, Gambari traveled to New York to brief members of the U.N. General Assembly on his findings.

While Burma’s record of human rights abuses is as long as it is well-documented, the regime's crushing of peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks in September has thrust one of the region’s poorest countries back into the international spotlight and U.N. officials have stepped up efforts to urge Burma’s rulers to enter into talks with the opposition National League for Democracy. (See related article.)

“The people of Myanmar have suffered from isolation for such a long time and it is high time now for the Myanmar authorities and people to be able to enjoy genuine democracy and genuine integration in the international community,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said December 10 in Thailand.

ASEAN’s strong statement condemning the crackdown, as well the U.N. Security Council’s unanimous October statement of concern, and U.N. support in facilitating a political dialogue in Burma show how the international community shares U.S. concerns for Burma, Scott Marciel, deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said in Washington November 8.

“It takes strong pressure from the international community.  What we have been doing in the United Nations as well as working with other countries, is to reach out to other governments that basically agree with us on the need for this change and talk about how we can work together to encourage the regime in Burma to move in the right direction,” Marcel said. (See related text.)

On December 14, the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva adopted a resolution calling on the military regime once again to respect human rights and lift restraints on peaceful protest activities following a new report from special rapporteur on Burma, Brazilian expert Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.

For related stories, see U.S. Support for Democracy in Burma.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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