India should use it’s democratic cred and influence as a rising global power to help Aung San Suu Kyi and other Prisoners of Conscience (POC) in Myanmar.
In 1993, the Government of India, outraged by the continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders of the National League for Democracy, awarded their highest honor to the pro-democracy leader, the Jawaharlal Nehru Award. In the late 1990s, then Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes assailed the Myanmar junta’s lack of protection for human rights. The Government of India, whether led by Congress (I), by the BJP or by the Janata Dal have made it a policy to encourage the protection of human rights in Myanmar (widely known as Burma, but Amnesty International follows the United Nations naming conventions).
But now, not a peep from the Indian Government.
On May 14, 2009, Aung San Suu Kyi and two of her assistants, Khin Khin Win and Khin Khin Win’s daughter, were taken from Daw Suu Kyi’s home to Insein Prison. Insein Prison is known to be a harsh facility with substandard conditions of detention including poor food and poor medical care. For 14 of the past 20 years, Aung San Suu Kyi has endured unofficial detention, house arrest and restrictions on her movement. But, she is just one of the hundreds of POCs that have been languishing in prisons in Myanmar (also called Burma). You can take action to help free Aung San Suu Kyi.
India proudly trumpets (rightfully so) that it is the “world’s largest democracy”. In fact, despite the human rights violations in the country, India can be justifiably proud of its vibrant civil society and chaotic yet stable and functional political system. India can be a model for other countries in the global south as they manage a possible transition from American hegemony.
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made headlines last week when she removed human rights from the agenda of discussion topics with China. In today’s USA Today, a Duke colleague of mine and a former researcher for Human Rights watch, Robin Kirk, explains why removing human rights from discussions simply isn’t possible if America wants to achieve its other diplomatic goals.
“Human rights aren’t a side dish on a crowded buffet,” wrote Kirk, director of the Duke Human Rights Center. “Human rights support and frame each of these other important issues. To overlook them is to court failure on the themes [Clinton] highlights.
“How, for instance, does Secretary Clinton plan to secure China’s support for economic reform? Along with the government, she needs people like Bao Tong, once a top Communist Party official who argues that economic health starts with political reform. For that, he spent seven years in prison and lives under virtual house arrest in Beijing.”
To read the article, click here.
With every day that passes, grave human rights violations continue in places like Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma. President-elect Barack Obama’s recent personnel decisions have fostered speculations that we will see a stronger US stance against the mass atrocities that are perpetrated in these countries.
Obama’s most recent pick: Today, he nominated Susan Rice as US Ambassador to the United Nations. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2007, Rice has described US policy towards the crisis in Darfur as “Inaction in the Face of Genocide”. Jerry Fowler of the Save Darfur Coalition praised the appointment and said Obama’s decision “sends a very strong signal about his approach to the issue of Sudan and Africa in general”.
Recently, Obama selected Samantha Power as a member of the Agency Review Team that will review the US State Department to make policy, budgetary and personnel recommendations. With her seminal work, A problem from hell. America and the Age of Genocide, Power has inspired scores of people in this country – including myself – to act against mass atrocities.
Will Rice and Power’s expertise and commitment to stopping mass atrocities be enough to actually change the priorities of US foreign policy?