Aung San Suu Kyi Speaks to Amnesty International Activists

There is an antidote to the weariness, cynicism and paralysis perpetuated by the heartless churn of our 24-hour news cycle: Just listen to the voices of those who walk the razor’s edge each day as they fight to change the world. Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi addressed Amnesty activists by phone at the end of Day 2 of our 50th anniversary conference, graciously acknowledging the role of grassroots activism in her release after 15 years of detention by the military junta and encouraging us not to forget the 2,000-plus political prisoners who remain locked up in Burma.

Her brief address was followed by a riveting speech by Jenni Williams, co-founder of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, a group of women who have been jailed, tortured and persecuted for their non-violent demonstrations to demand social justice. Williams recalled one August night when police abducted seven WOZA members. “The phone calls started at 3 a.m. We heard our members had been arrested in suburbs, so we called Amnesty International. By 12 noon, all seven members were delivered back to their homes by the same police officers who had abducted them,” said Williams.

Earlier in the day, I spotted New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof listening to similarly harrowing tales at the well-attended panel discussion, “Muzzling the Watchdogs,” featuring Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho, Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam and Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi. All three had been arrested, imprisoned and persecuted for their work to expose injustice, and each was the subject of Amnesty International urgent actions and/or international letter campaigns demanding their freedom.

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Kumbaya, Zimbabwe?

At the end of July, Zimbabwe observed three days of peace as a way to promote national healing and reconciliation by abstaining from all forms of political violence. Not to minimize a positive step, but perhaps it shouldn’t be necessary to have to declare three days of non-violence. In any case, let’s examine some recent events and see how much love those three days inspired.

She Loves Me
-At the launch of the three days of peace, President Mugabe calls for tolerance, respect, non-violence and dialogue. The government announces that public demonstrations will be allowed to occur so long as police are previously notified.
She Loves Me Not
-President Mugabe promptly threatens to once again banish international NGO’s from Zimbabawe, political violence is escalating in rural areas, Finance Minister Tendai Biti receives a death threat in the mail and one of his aides is allegedly beaten by army soldiers.

She Loves Me
-Zimbabwe declares the cholera epidemic is over and new incidents of cases have dropped dramatically.
She Loves Me Not
-Bulawayo suburbs are currently out of clean running water due to electrical issues at a pumping station and in Harare some resident’s water service has been disconnected and told their water will remain cut off until they pay all back owed monies, regardless of whether they actually had water service during the months charged.

She Loves Me
-The BBC, CNN and presumably other international press are now allowed to report from within Zimbabwe, the banned Daily News will be allowed to resume operations and a new Media Commission is being developed.
She Loves Me Not
-Feuding over who is actually appointed to the commission promptly kicks in, journalists still face prosecutions and television stations and most newspapers are controlled by the State.

She Loves Me
-Prime Minister Tsvangirai takes a trip to South Africa and President Zuma says he will address with President Mugabe the outstanding issues yet to be resolved in the Global Political Agreement such as appointment of the Reserve Bank Governor and Attorney General.
She Loves Me Not
-The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) says there will not be a special session to address issues in Zimbabwe prior to the scheduled September summit and the Head of State expected to assume the Chairmanship of SADC in September is President Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

She Loves Me
-An MDC parliamentarian arrested for playing a pro-MDC song on his car stereo is released without charges and another MDC parliamentarian arrested for stealing the cell phone of a war veteran leader has been released on bail.
She Loves Me Not
-The MDC is one seat away from losing its majority in Parliament due to the convictions of five of its members and the expulsion of others. Meanwhile no members of ZANU-PF have been prosecuted for incidents of post-election violence that occurred in April to June 2008.