WASHINGTON - Nobel Peace Prize winner and democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been detained for many years by Burma’s ruling military junta, testified before a Congressional committee via videotape Wednesday on the recent sham elections and current conditions in the Southeast Asia nation.
U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-IL), who chaired the hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, arranged for Ms. Suu Kyi’s first-ever Congressional testimony and posted it on his YouTube site for all to see. Click here to view Ms. Suu Kyi’s 8-minute testimony.(click here to view exchange)
Entitled “Piercing Burma’s Veil of Secrecy: The Truth Behind the Sham Election and the Difficult Road Ahead,” the hearing also featured testimony from Aung Din, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, as well as Chris Beyrer, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights.
Below are Rep. Manzullo’s opening remarks at the hearing:
Chairman Donald A. Manzullo
June 22, 2011
On November 7, 2010, the military junta that ruled the country of Burma held an election that was universally labeled as a sham due to widespread irregularity and lack of participation by opposition parties. This exercise was nothing more than a well-choreographed maneuver by the ruling elites to transform themselves into a more internationally acceptable civilian dictatorship. Despite this attempt at political gymnastics, the repression in Burma continues and thousands of political prisoners remain locked in jail. The only ray of hope to emerge from this engineered process was the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of Burma’s revolutionary hero Aung San, and Nobel Peace Prize winner. But even this concession can be revoked at a moments notice by the regime.
Today, we have an extraordinary opportunity to hear directly from the woman at the center of the decades’ long struggle to bring freedom to her beloved homeland. This is the first time she has addressed the U.S. Congress in an official capacity, and I am extremely honored to be able to present it at this hearing today. We cannot disclose how we received this video, but we are certainly delighted to have this unprecedented opportunity.
The purpose of today’s hearing is to peer behind Burma’s veil of secrecy to fully comprehend the changes, if any, that are going on in that country. Since the election, we have witnessed a distinct point of view emerging from some Burma experts arguing that no matter how fraudulent, the elections represent an important shift in domestic Burmese politics. As the argument goes, this shift might lead to real changes in the future even if nothing significant occurs immediately. Furthermore, the existing opposition party, the National League of Democracy, is incapable of grasping this opportunity, because the group and its leader, Ms. Suu Kyi, have an “all or nothing” approach. This is what is characterized as the pragmatic engagement theory.
Since the Obama Administration began its policy of pragmatic engagement in 2009, U.S. relations with Burma have not changed. Let us not forget that there are still 2,200 political prisoners languishing in Burmese gulags, including peaceful monks and citizens that took part in the Saffron Revolution four years ago. The Burmese government, as an effort of goodwill prior to a visit by U.S. officials in May, announced a despicably disappointing one-year blanket reduction of jail sentences for all criminals, but it is not clear whether this includes political prisoners. The recent news of clashes in Burma’s Kachin province between government troops and ethnic minorities, which has been the heaviest fighting in 17 years, adds further evidence to the argument that the situation in Burma has not changed.
If proponents of pragmatic engagement are correct, then Burmese leaders should recognize this unprecedented opportunity being offered by the Obama Administration and seek to improve relations with the U.S. by demonstrating tangible change. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The State Department’s visit to Burma in May is further proof that change in Burma is extremely difficult to achieve.
At a time when it seems Western influence is dwindling, Burma is actively engaging with its neighboring countries, constructing gas pipelines to Thailand and China, and accepting investments from China, its largest trading partner. Burma is a country that spends 1.8 percent of its GDP on healthcare, the second lowest in the world while it spends 40 percent of its GDP on the military.
As the lead Republican sponsor of legislation to award Ms. Suu Kyi the Congressional Gold Medal in 2008, it is my sincere hope that we will have the opportunity to present her with the award in person. Ms. Suu Kyi and her countrymen have lived under the yoke of oppression for far too long. It is time that free nations stood together to help Burma finally realize the same freedoms that we all enjoy.