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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6807

Ms NEAL (7:05 PM) —I rise tonight to speak on the motion moved by the member for Page and to congratulate her on raising this very important matter today. I rise because this House cares and has grave concerns about the treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi at the hands of the dictatorial military regime of Burma. Since her return to Burma in 1988, Suu Kyi has been a beacon for freedom and human rights in that very troubled nation. In both her personal and public lives, Suu Kyi has inspired people in her own country and around the world through her unwavering fight to bring a democratically elected government to Burma.

In 1988, mass demonstrations against the country’s military regime saw Burma thrown into turmoil. By October of that year, approximately 3,000 protesters had been killed. This civil disobedience forced the regime to call almost democratic elections. In 1990, Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy to an overwhelming victory in Burma’s first democratic election. This was despite the fact that she and many other NLD officials and supporters were in detention at the time of the vote. The NLD won almost 60 per cent of the valid vote and 80 per cent of the seats, but the military dictatorship imposed martial law and refused to recognise the election result. This constituted a gross violation of domestic and international law.

Since those momentous occurrences, the Burmese regime has subjected Suu Kyi to years of unlawful incarceration and deprivation of liberty in one form or another. She has been detained for 13 out of the last 19 years. It should be noted with regret that, according to Amnesty International, up to 2,000 other supporters of democratic reform are also in detention in Burma. These people are political prisoners. An assassination attempt was made on Suu Kyi in 2003.

I join with the member for Page in condemning in the strongest manner the actions of Burma’s State Peace and Development Council and its leader, Than Shwe. The continued unlawful detention of Suu Kyi on trumped-up charges is a violation of human rights that has been condemned by representative bodies around the world. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, has rightly said that the unlawful actions against Suu Kyi meant that the ‘honour and the credibility’ of the Burmese regime ‘are at stake’. I note with approval that the Australian foreign minister, Stephen Smith, has unreservedly condemned the continued detention of Suu Kyi. The minister has called for her ‘immediate and unconditional release’ and has reaffirmed the Australian government’s financial sanctions targeting senior members of the regime. The events in Burma since 1988 go to the heart of democratic principles, international law and human rights across the world. I welcome the Australian government’s strong stance on these matters.

The trial of Suu Kyi that is underway at the moment is a sham being carried out under an oppressive and dictatorial regime. People around the world have united behind the calls for justice for Suu Kyi. They have also united to bring pressure to bear on the regime of Burma to make positive steps towards holding democratic elections in that country. The first step along this road is the immediate release of Suu Kyi and the dropping of the phoney charges against her. If Burma is to take its place in the world and be recognised as a nation that values democracy, human rights and the rule of law, Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy must be part of that process.

Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize for her decades-long struggle for democracy in Burma. She too has called on the world to join that struggle, saying, ‘Please use your liberty to promote us.’ The Australian government has been steadfast in its support of Suu Kyi. I urge all Australians to show their solidarity with Suu Kyi and with the people of Burma. Change must come to Burma, and all Australians must do their bit to continue to fight for this to occur.