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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 8097

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (8:06 PM) —In June I spoke in favour of a motion which included support for the Australian government’s condemnation of Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention, calling for her immediate release and supporting continued financial sanctions targeting senior members of the Burma regime, their immediate families and their associates. Since that time and since I lodged this motion, there have been significant but not positive developments.

As members will be aware, the Burmese democracy leader was convicted on 10 August under the so-called ‘law protecting the state against the dangers of subversive elements’. This Orwellian sounding act is used to silence any political dissent in Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to three years detention with labour, later reduced to 1½ years home detention. This removes any prospect of her taking part in the proposed Burmese 2010 elections and will further detract from the credibility of those elections.

Aung San Suu Kyi now faces a further period in detention, having spent almost 14 of the last 20 years in detention. I condemn this verdict and this sentence. I deplore the Myanmar military regime for pressing these spurious charges against Aung San Suu Kyi and I deplore her ongoing detention and persecution. Like many of my fellow Australians, and in common with many parliamentary colleagues, I demand that the Myanmar regime quash the conviction recorded against Aung San Suu Kyi and immediately and unconditionally release her from detention.

There has been a strong and immediate international reaction to the sentencing. The United Nations Secretary-General issued a statement saying he was deeply disappointed and deplored the verdict. The European Union was strongly critical of Aung San Suu Kyi’s continued detention. In a statement issued by Sweden, the current EU chair, the European Union stated it was ready to impose targeted sanctions against those involved. The EU Council have added members of Burma’s judiciary responsible for the verdict to a list of some 500 government officials whose assets in the EU are frozen and who are banned from travel to the EU’s 27-member bloc. The European Union has indicated that its existing assets freeze would now also cover businesses owned and controlled by members of the military regime and their associates.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called on the United Nations Security Council to impose a global prohibition on arms sales to Myanmar, action which Australia is actively working with other countries to support. Many members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, the regional grouping to which Burma belongs, have indicated that the verdict is unacceptable. The Australian government has called upon the Burmese regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi as well as the other 2,000 political prisoners from detention. This should be done unconditionally and immediately.

In addition to supporting international measures, Australia has for some time taken autonomous measures. We have autonomous financial sanctions, introduced in 2007 and updated in 2008, that target senior members of the regime, their associates and their families’ members. As a result of Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial, conviction and sentencing, when these sanctions are updated the government will give consideration to including senior members of the judiciary as being subject to these sanctions. The Prime Minister has announced that, in solidarity with Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese people, the government and Radio Australia have agreed to establish a Burmese language service to open up a new channel of international contact for the people of Burma. And Australia will consult further with the international community, including the United Nations and Australia’s ASEAN partners, on the need to put even more pressure on the Burmese regime to move down the path of democracy.

Australia has a longstanding arms embargo against Burma and I urge other countries to do the same. The arms embargo and other sanctions applied by the United States, the European Union and other countries have been undermined by a failure of a number of countries—China, Russia and India—to support collective international action. I was disappointed to read last week that China had called on the international community to ‘respect Burma’s judicial sovereignty’. If China wants to be respected internationally it needs to respect international standards, and Burma’s judicial system does not meet—I repeat, does not meet—international standards. I was also disappointed that India had had nothing to say about Aung San Suu Kyi’s conviction and sentence. China and India should not compete for influence in Burma at the expense of the human rights of Burmese people. Burma is a country of some 56 million people, 90 per cent of whom live on less than a dollar a day. It deserves better. It deserves support from the whole of the international community.