The release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, after 15 years of house arrest, is a thrilling moment for the people of Burma and welcomed by Refugees International as long overdue. She remains wildly popular both at home and abroad despite her long isolation. However, her popularity will not automatically allow her to catalyze political change, as that will be determined by the repressive regime.
One year ago, the travails of Rohingya from Burma shocked people around the world. Boat after boat of refugees, fleeing abuse and oppression in Burma, were intercepted at sea by the Thai army, who then proceeded to detain them without trial. After days in outdoor detention, the Rohingya refugees were loaded back on to their boats, and the Thai army proceeded to tow them out to sea where they were abandoned with little food or water and no motors to power their boats.
Imagine being sexually harassed each time you step out your front door. - on the street, on the bus to work, at your job, on your way home. Imagine not knowing how you’ll earn enough money to feed your children, when your husband is in prison back home and you’re living on your own in a foreign country that does not recognize you as a refugee.
This past weekend, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon visited Burma for a second time. During his first trip there in May of 2008, he was highly successful in paving the way for humanitarian assistance to flow into the cylone-ravaged delta region. This second visit was less successful, and the only big “ask” made by Mr. Ban – to speak with imprisoned democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi – was denied. I believe that the key reason for his failure lies in his straying from a growing international consensus the best way to engage the Burmese government is to discuss to a broad range of issues, including humanitarian ones,instead of focusing solely on human rights.