It’s taken a while but Aung San Suu Kyi last night was finally able to get her hands on Amnesty’s Ambassador of Conscience award. She got the honour from Bono, he of U2 fame, at a special concert in Dublin as The Telegraph reported this morning.
Sadly I wasn’t in the audience – my invite must have got lost in the post – but the feedback from Verity Coyle, our Burma campaign manager, and Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, suggests that the iconic Burmese leader was truly moved by the occasion. And you can see the emotion in the BBC footage.
The award is Amnesty’s most prestigious human rights award. It is given annually to individuals who show exceptional leadership in the fight to protect and promote human rights. Previous winners include Mary Robinson, Vaclav Havel and Nelson Mandela.
We actually gave her the award back in 2009, but the Burmese authorities weren’t over keen in letting her pick up the award at the time. And that shows a degree of progress that has been made in the intervening years.
Certainly Aung San Suu Kyi’s status cannot be under-estimated and her tour has captured the imagination of the UK public.
I was in the office at 6.30am this morning and conducted 12 back to back local BBC radio interviews on the subject and we’ve had requests in from Trans World Radio and BBC Breakfast already. All that on top of some excellent coverage over night on Sky News, ITN, Morning Reports on BBC Radio 5 Live as well as the Metro and the Times.
But we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking everything in Burma is now a bed of roses, far from it. However much as it is great that she’s been released and is now traveling freely there is still huge concerns about the human rights situation in Burma.
We have concerns over torture; forced labour; violations of freedom of expression, association, assembly and religion; intimidation and harassment; and routine persecution of the country’s numerous ethnic minorities.
And then there is the issue of the huge numbers of prisoners of conscience and other political prisoners that languish in Burma’s squalid jails.
Yes 650 prisoners have been released but there are still hundreds behind bars. Take youth activist Khun Kawiro for example. He was arrested on the night of the constitutional referendum on 10 May 2008. He had been campaigning for a ‘no’ vote. Amongst his ‘crimes’ was releasing a paper boat on to a lake in Rangoon. He was interrogated for 15 days and beaten with sticks. His mouth was taped up to stop him screaming and a plastic bag was put over his head. He is currently serving a sentence of over 30 years.
On Saturday when Aung San Suu Kyi was finally able to pick up her Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, 21 years after she was awarded the honour, she said: “One prisoner of conscience is one too many.” We at Amnesty couldn’t agree more. You can view Aung San Suu Kyi’s full acceptance speech on the Guardian.
To help show our solidarity for those hundreds that remain behind bars, Amnesty has launched a new online action. You may have seen the ad for it in a range of national newspapers this morning.
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