At last count, the Burmese regime has released 127 political opposition members in its latest prisoner amnesty. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP-Burma), this is the sixth amnesty since November 2004. In those six amnesties, the Burmese regime has released 45,732 prisoners, only 1.3% of which have been political prisoners. More than 2,000 political prisoners remain in Burma’s extensive prison and detainment system, including National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and many leaders of Burma’s ethnic minority communities. The Burmese regime’s most recent amnesty is a positive step, but may very well be a "cynical ploy designed to ease international pressure," as suggested by AAPP-Burma.
The repression and imprisonment of political opposition in Burma need to be at the forefront of the international community’s Burma agenda. The fight for democracy and political freedom is closely tied to the stability of Burma’s ethnic minority regions, as many of Burma’s political prisoners represent ethnic minority populations. The Obama administration has indicated that its Burma policy review is almost complete. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), the chairman of the East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will hold a Burma policy hearing on October 1. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to address UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s “Group of Friends” on Burma this Wednesday. All three actions by US government officials indicate a heightened interest in addressing democracy and human rights in Burma. The international community needs to ensure that the freedom of political prisoners is a present part of these policy discussions.
Human Rights Watch: Burma’s Forgotten Prisoners
Human Rights Watch: The Resistance of the Monks: Buddhism and Activism in Burma
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–Daniel Solomon, National Burma Education Coordinator