Aung San Suu Kyi Begins European Tour, As Sectarian Violence Threatens Her Homeland
On her first trip to Europe in more than two decades, Myanmar’s pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi urged the protection of worker rights and encouraged foreign investment in her country during a speech before the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva.
Suu Kyi, who was elected to Myanmar’s parliament in historic by-elections in April, warned the ILO that economic development should not come at the expense of the rights of laborers.
“The international community is trying very hard to bring my country into [prosperity] and it’s up to our country to respond the right way,” she stated.
She also advocated “democracy-friendly development growth” for Myanmar, adding that profits should be shared with the people, especially the young and the poor.
“I would like to call for aid and investment that will strengthen the democratization process by promoting social and economic progress that is beneficial to political reform,” she said.
The ILO became an appropriate forum for Suu Kyi’s first major public appearance in Europe since 1988 because the organization has long campaigned against the use of forced labor and children labor in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
Suu Kyi, who has spent much of the past two decades under house arrest in Burma, will spend two weeks in Europe — her itinerary includes stops in Oslo, Norway (where she will pick up the Nobel Peace Prize which was awarded to her in 1991); and London (where she is expected to speak before both houses of parliament).
After her speech at ILO headquarters, Suu Kyi will engage in talks with Swiss foreign minister Didier Burkhalter in the capital city of Bern to discuss the politician situation in Burma. She will also dine with Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf.
(Following in the footsteps of other western countries, Switzerland plans to open up an embassy in Burma and upgrade its development aid to the Southeast Asian nation to about $26-million over the next four years).
Meanwhile, as Suu Kyi tries to become the face of a “new” Burma, striving for democratic reforms, the country’s western province of Rakhine remains under a state of emergency following a week of sectarian violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims which have left at least 25 people dead and hundreds of homes burned to the ground.
The violence has also created about 20,000 displaced refugees –both Muslim and Buddhist — within Rakhine itself, Reuters reported, in dire need of food, shelter and medical care.
Suu Kyi herself addressed the unrest, telling reporters that such violence will persist until Burma ensures equal rights and the rule of law for everyone.
“Without the rule of law, such communal strife will only continue,” she said a news conference in Geneva.
“The present situation will have to be handled with delicacy and sensitivity and we need the cooperation of all people concerned to rebuild the peace that we want for our country.”