Monday, May 25, 2009

Indian rights champion condemns gov’t over silence

by Salai Pi Pi
Editing by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – An Indian human rights advocacy group on Wednesday condemned Burma’s military rulers for conducting a trial against Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Lenin Raghuvanshi, director of the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, a grassroots human rights advocacy group based in India’s Uttar Pradesh, said the charge against Aung San Suu Kyi over the visit of an uninvited guest is discriminating and inhumane.

He also condemned India, Burma’s giant neighbor, for remaining silent over the Insein Prison trial against the recipient of India’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding.

Raghuvanshi said that instead of seeking to build a good relationship with the military junta at all costs, the Indian government should pressure the regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi.

“India should support Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Raghuvanshi, a human rights champion who himself received the 2007 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights from South Korea.

But, he added that India may be preoccupied with its own internal affairs, including the forming of a new coalition government after the month-long parliamentary elections.

“India itself has internal problems such as Kashmir and problems in the Northeast. So they [probably] don’t want to comment,” he said.

Raghuvanshi said that as one of the regional economic powers in Asia, India’s interest in Burma is based on economics, one factor making the Indian government reluctant in condemning the Burmese junta and urging the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

“They only want to exploit the resources from the country and the military junta is benefiting from them,” he explained.

“For governments in an international relationship Burma might not be a big issue, but in financial relationships they [India] get a lot of benefit from the junta,” he added.

In recent years India and Burma have increased bilateral trade and agreed on development projects, including Sittwe port and the Kaladan multi-modal project.

According to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, bilateral trade between India and Burma for fiscal year 2007-08 stood at USD 901.3 million – with Burmese exports to India accounting for USD 727.85 million.

Though the international community has voiced its outrage over the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, India, the world’s largest democracy, has remained silent.

Burma’s military regime charged the Nobel Peace Laureate for breaching her terms of detention by harboring a U.S. citizen, John William Yettaw, who allegedly swam to her lakeside home on May 3 and stayed there for two nights.

The charge has sparked international criticism. The United Nations, United States, Canada, Australia, Israel, European Union and Asian countries such as Japan, Pakistan and ASEAN members have all issued press statements expressing their concern over Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial and calling for her unconditional and immediate release.

But India, which supported the U.N.’s critical position in the wake of 2007’s Saffron Revolution, has made no noise over the ongoing trial against the Burmese democracy icon.

Dr. Tint Swe, Information Minister of the Burmese government in exile – National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) – said India, which is focused on economic interests, could be using the recently concluded national elections as a good excuse for keeping quiet.

“We also don’t expect too much criticism from India on Burma, since India has a foreign policy that doesn’t care which government rules Burma. It will try to establish good relations with any government for its own national interest,” he added.

On Monday, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs told Mizzima in a telephone interview that the foreign ministry has issued no statement or press release so far on Aung San Suu Kyi’s case. And there was no elaboration on whether there would be any such comment at any time in the future.

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