Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wanted: Surin Pitsuwan

The Irrawaddy News

Since the arrest and detention of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi last week, regional newspapers have published front page stories on Burma and the detention of Suu Kyi. A few Asean-member countries have also spoke out against the politically motivated and unjust detention of Suu Kyi and her companions.

But the question is: where is Surin Pitsuwan, head of Asean?

As head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and a former foreign minister of Thailand, Surin was a ray of hope in the region, known for being media friendly, outspoken and an open and democratic-minded person. Surin’s appointment injected a new wave of optimism in the region and beyond.

He recently gained deserved kudos for his active engagement in helping Burma when the country faced a serious humanitarian disaster in May 2008. After visiting the cyclone-hit delta, he declared, "We are being baptized by Cyclone Nargis."

Indeed, Surin is no stranger to Burma. He has many admirers in Burma for his outspokenness against the military dictators in Burma when he was foreign minister of Thailand under Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai.

At this sad moment in Burma’s history, wouldn’t it be proper for Surin and Asean to forcefully and clearly speak out on human rights principles by condemning Burma in the strongest possible language?

Is Surin afraid of making enemies among the generals in Naypyidaw? We hope not.

A group of the world’s Nobel Peace Prize winners recently appealed directly to Surin for help and leadership, in a letter on May 14 signed by Desmond Tutu, Jody Williams, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Adolfo Perez Esquivel Wangari Mathaai, Shirin Ebadi, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

They urged him to take action against the false imprisonment of their fellow Nobel laureate, Suu Kyi.

“It is time for Asean and the international community to join in voicing their outrage for this horrible injustice,” the letter said. “We urgently express our views to you and implore you to do everything in your power to free this internationally champion of nonviolence, human rights and democracy.”

Surin, we call on you to stand up for justice in Burma and to make Asean relevant in human rights. As of now, it is nothing more than a toothless tiger taking in circles.

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