Myanmar’s pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, spoke to the US Congress for the first time in a video message and urged support for a UN-led inquiry into human rights in her country.
The Nobel Peace laureate, who was released in November after spending most of the past two decades under house arrest, told a House of Representatives hearing that a so-called UN commission of inquiry would not be a tribunal.
See Suu Kyi’s videotaped message
“It is simply a commission of inquiry to find out what human rights violations have taken place and what we can do to ensure that such violations do not take place in the future,” she told the hearing.
Suu Kyi asked US lawmakers to “do whatever you can” to support the efforts of Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, who has not been able to visit the country since February 2010.
Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy won 1990 elections but was never allowed to take power, warned of a long path toward democracy.
“It is going to be a long road; it has already been a long road and a difficult one, and no doubt the road ahead will have its difficulties as well,” she said.
But she added: “With the help and support of true friends, I’m sure we will be able to tread the path of democracy, not easily and perhaps not as quickly as we would like, but surely and steadily.”
The United States has publicly supported a UN-led probe – a long-standing demand of activists – but has done little to make it a reality amid concerns that Asian countries, particularly China, would succeed in scuttling it.
UN-led commissions of inquiry elsewhere in the world have led to charges and prosecution, with Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir risking arrest if he travels to countries that recognise the International Criminal Court.
Human rights groups say that Myanmar, earlier known as Burma, has a record of severe human rights abuses including extra-judicial killings, custodial deaths, torture and frequent rape of displaced women from minority groups.
Recent deadly clashes in far-northern Kachin State have triggered an exodus of refugees toward the border with China.
Suu Kyi called on Myanmar’s rulers to free more than 2,000 other prisoners which rights groups say are detained for political reasons and often held in poor conditions.
In recent years, U.S. officials have deliberated over how to handle Burma, one of the world’s most isolated governments. Myanmar held elections in November 2010 which the regime said was a step toward democracy, with the junta later formally handing over to nominally civilian rulers.
President Barack Obama’s administration in 2009 launched a dialogue with Myanmar, concluding that the previous Western policy of trying to isolate the government had failed.
The administration has repeatedly said it plans to keep pursuing diplomacy despite deep disappointment over the results.
Representative Don Manzullo, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs sub-committee on East Asia who led the hearing, criticised the election and said that progress in Myanmar was proving “extremely difficult to achieve.”