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Gordon Brown

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Release the Political Prisoners of Burma

Posted: 06/ 9/11 07:52 PM ET

This week I spoke to Aung San Suu Kyi after, for the third time in a year, the junta refused me permission to visit her in Burma. She impressed on me the need for mass mobilization to demand the release of all Burma's political prisoners and asked that I and her millions of supporters around the world sign the global petition here. She has been liberated by our solidarity -- and she asks that we now apply the same pressure on behalf of the silenced thousands who remain in detention.

Ever since I first had contact with her family in the 1990s I knew this was a woman of extraordinary selflessness, courage and resilience. The regime denied her visits from her husband Michael even in the final months of his terminal cancer -- and yet she never wavered when they offered her the chance to return with him to England, and thereby betray the cause of democracy in her country. So it is of no surprise to me that a leader with such incredibly capacity for sacrifice should now be speaking not of her own future but of her country's.
Any moves that we make as an international community should be based on something for something, not something for nothing, and the release of political prisoners must now be the major demand the international community makes of the Burmese government. I would like to see the UN Secretary General galvanize the world community into demanding the liberation of prisoners of conscience, and I believe the UN should also appoint a special representative to monitor this, the major test of the generals' true commitment to democratization. Perhaps a release of 50% of prisoners could be the first sign of goodwill, but it must be accompanied by the regime granting the International Committee of the Red Cross urgent access to prisoners and providing those who need it with medical attention. We should not tolerate the attempts to interfere with the neutrality of the Red Cross and fiercely resist the regime's demands that a member of the ruling party must accompany any Red Cross delegation.

Here in Europe we should be confident of our influence when we stand together. So I would like to see the visit by Cathy Ashton's representatives as the spur for greater European unity behind core principles of human rights and democracy. And we should take heart from the increased unity in the Burmese opposition; The petition Aung San Suu Kyi is endorsing has seen rare common ground established between her National League for Democracy and the other forces of resistance in Burma.

When I spoke with her, she was as ever optimistic about the future and grateful to the international community for their long-time support. She rightly believes that the current talk of economic reform in Burma must be complimented by the reality of political reform. Setting the economy free is of course, important; but, as the Arab Spring proved, setting the people free is even more critical.

Gordon Brown is patron of the Burma Campaign UK.