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Myanmar court again finds Aung San Suu Kyi guilty of corruption

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

A court in military-ruled Myanmar earlier today sentenced the country's former civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to seven more years in prison. Suu Kyi was arrested when the military seized power in a coup nearly two years ago, and she's been accused of corruption and other charges. Suu Kyi already received sentences of more than two dozen years in prison from previous charges, and human rights groups have called the proceedings against her a sham. To understand what these latest verdicts mean, we've called Derek Mitchell. He's president of the National Democratic Institute. Derek, so what do you make of these rulings against her?

DEREK MITCHELL: Well, I agree with those human rights commentators. This is a foregone conclusion. The whole process, the trial - so call - was a farce. Veneer of a rule of law in Burma, or Myanmar, is there - a veneer - but it's no more than that. There is no rule of law in Myanmar.

MARTÍNEZ: Is it obvious to you - is it one of those things that's impossible to deny, that the rulings are a sham?

MITCHELL: Yeah, it's impossible. This was a foregone conclusion. I mean, they want to sideline Aung San Suu Kyi. They see her as a threat to their power. Every time they've had any kind of elections, which is what the military wants to do again in 2023, is have "an election" in quotes - every time they have a real election, she wins. She and her party win. And that happened a couple years ago. They don't like that, so they want to put her away, basically permanently sideline her, so they can assume power and all the trappings that come with it.

MARTÍNEZ: So it seems like civilians in Myanmar have a lot of trust, or at least they like her enough to keep electing her.

MITCHELL: Well, yeah, she's the symbol of - she's the hopeful symbol of the country. She's a unique figure. She's the daughter of the independence leader from the 1940s. She's led the democracy movement for decades. She's won the Nobel Peace Prize. She's won numerous prizes. I think most of your listeners will know that name, generally. And she remains really powerful as a symbol of resistance or a symbol of hope, a symbol of democracy in the country. So people rally around her on that basis. So, yes, that makes her uniquely challenging to the military, uniquely dangerous.

MARTÍNEZ: The U.N. Security Council had a resolution condemning the actions of the military junta. What impact do you think that will have, if any?

MITCHELL: It has a very important symbolic impact. The junta does care what the world thinks of it. It wants the coup to be normalized. I think its strategy was to weather the storm that would naturally come after the February 2021 coup. But then after weathering that storm, people get used to it and then accommodate to it. Some countries have. Some in the region, particularly Asia, have. But overall, the U.N. Security Council coming out and saying, this is unacceptable; this must end. Even including Russia and China, who normally vetoes these resolutions - they abstained in this case, allowed it to go forward - sends a signal to the junta that their desire to normalize what they've done is not working.

MARTÍNEZ: Thirty seconds left, Derek. I know President Biden signing the BURMA Act provides humanitarian aid to the country and also imposes targeted sanctions. What kind of a difference could that make in Myanmar?

MITCHELL: Well, I think that does send a very - again, a very powerful signal about U.S. policy. I think it also sends a signal from Congress to the Biden administration that they want continued pressure, heightened pressure, more support for the opposition, the democratic opposition, more pressure against the junta, more intense diplomacy with their allies - all of that to try to reverse what's happened and show again that what the junta has done cannot be normalized.

MARTÍNEZ: Derek Mitchell is the president of the National Democratic Institute. Derek, thanks.

MITCHELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.