Suu Kyi awarded Amnesty's highest honor

Monday, July 27, 2009 | 3:50 p.m. CDT

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has won Amnesty International's highest award for her defense of human rights, underscoring international support for the Nobel laureate whose trial is ending Tuesday.

She is widely expected to be convicted of violating the terms of her house arrest and faces a possible five years in prison, although there has been speculation she may stay under house arrest rather than serve time in jail.

Neither international outrage nor offers of closer ties with the U.S. if Suu Kyi is freed appear to have deflected the ruling junta's determination to neutralize — if not imprison — the 64-year-old. The international community and Suu Kyi's local supporters worry the ruling junta has found an excuse to keep her behind bars through elections planned for next year.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International gave Suu Kyi its Ambassador of Conscience Award on Monday, hoping its highest honor would help deter the junta from imposing any harsh new punishments on her. The Irish band U2 was to publicly announce the award at a Dublin concert Monday night.

"In those long and often dark years, Aung San Suu Kyi has remained a symbol of hope, courage and the undying defense of human rights," Amnesty's Secretary General Irene Khan said of her long detention.

Suu Kyi — who has spent nearly 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest — is charged with violating the terms of her detention by harboring an American man from Missouri, also being tried, who swam uninvited to her lakeside home and stayed for two days.

Her defense team is preparing to give its final arguments in the case on Tuesday, a day after the prosecution delivered its closing remarks.

Suu Kyi's lawyer, Nyan Win, said he anticipated the verdict in two to three weeks.

The defense team submitted an application to the court Monday to allow them to call a Myanmar foreign ministry official as an additional witness, but the court is unlikely to accept the request. The court has allowed only two defense witnesses to testify, while the prosecution has been allowed 14.

Nyan Win said the defense has records that former U.N. representative Nyunt Maung Shein defended the regime's continued detention of Suu Kyi, stating that "(Suu Kyi) was not arrested but was detained for her own security."

The new witness could help prove that "if she was not under arrest and was detained for her own safety, the alleged violations are no longer relevant," Nyan Win said.

Nyunt Maung Shein made the statement at three meetings of the working group of the U.N. Human Rights Council, the lawyer said.

Final arguments in the case — which began May 18 — were also given Monday by the lawyer for American John W. Yettaw, 53, of Falcon, Missouri, Nyan Win said. Two female companions of Suu Kyi, who are being tried on the same charges, also presented closing statements before the court.

Diplomats from the U.S., Singapore, Australia, Japan, the Philippines and Malaysia were allowed to attend the morning session but not the key afternoon one, a diplomat told reporters, on condition of anonymity in line with embassy protocol. Authorities only allowed U.S. Consul Colin Furst in the afternoon because an American was standing trial.

Yettaw is charged with violating terms of Suu Kyi's house arrest — as an abettor — and could be sent to prison for five years. He also faces a municipal charge of swimming in a non-swimming area and is accused of immigration violations. His lawyer also gave closing arguments Monday.

Yettaw has pleaded not guilty and explained in court that he had gone to warn Suu Kyi after having a dream that she would be assassinated.

At an Asia-Pacific security forum last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered Myanmar the prospect of better relations with the United States but said that depended in part on the fate of Suu Kyi.

Myanmar state media accused Clinton and others calling for Suu Kyi's release of "interference." Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962.


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