US Senators Send Urgent Appeal to UN Chiefs as Burma Activists Face Health Crisis (click to view PDF)

U.S. Campaign for Burma Press Release
May 1st, 2008
Contact: Jeremy Woodrum (202) 234-8022 office

(Washington, DC and New York) The US Campaign for Burma today welcomed a letter sent by leading U.S. Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Diane Feinstein (D-CA) to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and the UN’s human rights chief Louise Arbour. The letter called on the United Nations’ leaders to publicly call for the release of Burma’s two most prominent political prisoners – Min Ko Naing and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Newspapers reported over a week ago that Min Ko Naing is in grave physical danger,” said Aung Din, referring to Burma’s second most prominent political prisoner after detained Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi. “Yet, Ban Ki-moon has remained silent. While Ban Ki-moon remains silent, Min Ko Naing might go blind, or worse.”

Min Ko Naing, leader of the “88 Generation Students” group, spearheaded demonstrations last autumn that led to hundreds of thousands of Buddhist monks marching on the streets. The marches and the military regime’s subsequent crackdown were covered on the front pages of newspapers throughout the world. Min Ko Naing had also organized a nationwide popular uprising in 1988 that nearly toppled military rule in Burma. He was imprisoned over 15 years from 1989-2004, detained for over three months from September 2006 – January 2007, and released before his rearrest in August 2007. After Aung San Suu Kyi, he is the single most popular figure in Burma. 

Locked up in the infamous Insein Prison (pronounced “insane”), he has contracted an eye infection that will make him blind unless he is treated. Infections also often lead to death in Burma’s prisons. Recently, NLD Spokesperson U Myint Thein died of cancer which was left untreated during his detention in Insein Prison in October 2007.

Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi has been denied a visit from her doctor since January 24th, 2008. According to a briefing by the US State Department on April 22nd, the military regime promised the UN Secretary-General’s envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari that Suu Kyi would receive frequent visits from her doctor. Gambari himself confirmed this at the beginning of this month when he stated in the Irrawaddy Magazine, “I raised this issue with the government. They responded by making access to a medical doctor much more regular.”

“The military regime is deliberately trying to destroy the health of Burma’s two most important leaders,” added Aung Din. “Instead of remaining silent, Ban Ki-moon should publicly demand the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi and Min Ko Naing. How can there be peaceful national reconciliation in Burma when these people are locked up and left without proper medical treatment?”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention is scheduled to end on May 27th. The military regime will either extend her detention or release her. It is expected that they will extend her detention.

“With Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention nearing an end, now is the time the UN Secretary-General should use his voice and his position to publicly demand the release of these two leaders and insist that China do the same,” continues Aung Din.

China is the No. 1 supporter of Burma’s military regime, providing billions of dollars worth of weapons and financing while vetoing all effective action on Burma at the UN Security Council. The European Union plans to call for a global arms embargo on Burma next week and the United States has already said it would support such an endeavor.

Burma’s military regime has imprisoned up to 2,000 political prisoners.