Aung San Suu Kyi wants mercy for Rohingya seeking asylum in Australia
By Helen Davidson
November 28, 2013
Burma's Nobel peace prize winner gets hero's welcome in Sydney, despite discomfort on Rohingya questions
|Aung San Suu Kyi with the governor-general of NSW, Marie Bashir, before Wednesday night's speech. Photograph: Greg Wood/AFP|
Australia's rule of law "must be tempered by mercy" when dealing with asylum seekers such as the Rohingya child born in a Brisbane hospital to parents fighting to prevent their transfer to Nauru, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in Sydney on Wednesday evening.
Suu Kyi told the Opera House audience that in the case of baby Ferouz, Australia "must sort out those problems within the framework of the rule of law but always remember that justice has to be tempered by mercy". But she avoided making specific comments on the plight of the ethnic minority in the country she hopes to lead after the 2015 elections.
Suu Kyi arrived on stage to a lengthy standing ovation from a packed audience which included communications minister Malcolm Turnbull and deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek. It was the first of several public talks during her visit to Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra seeking international support for constitutional reform in Burma.
The Nobel peace prize laureate, who spent almost 20 years under house arrest over her opposition to the Burmese military junta, gave a short speech and spoke in conversation with Ten News journalist Hamish McDonald before taking questions from the audience.
In her address Suu Kyi argued for constitutional reform and national reconciliation to lead the country towards "genuine democracy", telling those "who think that Burma has successfully taken the path to reform – you would be mistaken".
The support of 75% of the Burmese legislature is needed to make an amendment, she said, but 25% are military representatives appointed at will by the commander-in-chief, who instructs their vote.
"How can you call a constitution democratic when it can be amended or not amended in accordance with one man who is there in an unelected post?" she said.
"if Burma is truly to be on the road to democracy, we have to amend this constitution."
Questioned by McDonald on the widely reported violence against the Muslim Rohingya people, Suu Kyi said her party had a policy to "protect everyone in it".
"My party is totally dedicated to nonviolence. Violence has been committed against us repeatedly … over nearly 20 years but we never retaliated with violence. So I'm unhappy that there are those in my country who think differences can be settled by violence."
When pushed on the Rohingya in particular, she demurred, reiterating previous comments about the constitution, rule of law and government transparency.
"Without rule of law we cannot expect our people to settle their differences peacefully," she said.
"i have always defended those whose human rights have been attacked, but what people want is not defence but condemnation. I am not condemning because I have not found that condemnation brings good results. I want to achieve national reconciliation."
Suu Kyi has been accused of ignoring ethnic clashes and human rights abuses in Burma for political reasons. On Wednesday she repeated statements she has made in the past that there has been no ethnic cleansing in Burma, despite a Human Rights Watch report using the phrase to define killings of the stateless Rohingya people.
"These kinds of expressions do not help," she told the crowd in Sydney.
"They intensify fear and violence. When you use terms like ethnic cleansing – which I think is a little extreme – it just plays into the hands of extremists. There are extremists on both sides…we only have a few extremists but they can exercise great power."
Suu Kyi said she would like to run for president in the 2015 election, but constitutional reform was needed before then as specific sections had been written to prevent her doing so.
"I object to this because no constitution should be written with one person in mind. That's not democratic," she said.
Wednesday evening began with Suu Kyi being awarded two honorary degrees by the University of Sydney and the University of Technology, Sydney.
UTS chancellor Vicki Sara said the degrees were given to people "whose lives and actions, words and deeds enshrine the highest ideals of humanity, who expand and enrich our knowledge to change the way we act and how we perceive the world.
"There could be no more fitting candidate for these awards than Aung San Suu Kyi".
Sydney University vice-chancellor professor Michael Spence said it was fitting that honouring Suu Kyi was the first time the two universities had come together since awarding degrees to Nelson Mandela in 2000.