Suu Kyi Drills Yale on Rule of Law

By John Christoffersen 28 September 2012

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut—Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Thursday that her country must establish an independent judiciary and curb the military’s power to have a genuine democracy.

Suu Kyi, whose struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma earned her a Nobel Peace Prize, spoke at Yale University as part of her landmark US visit. Her speech came on the same day that Burmese President Thein Sein paid public tribute to her during a speech to the UN General Assembly that reflected the momentous changes in the country over the past year.

But Suu Kyi, who was elected to Parliament in April after 15 years of house arrest, emphasized at Yale that she saw a long road ahead for achieving true democracy in her country, officially known as Myanmar.

“Once we can say that we have been able to re-establish rule of law, then we can say that the process of democratization has succeeded,” Suu Kyi said. “Until that point I do not think that we can say that the process of democratization has succeeded.”

Suu Kyi said there must be changes to the widely condemned 2008 Constitution.

“The Constitution is in the way,” she said. “The constitution allows the military extraordinary powers, and as long as the military possesses these powers, we cannot say we are on the true road to democracy.”

She said the judiciary is “practically non-existent.”

“And until we have a strong, independent, clean judiciary, we cannot say that Burma is truly on the road to democracy,” Suu Kyi said.

The legal reforms are needed to put an end to ethnic conflict as well, she said.

Suu Kyi recalled her years under house arrest, citing laws that led to her arrest and many others.

Last week, the 67-year-old met privately with President Barack Obama and accepted the highest honor from the US Congress, the Congressional Gold Medal. It was awarded in 2008 while she was under house arrest for her peaceful struggle against military rule.

She was released in late 2010 and has since worked with members of the former ruling junta that detained her to push ahead with political reform.

Since Suu Kyi won a parliamentary seat in April, the US has normalized diplomatic relations with Myanmar and allowed U.S. companies to start investing there again.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday the US will ease its import ban on Burma that had been a key plank of remaining American economic sanctions.

Suu Kyi last week voiced support for the step, saying Burma should not depend on the US to keep up its momentum for democracy. For years she advocated sanctions as a way of putting political pressure on the then-ruling junta.

American economic sanctions have been gradually lifted since the beginning of this year in response to political and economic reforms initiated by Thein Sein since he became president last year.

Suu Kyi said the changes came after the country grew increasingly poor and faced public discontent.

“There is never a point when we can say this is irreversible [the path to democracy],” she said. “But there must come a point when everybody recognizes that to reverse the process will be far more painful than to continue along that.”

Students asked what kept her going during her years of house arrest. She said “inner resources” are needed to face adversity.

“Try to strengthen yourself internally,” she said. “Don’t depend too much on external factors.”