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Dublin: 12 °C Saturday 25 October, 2014

Column: Aung San Suu Kyi’s Irish visit is a historic moment. Here’s why.

The iconic former political prisoner is able to travel at last. Let’s stand with her, writes Colm O’Gorman.

Colm O'Gorman

ON MONDAY, ONE of the world’s most iconic figures will come to Dublin. Though instantly recognisable around the world, this is her first visit to Europe in 25 years.

When Aung San Suu Kyi takes to the stage in the Grand Canal Square at 8.30pm on Monday night thousands of people from across Ireland, and others who have travelled here just for this event, will have an opportunity to hear a woman who has inspired millions.

Over more than two decades she and the National League for Democracy have continued their determined, peaceful campaign for human rights in Myanmar. For this, she spent 15 years under house arrest, often cut off from her family and the rest of the world.

Her supporters throughout that country, who never wavered in their support for a woman they simply call ‘The Lady’, faced one of the world’s most brutal governments in the world. They were imprisoned, tortured and killed.

The release of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2010 and the positive reforms by the government in Myanmar since then need to be welcomed. From living under house arrest, she is now a member of parliament and the leader of the political opposition.

The Burmese can see her on television and listen to her speak. People are freer to speak and to organise politically, but it would be a mistake to see this process as anything near complete, or as irreversible.

I suspect that Aung San Suu Kyi will remind the crowd on Monday night that hundreds of political prisoners remain in detention in Myanmar.

Prisoners in Insein prison, for example, have been denied water, ill-treated and imprisoned in dog cages when they try to protest the conditions of their detention. Many of these people, like Khun Kawrio – a prisoner of conscience Amnesty members in Ireland are campaigning for – have done nothing more than to speak out against a government determined to silence and oppress them.

Torture and rape

An Amnesty International mission to Myanmar last month also documented evidence of human rights abuses against Myanmar’s ethnic minorities. Conflict between Myanmar’s military and various ethnic groups has been taking place for years.

In particular, fighting between the army and the Kachin, Karen and Shan ethnic groups has been marked by widespread human rights abuses, indiscriminate attacks on civilians, torture, rape and the displacement of tens of thousands of refugees.

But even though we must not lose sight of the abuses happening today in Myanmar, we must remember that Monday is a celebration.

It is an opportunity for us to show our appreciation for a woman who has dedicated her life to the struggle for human rights, whose extraordinary courage and limitless compassion for her countrymen and women is changing the world.

And it is important for another reason.

Among the media covering the event will be Burmese video journalists who will be broadcasting the pictures into Myanmar.

Every one of us who applauds her onto the stage on Monday night, proudly looking on as the Lord Mayor of Dublin grants her the Freedom of the City, is also sending a message of hope and solidarity to her supporters in Myanmar.

We will be telling them that we stood with Aung San Suu Kyi when she was in prison, that she inspires us much as she inspires them.

And now that she is free, we will continue to stand with her, and to support the struggle for justice, freedom and human rights in Myanmar.

Colm O’Gorman is the executive director of Amnesty International Ireland.

Read: More from Colm O’Gorman on TheJournal.ie>

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