‘This is no free election. It is a charade.’
covering burma and southeast asia
Saturday, March 02, 2024


‘This is no free election. It is a charade.’



In this interview with The Irrawaddy, South African Archbishop Emeritus and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, a long-time supporter of Burma’s democracy movement, offers encouragement to the country’s imprisoned activists and oppressed citizens—and an unsparing assessment of this year’s planned election.

QUESTION: The regime will hold an election this year and has just announced the election law. Many people doubt that the election will be free, fair and inclusive. How do you view the election?

ANSWER: This is no free election. It is a charade. How can you claim to hold a free democratic election when the leader of the main opposition party, which won a landslide victory in the last truly democratic and free election, is excluded and where the election commissioners will be handpicked by the junta? How could they ever be evenhanded? We are more likely to find snow in hell than free democratic elections in Burma under the present dispensation.

Q: What is your message to Aung San Suu Kyi and the more than 2,000 other political prisoners in Burma, and to the millions of oppressed people in the country who suffer at the hands of the regime?

A: My dear sister Nobel laureate, my dear sisters and brothers in Burma, we admire your courage and determination. This is a moral universe. Right and wrong matter. We used to tell our people even in the darkest times in South Africa that the perpetrators of injustice have already lost despite their guns and their military and police might. They have already lost because they are on the side of injustice, oppression and evil.

You are on the winning side. One day we will come to Rangoon to join you in your celebrations when you, my sister, are inaugurated as the true, freely elected leader of Burma just as Nelson Mandela came out of jail and became our leader. The perpetrators of injustice and oppression will bite the dust as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

Q: Under President Obama’s administration, the US has adopted a direct engagement policy with the Burmese regime. But so far, after numerous meetings, there are no signs of progress, only more repression. What are your thoughts on the US engagement policy?

A: It is just possible that after a tough sanctions policy, a softer approach just might bring about movement. I am somewhat doubtful and it seems Secretary Campbell [Assistant US Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell] has similar doubts. What we want is positive change and we will sing ‘Alleluia’ when Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners are released and democracy is given a real chance, by whatever means. That is the goal.

Q: In 2005, you and former Czech President Václav Havel commissioned a report calling for UN Security Council action against the junta. However, Burma’s neighbors continue to trade and engage the regime. What are your recommendations to the West, the UN and neighboring countries?

A: The aim surely must be to see democracy revived and flourishing in Burma. Remember what happened in South Africa. The apartheid government was intransigent, and we called for sanctions. Many Western governments did not heed our plea, including the Reagan administration. But when the US applied those sanctions, apartheid crumbled. Sanctions when applied consistently do work, and they are a nonviolent means to end oppression. Governments should ask themselves, on whose side are we? If the opposition calls for sanctions, then who are outsiders to say, ‘Sanctions hurt the people we want to help?’

Q: There are consistent reports of human rights violations committed by the Burmese armed forces: rape and religious persecution in ethnic war zones and minority areas and forced recruitment of child soldiers, to name a few.

1  |  2  next page »

Please read our policy before you post comments. Click here
E-mail:   (Your e-mail will not be published.)
You have characters left.
Word Verification: captcha Type the characters you see in the picture.