Burmese Nobel Laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi marked her 65th birthday this month under house arrest. In a birthday message, President Barack Obama praised "[h]er determination, courage, and personal sacrifice in working for human rights and democratic change in Burma." Her life, he said, is an inspiration to all who stand for freedom and justice.
The Burmese military regime has kept Aung San Suu Kyi in detention for almost fifteen of the past twenty years and has barred her from running in the general elections planned for this year. Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, won the elections held in 1990 but was never allowed to take office. The National League for Democracy ceased to exist as a legal party under the regime's rules after refusing to meet a May 6th deadline to re-register – a move that would have likely forced it to expel its leader and other members in detention. Political parties also are required to swear allegiance to the 2008 constitution, which guarantees the military one quarter of the seats in parliament, regardless of the outcome of the vote.
According to the State Department human rights report, the Burmese regime continues to commit severe human rights abuses. Government security forces allowed custodial deaths to occur and committed extrajudicial killings, disappearances, rape, and torture. The government detained civic activists indefinitely and without charges. In addition, regime-sponsored mass-member organizations engaged in harassment, abuse, and detention of human rights and prodemocracy activists.
One of these organizations, the Union Solidarity and Development Association, has now supposedly "transformed" itself into a political party under the leadership of the Prime Minister.
There are an estimated 2,100 political prisoners in Burma, according to Human Rights Watch. President Obama once again called "on the Burmese government to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally and to allow them to build a more stable, prosperous Burma that respects the rights of all its citizens. Towards this end," he said, "I encourage all stakeholders in Burma to engage in genuine dialogue towards national reconciliation, a vital step to set Burma on a more positive course for the future."