The verdict handed down against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her co-accused in Burma this week surprised no one. The trial was throughout political, not legal in character. The only real question has been what, if anything, anyone else will do about it.
A chorus of angry statements from across the world quickly followed the end of the trial. Most of these were probably prepared weeks before, given that the final date for the judgment was delayed several times. In those weeks of angry statements smouldering on desks, waiting for the final details to be inserted, nobody did anything. Now that the trial is over, there is little evidence that they will either. The matter is being put to the UN Security Council, and it will most likely end there. A few countries may tinker with ineffectual trade embargoes and leave it at that. The sound and fury will go on for a while and then fade away, like it did following the protests of 2007 and the cyclone of the year after. Detailed reports of groups like the Asian Legal Resource Centre on the farcical cases against detained demonstrators, much like that launched against Suu Kyi, have not made news. Agencies involved in the cyclone recovery effort are having trouble to raise even a quarter of the money that they have sought to continue their work in the next two or three years, although the amount is miniscule in comparison to what was given for the Indian Ocean tsunami recovery effort over three years before.
Some commentators have pointed to noises coming from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as a cause for hope, but that body consists of people who are experts at discharging smokescreens to confuse and demoralize others. There is no reason to think that they will do differently now. The plans to establish a powerless and pointless regional human rights institution illustrate well how the association works to create appearances that are contrary to reality. While not more than one or two countries in the grouping have rights bodies that are in fact operating to protect human rights, the association has gone along with the fraud that it can establish one encompassing all ten members, including Burma. And the irony of Thailand’s foreign minister raising questions about the neighbour’s planned 2010 election, which nobody ever seriously expected to be conducted fairly or democratically anyway, will not be lost on people familiar with events in his country over the last year; he was part of an army-backed scheme to hijack power through political manipulating of a pliant judiciary and an undemocratic constitution.
Meanwhile, talk among Burma’s activists is increasingly not about what the international community can do for them but what they can do for themselves. Time and again they have seen the United Nations and other supposed allies demonstrating only reluctance or impotence in dealings with the junta. Change in their debates and thinking could lead to new strategies to break the political impasse, but if these attempts fail then they also risk causing even more people to give up and disengage. Most folks in Burma have already done just that, not because they don’t care but because they are consistently pushed into corners from which they can do little without endangering themselves and their loved ones. As a result, domestic outrage at the verdict, in contrast to that of foreign leaders and their spokespersons, is muted, shapeless and deep. Sporadic protests and gatherings of a few committed supporters will continue, but until another tipping point is reached and thousands can again take to the streets in the safety of numbers, people will stay at home and try not to think too much about the woman who once represented a hope for the future but who today is another pathetic example of how brute force and mediocrity have again won the day over talent and integrity in Burma.