In her first appearance before Congress, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi testified before a House committee on Wednesday in a videotaped address.
The Nobel Peace laureate and well-known pro-democracy activist spoke calmly and deliberately in the video, mentioning little of her own experience of living for much of the past two decades under house arrest.
“It is going to be a long road; it already has been a long road and a difficult one,” she said.
Instead Suu Kyi focused almost entirely on the practical, urging the United States to lend its diplomatic power to help force Burma’s military junta to abide by a recently passed U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution. The resolution calls on Burma, also known as Myanmar, to release political prisoners and to enact other reforms.
If implemented, Suu Kyi said, the resolution would address many of the most pressing issues in her country: its repressive regime, internationally criticized elections last November, thousands of remaining political prisoners and continuing human rights violation at the hands of a military-dominated government.
Suu Kyi also touched briefly on the difficulty of pushing for democracy in Burma. “Sometimes we all have to guess at what is necessary because Burma is not an open society,” she said. “But, I think because we truly believe in democratic values…our guesses will not be far wrong.”
Rep. Donald A. Manzullo (R-Ill.), who asked Suu Kyi to testify and arranged for her video testimony, declined to go into specifics about how the video was obtained. Burmese activists who helped arrange for the testimony said Suu Kyi was reluctant to leave the country for fear that she would not be allowed back in but wanted to send a message of thanks to Congress for its support.
In recent years, U.S. officials have deliberated over how to handle Burma, one of the world’s most isolated governments. At Wednesday’s hearing, Manzullo described the Obama administration’s current strategy as “pragmatic engagement” but questioned that approach, saying it has changed little.
Also testifying Wednesday about the human rights and the conditions in Burma were Aung Din -- a former political prisoner and executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma -- and Chris Beyrer, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights.
“It was the first time I had been allowed to return to the country in 15 years, which is one indication that this new civilian government could represent a change from the past,” McCain said, noting the eerily empty roads and buildings in the capital of Naypyidaw.
“The main point I stressed is that any improvement of relations would need to be built not on happy talk, but on actions by both sides… especially those steps called for by the U.N. Human Rights Council,” McCain said in his speech on Monday.
McCain also met with Suu Kyi during his trip, calling her “an inspiration to her people, and to me.”
Suu Kyi, the daughter of Burmese revolutionary hero Gen. Aung San, also has some unfinished business in Congress. U.S. legislators awarded her a Congressional Gold Medal in 2008, but still have yet to give it to her because she remained under house arrest at the time. Congressional staff on Wednesday said the mold for the gold medal has been cast and remains at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, awaiting the day when she’ll be able to pick it up.