Madame Speaker, the images from Burma that have flashed across our television screens over the past two weeks have stirred the conscience of the entire civilized world. Buddhist monks, draped in their simple, crimson robes, peacefully gathering to press for change. Rangoon citizens pouring from their homes to join the holy men – their numbers swelling to over 100,000. Sandals hurriedly abandoned in the road, as peaceful marchers were chased away by baton-wielding police. Soldiers firing automatic weapons into unarmed crowds. The charred body of a Buddhist monk, slain by the ruling junta, lying face down in a pool of dirty water, stained crimson with his innocent blood.
These indelible images, Madame Speaker, will not soon fade, nor will the anguished cry to us made by the leader of the Burmese democratic movement – Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi: “Use your liberty to promote ours.” So today, Madame Speaker, we use our liberty here in the Congress of the United States to condemn the violent crackdown on dissent in Burma. We use our liberty to call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the imprisoned Buddhist monks, and other prisoners of conscience. And today, we use our liberty here in the Congress of the United States asking our friends in Asia and Europe to join us in using economic leverage to promote democratic change in Burma.
Since the last bloody crackdown in Burma seventeen years ago, we in the United States have led the way in imposing tough economic sanctions against the ruling junta. Each year, I ask my colleagues to join me, and my good friend, Peter King of New York, in renewing import sanctions against Burma. And each year, this Congress – under both Republican and Democratic control – has responded overwhelmingly to our request.
But Burma’s elite will only feel the economic squeeze when other countries will join us. The enormous flow of aid and trade from China to Burma – not to mention China’s political support for the regime in the United Nations Security Council – must come to an abrupt end. The military packages for Burma offered by the world’s largest democracy – India – must be removed from the table. And our friends in ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, who have begun to speak out for democratic change in Burma – must move beyond words and suspend Burma’s membership in this very important regional organization.
Madame Speaker, when the generals run out of cash, change will come to Burma. When military officials cannot send their children to be educated abroad, change will come to Burma. And when the Burmese officials are no longer welcome at the table of ASEAN, change will come to Burma.
And to those Burmese military officers who are on the fence – deciding whether to join in the violent campaign of repression, or to refuse orders to kill and torture your fellow citizens, I have a simple message: do the right thing. As in Germany, as in Rwanda as in Yugoslavia, those who commit war crimes will be brought to justice before an international tribunal. Put yourself on the right side of history.
The crimes committed by this junta, Madame Speaker, stretch far beyond the atrocities of the past few days. This regime has systematically used rape as a means of war against ethnic minorities. Recently-released satellite images show that it has burned and destroyed entire villages. And since the regime nullified the democratic elections in 1990 won by Aung San Suu Kyi, it has arbitrarily arrested and tortured dissidents, real and imagined, by the thousands.
Just a few days ago, the world caught a brief glimpse of Aung San Suu Kyi, peeking out of the gate of her home, which has become her virtual prison. Today, we stand with Aung San Suu Kyi, this courageous woman, demanding her freedom, demanding the freedom of all those prisoners of conscience in Burma, and demanding far-reaching democratic change. Change will not come overnight to Burma, but it will come, and it will be my great pleasure to join our distinguished Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, a true champion for human rights around the globe, in witnessing the inauguration of Aung San Suu Kyi as the true Prime Minister of a free Burma.