VOA Burmese Blog

November 16, 2011

VOA’s Vietnamese service interviewed Michael Posner, United States Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy,Human Rights and Labor.The Vietnamese Service asked him questions pertaining to Burma since he visited the country recently, evaluating the country’s development.


Read the full text of his interview below:


VOA: Thank You Sir. You recently visited Burma. So how do you assess the Burmese government ‘s commitment in releasing political prisoners and the prospect of true political change in Burma?



Michael Posner : Well, it was my first visit to Burma so I can’t really compare to where it was 5 years ago or 10 years ago. But it clearly is the beginning of a transition there. That’s a serious thing, and we want to encourage that on the issue of prisoners. Last month, on October 12th, the government released- had an amnesty – about 6,000 prisoners were released. Of those, 200 were political prisoners. There’s still a significant amount of prisoners, and what we said to government officials and what we’re saying now is that issue, the continued release and the process of releasing political prisoners is a key test to the government’s commitment to a real transition. The second real test is the participation of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy. There’s been a change in the political party registration act adopted when we were there just a couple of weeks ago. And now there is an internal debate within the NLD on registering as a political party, but if we can see on the progress of that issue and see progress on the prisoner release ( he doesn’t finish his sentence) now the third issue is the efforts to try to reduce the ethnic tensions in violence in some of the war zones that have been going on for decades. And I think that’s the third element that’s really key.





So, if there are developments towards that, are you going to review the sanctions on Burma soon?



M. Posner: We’re doing one step at a time. Sanctions are in place, but we certainly recognize the beginning of a transition and we want to encourage that, and as the transition goes forward hopefully, we will certainly try to engage more and consider our options in the future.




VOA: Last year, President Obama endorsed the establishment of the UN led Comission of Inquiry on crimes against Burma. Is this the US position still Sir? ( I think her question is- What is the US’ position on this Comission of Inquiry?)



M. Posner:

We have a range of issues on how best to address the subject of accountability for past violence. That’s one set of issues. Right now, the immediate focus is urginng the release of political prisoners and the process for allowing the releases of ALL the political prisoners going forward, trying to deal with the issues of ethnic violence and moving towards a ceasefire and reconciliation and opening up the political process. I think as those things evolve, there’s a moment where we obviously get back to the question of how we address the decades of past violations and one aspect is this discussion of whether there should be a Commission of Inquiry.




So did you talk about those issues with the government of Burma and the oppsition?



M. Posner:


Yes, we had a very direct and forthright conversations with 5 or 6 ministers of the government- very much focused on the political opening, political prisoners and the ethnic issues. Those are very central to our discussions- good and direct conversations. And we spoke to a range of political opponents- Aung San Suu Kyi former prisoners and a range of people outside of the government to get their perspectives.



What did Daw Aung San Suu Kyi say about the prospects for participating in the next elections?


M. Posner:


I think, as I mentioned earlier, the central committee of the NLD is meeting within the next few days probably, to see how they want to proceed. The political party registration act has been amended. the laws in place, allows them to at least consider registering and running candidates. There’ll be a bi-election sometimes within the next few months and then 47 seats in parliament up for contest. I think one of their discussions will be ” Do they register? Do they fill candidates for that? And how will they prepare for the broader elections in 2015?”




Thank you very much for answering these questions (related to Burma). Now my last question- you’ve been at the forefront of human rigths course for most of your career, and now you are in government, do you find yourself trying to balance between human rights and other considerations and limitations being in government?





M. Posner:


I am who I am, and my role here at the State Dept is to advance human rights, democracy and labor issues. I recognize that the US has a range of interest so my perspective is one piece of that. What I do realize is that not everyone is going to say is human rights is not the only thing to think about, nor should we, we have a broad range of national interest, but my particular role is to be a strong voice saying that it is in the US national interest to promote democracy, to promote human rights and labor rights. And ultimately I believe that so I don’t have a hard time saying that. I think countries who have strong democratic traditions are our best allies and they’re the best strategic political partners, so our long interest is that we’re advancing this interest around the world.




You are the founder of Human Rights First. So you never have to choose Human Rights First or National Interest First.



M. Posner:


Well, that’s right, but even as an advocate outside of government, I was constantly aware that to be effective, we had to think about how did these issues relate to everything else going on. The goal as a non government advocate, was not to just make a point, but to make a difference.  And so that’s my approach here as well. So my goal is not to say something bad happening in the world, my goal is to make the United States’ policy strong on human rights and strong on democracy and make that central to what we do in the world. And I feel good that we are making headway on a lot of fronts.




Thank you for your work Sir, and thank you for this interview.


M. Posner:

My pleasure. Thank you. Nice to meet you.



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