Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

U.S., U.N. Condemn Myanmar In Suu Kyi Case

Activists held banners calling for Aung San Suu Kyi's immediate release during a protest Tuesday outside the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand.
Sakchai Lalit
Activists held banners calling for Aung San Suu Kyi's immediate release during a protest Tuesday outside the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand.

The United States and other countries condemned Tuesday's renewed house arrest of Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and raised the prospects of additional sanctions against military-ruled Myanmar.

Suu Kyi was sentenced to 18 months of detention for allegedly violating the terms of her house arrest.

But the penalty was less severe than many analysts expected. The 64-year-old Suu Kyi has spent nearly 14 of the past 20 years in various forms of detention for defying the country's military rulers.

The reduced sentence may reflect the regime's awareness that its continued prosecution of Suu Kyi is stirring outrage in the international community and embarrassment among Myanmar's closest Southeast Asian neighbors.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for Suu Kyi's release, saying the democracy activist should not have been tried or convicted. Clinton said the U.S. will "continue to call for her release."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon deplored the verdict. "Unless she and all other political prisoners in Myanmar are released and allowed to participate in free and fair elections, the credibility of the political process will remain in doubt," he said in a statement.

U.S. Options Limited

President Obama extended sanctions against Myanmar, also known as Burma, on July 29, adding an extra three years to a ban on U.S. imports of any goods from that country, including gemstones. The initial ban had been scheduled to expire at the end of the month.

But David Steinberg, director of Asian studies at Georgetown University, says that despite repeated U.S. condemnations of Myanmar, the U.S. doesn't have any real leverage against the generals. "What? Add more sanctions?" he asks. "There are no more sanctions to add."

I look forward to working with you in the future for the peace and prosperity of my country and the region.

Clinton, who is traveling in Africa, also expressed concern about the seven-year sentence imposed on an American who triggered the confrontation by making an uninvited visit to Suu Kyi's guarded compound in Yangon.

The American, 53-year-old John Yettaw, reportedly suffers from medical problems, including diabetes and epilepsy.

Suu Kyi was charged with violating the terms of her house arrest by allowing Yettaw to stay two nights in her compound, after he evaded guards by swimming across a lake.

Yettaw later told his lawyer that he felt compelled to visit Suu Kyi to warn her that he had seen a "vision" foretelling that she would be assassinated.

Myanmar authorities said that Suu Kyi faced a maximum term of five years in prison, but the court announced that she would be sentenced to three. After a brief recess, a government minister entered the court to announce that the leader of Myanmar's ruling junta, Gen. Than Shwe, had further reduced the sentence to 18 months, to be served under house arrest.

There was never any doubt that the court would convict Suu Kyi, analysts say.

"The government wants to keep her out of action until after next year's elections," Steinberg says. He says the junta seized on the alleged house arrest violation as a pretext for making sure that Suu Kyi couldn't take an active role in her party, the National League for Democracy.

Suu Kyi's current term of house arrest was scheduled to end on May 29.

Misreading International Resolve?

Analyst Priscilla Clapp says the Myanmar government underestimated the level of international outrage that would erupt over Suu Kyi's case. The country's isolated rulers have been preoccupied with figuring out how to make sure that next year's promised elections produce the result they want, she says.

"They miscalculated," says Clapp, who was the top U.S. diplomat in Myanmar from 1999 to 2002. "They've run out of feet to shoot themselves in."

The military has said it wants to return Myanmar to democracy and hold multi-party elections, but only under a new constitution that gives the military effective control of parliament.

During the country's last free elections, in 1990, Suu Kyi's NLD party won an overwhelming majority of seats in parliament, but the military refused to give up power and annulled the election.

Clapp says the military rulers are probably hoping that by giving Suu Kyi a reduced sentence now, they will defuse an even bigger outpouring of international anger next month.

"They've got the U.N. General Assembly meeting coming up in September," Clapp notes.

Clapp says the Myanmar generals have learned that they will face embarrassing denunciations from other countries at the yearly U.N. meeting whenever they are seen to be taking repressive measures against Suu Kyi.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said recently that Myanmar's human rights violations might lead to its expulsion from ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. But because other ASEAN members such as Vietnam have also been accused of rights violations, and because the organization's decisions are made by consensus, an expulsion appears unlikely.

When the verdict was first expected, at the end of July, a lawyer for Suu Kyi said that she was preparing herself for what could a long imprisonment by gathering medicines and books in English, French and Burmese.

Her lawyers have said they would appeal any conviction.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.