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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
May 23, 2007
Remarks by Mrs. Bush and Members of the Senate in Announcing the Senate Women's Caucus on Burma
Russell Senate Office Building
12:25 P.M. EDT
SENATOR FEINSTEIN: The women of the Senate have come together today to call in a clear voice for the unconditional release of a remarkable woman, Aung San Suu Kyi. And we're joined by another remarkable woman in this effort, the First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush.
Mrs. Bush, your passion, your knowledge, and your profound sense of justice shine through when you talk about the need for change in Burma. So thank you for joining the women of the Senate, and thank you for all you have done. We very much appreciate it.
Let me describe what's taking place in Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Prize recipient and leader of the National League for Democracy, is confined to her home by orders of the military junta, the State Peace and Development Council. She has spent the better part of 17 years imprisoned or under house arrest. Her sentence is set to expire this Sunday, May 27th.
So we are here today to call on the regime to release her and to begin national reconciliation talks with Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.
The situation in Burma is not just about one woman, though. It's also about the treatment of a people who live under the fist of repression. It's a land where 3,000 villages have been destroyed, 1,300 political prisoners are in jail, 70,000 child soldiers have been forcibly recruited, and over 500,000 people are internally displaced, and over one million people have fled the country itself.
Rape is practiced as a form of oppression. The use of forced labor is widespread. Human trafficking is rampant. And Burma is the world's second-largest opium producer, and increasingly a source of trafficking of synthetic narcotics.
We believe that the situation in Burma is untenable and must change. And here's what we believe must be done. First, support the legislation that I will be introducing with the Ranking Member, Senator McConnell, who was here earlier to welcome the First Lady, to renew a complete ban on imports from Burma for another year. Second, urge the United Nations Security Council to pass a binding resolution on Burma. My co-chair, Senator Kay Bailey of Texas, just suggested this in our roundtable, and we will be doing it. A majority of the Security Council voted in favor of such a resolution earlier this year, but China and Russia vetoed it. We hope they will not again. And third, raise awareness about the situation in Burma, and that's just what this caucus is designed to do.
Our staff is circulating a letter -- this is the original of that letter -- to the Secretary General of the United Nations, and I'm very proud to say that the entire Women's Caucus of the United States Senate, Republican and Democratic, all women, have joined together in this effort. It is a very special thing, and we thank the First Lady for reinforcing it. She is also going to write her own letter, which will accompany ours to the Secretary General of the United Nations.
And now, it is my pleasure to introduce my friend, my colleague, someone with whom I have worked with on a Subcommittee of Military Construction and Appropriations for a long, long time now, and that is the distinguished senator from Texas, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is co-chair of the Women's Caucus.
SENATOR HUTCHISON: Thank you, Dianne. The world has been remarkably silent about what is happening in Burma. And of course, we are here celebrating the efforts of Aung San Suu Kyi and her bravery and her total commitment to freedom. And we hope by highlighting her plight that we will be able to get the action at the United Nations -- clearly only two vetoes kept this resolution from going forward; it would have been huge toward encouraging reforms in Burma.
But now there is another element, and that is that we see reports that Russia is trying to sell nuclear equipment to this regime in Burma. So the last thing in the world freedom lovers need is to have another nuclear capability in a rogue regime.
So we're supporting Aung San Suu Kyi. We are supporting freedom and reform for Burma. And I think that all the women of the Senate standing together on this, we hope, will add to the momentum for these people to have some results that would produce freedom for them and a better way of life.
We were so proud that the First Lady has taken such an interest in this. The President has, as well, signing the first sanctions. We have renewed those sanctions against Burma every year, as have many other countries of the world. But the President and Mrs. Bush have taken a particular interest in this to try to bring a focus to the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Mrs. Bush came to our first meeting of our caucus, where we did decide that we would try to ratchet up the awareness of Congress and send our messages to the United Nations again.
So it is with great pleasure that I introduce someone who has really, I have to say, stood up for women's roles in many countries. Our First Lady has hosted, through Vital Voices, the women of Afghanistan, the women of Iraq who are trying to help in the cause for freedom in those countries. And I so appreciate that she is now also helping the Burmese people through attending our meeting and determining what we could all do together.
Please welcome our First Lady, Laura Bush.
MRS. BUSH: Thank you, Senator Hutchison, and thank you, Senator Feinstein. Thank you all both very much for joining the cause for Burma, and especially for forming this Senate Women's Caucus on Burma, and for sending the letter to the United Nations Secretary General to ask the United Nations and the whole world community to put pressure on Burma to release Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as the other political prisoners that are there.
Aung San Suu Kyi is the only Nobel Prize winner who's ever -- or who is under arrest, under house arrest in the world. She was democratically elected in the 1990 elections in Burma, and then was put under house arrest almost immediately after that.
May 27th is the date of Suu Kyi's -- the end of this year's detention, and we urge the people in Burma, the generals in Burma, to release Aung San Suu Kyi on May 27th.
I want to thank all of the senators who have come together for this very, very important reason. I want everyone to realize that these are Republican and Democratic senators, that this is a bipartisan issue, and that all the women who signed this -- every single woman senator -- stand with all of our friends in Burma, including Aung San Suu Kyi.
Thank you, all.
SENATOR FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much, Mrs. Bush. And I would like to recognize three senators who are able to join with us at this time. I'll begin with seniority. Senator Stabenow, would you like to say something?
SENATOR STABENOW: Thank you. Thank you very much. It's my pleasure to be here today, and first I want to thank Senator Feinstein for her longtime leadership and voice in this fight. Senator Hutchison who, as well -- the two of them joining together is very important in bringing us together, every single woman of the United States Senate, both parties. And to have the First Lady with us is extremely significant because of her passion and concern and voice on this issue.
Aung San Suu Kyi represents the basic breakdown of values that we care deeply about. She was elected overwhelmingly in 1990. And instead of assuming her rightful role as an elected leader, she was placed under house arrest. In this country we battle out in elections, we have strong disagreements, and then when those elections are done there is a peaceful transfer of power -- whether it be the President or whether it be the Congress, as in this last election. We, in the end, respect voters and the democratic process and abide by those decisions. And we call on those in charge in Burma to do the same thing and to recognize their duly elected democratic government.
Secondly, we come together to support a woman who represents women's leadership in the world, women's leadership in her country. We stand here as women elected representing our states, our First Lady, representing the entire country, to say that we stand with one voice, speaking out on behalf of a woman who is a leader in her country and represents critical leadership in the world, who has been denied access to her family, to those in her country for way too long. This is a situation that we hope and call on Burma to change, and allow her to step out and assume her leadership role.
SENATOR FEINSTEIN: Senator Klobuchar.
SENATOR KLOBUCHAR: Thank you very much. And thank you, Senator Feinstein, Senator Hutchison for your leadership. Thank you, Mrs. Bush, for being here. Also, thank you for being so kind to my husband yesterday at the Senate Spouse Lunch. I know we've been making breakthroughs when my husband helped plan the Senate Spouse Lunch. (Laughter.) And the First Lady was very kind to him.
I am new at this, and as I was asking questions of our great experts that were here today and the other senators, I realized how long the women behind me have been carrying the torch on this issue. They knew how long this great leader had been under house arrest, what her life was like, the fact that her husband died and she wasn't even able to visit him while he was dying. And as a former prosecutor I've always believed that our job is to convict the guilty and protect the innocent, and what's going on in Burma today is not that. They have, essentially, convicted the innocent, and that's wrong.
So women leaders, and, really, all leaders across the country must unite to make sure that this woman is safe and that democracy comes to Burma.
SENATOR FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much. Senator McCaskill.
SENATOR McCASKILL: Throughout history women who are determined have accomplished great things. I'm honored to join the women leaders behind me in our determination to help this brave woman of Burma and the people she represents to take her rightful place as an elected leader for freedom and democracy in Burma.
SENATOR FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much. The First Lady has agreed to take three questions. We're asking at this press conference that you stick to the subject -- I know that's tough duty, but I'm sure you're all up for it. So Mrs. Bush, if you'd like to come -- if you'd like us to do it, we will.
MRS. BUSH: Do you have any questions?
Q Mrs. Bush, do you have a special message to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi personally (inaudible)?
MRS. BUSH: Sure. I really would like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to know that the women of the United States Senate, as well as the women of the United States stand with her, and that we watch her and we think about her a lot. And her story is really an example to us, to all of us -- her courage and also her very sincere desire to have reconciliation, to have a non-violent reconciliation in Burma for the best of all the Burmese people. And we want her to know that we know that and that we stand with her.
Any other questions? Yes, sir.
Q (Inaudible.) China made a statement that (inaudible). So do you have any comment on the (inaudible)?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I think that China, especially, because of their closeness to Burma, should worry about the human rights abuses that are there. They should worry about the drug exporting from there. They should worry about the malaria and AIDS that are now resistant to drugs -- malaria resistant to drugs, and AIDS, as well. But those are all problems that can spill over throughout Asia -- the worry of an avian flu epidemic. All of those public health problems that the regime has allowed, and as Burma has deteriorated, have gotten worse, are problems for their neighbors, specifically, but also for all of us. And so I urge China to stand with us, as well.
MRS. BUSH: Absolutely. And many countries are, in fact, a lot of countries in ASEAN, the Asia group, are speaking out to Burma. And as you may know, Burma was up to be the president of ASEAN a couple of years ago, or last year, I guess, and they chose -- the group chose not to have Burma become the president. So I think the people in the regime in Burma do know that their neighbors are losing patience. And I think that's important for them to know, that the world is speaking together to them.
SENATOR FEINSTEIN: Thank you all very much.
MRS. BUSH: Thanks, everybody.
END 12:41 P.M. EDT