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Australian visitor reports Aung San

BBC Summary of World Broadcasts

February 22, 2001, Thursday

Australian visitor reports Aung San Suu Kyi in optimistic mood

SOURCE: Source: Radio Australia, Melbourne, in English 1005 gmt 20 Feb 01

Text of report by Radio Australia's Asia Pacific programme on 20 February

[Presenter Kevin McQuillan] Burmese opposition leader Aung San
Suu Kyi is reported to be optimistic the military regime is softening
its approach to pro-democracy forces. Former Australian Human
Rights Commissioner Chris Sidoti has just returned from Burma,
where he met Suu Kyi. He was there to conduct a series of human
rights seminars for government officials. His previous courses on
behalf of the Australian government were criticized for legitimizing
Burma's military regime, which has a reputation for human rights
abuses. Mr Sidoti told Anita Barraud he believes Suu Kyi, however,
approves the courses.

[Sidoti] I certainly found her well, quite relaxed. She said that she
was well. And I detected in her a sense of looking forward, of
seeing some resolution in the impasse that has been so damaging
to Burma over the last 10 years, and perhaps even giving thought
to a transition and how it might work and how she might rule Burma.

These are impressions, because she was very, very careful and
very proper as to what she discussed with me, and so I'm just
forming conclusions from the atmosphere of our meeting, her
cordiality, her style. And what she did say to me was [that she
was] someone who has learnt patience over the years.

[Barraud] Now, she expressed some scepticism about your
human rights courses.

[Sidoti] Yes. Back in 1999 she expressed pessimism and
was not supportive of the courses. That was one of the reasons
that I was anxious to have an opportunity to explain to her what
we were doing and why. She was certainly quite warm in her
response to me, and I asked her what I could say publicly
about her views on these courses. She indicated that I could
say that we discussed them in a very positive way.

[Barraud] She asked you what were the courses and why.
Can I ask you the same question?

[Sidoti] The courses that were run last year were sponsored
by the Australian government. The one that we conducted last
week was not sponsored by the Australian government but by a
private corporation, the Premier Oil company. They provide basic
information about the law - where human rights come from what
the international human rights legal system is - and then we
also focus on particular issues.

The International Committee of the Red Cross joined us in
delivering some of the sessions, talking particularly about
humanitarian law for which the Red Cross is responsible, with
the situation of humanitarian law in armed conflict zones.
We dealt with forced labour, we dealt with torture, particularly
in relation to arrest, interrogation and detention. And then we
asked the participants to look at their own work environments
and work out how they could make, themselves, a direct
contribution to better human rights performance through their
own work.

The current course, the one we ran last week, included people
from the Home Affairs Ministry, which includes police and
prisons, the Supreme Court, Attorney-General's Office, agencies
the premier deals with such as the Energy Department, the
Labour Department, the Immigration Department, the Health
Department. We made it right from the start very clear that we
really need to get these courses out, on the ground, dealing
with people who are dealing with people.

[Barraud] There has been some criticism about these courses,
that they effectively legitimize the military regime. How do you
respond to those kinds of criticisms?

[Sidoti] Well, I must acknowledge it's a risk. It's always a risk.
I was worried about that right from the start, but thought the risk
was worth taking because of the potential good to be done.
And I'm both pleased and relieved to say that the military
government there has not sought to make propaganda value
out of these courses.

In my discussions with Aung San Suu Kyi I described my view
as saying that there is a very, very big jigsaw puzzle that is the
situation in Burma today. We only have one very small piece of
that, our human rights training programme. It is a piece, though,
that we do have, that because the government there is
prepared to accept these training programmes it's a piece that
provides an opportunity for us to make some small contribution
to the construction of this big jigsaw puzzle which will be the
democratization process in Burma.