Yanghee Lee: International community needs to wake up to Myanmar junta’s ‘decades-old trick’ amid Aung San Suu Kyi sentence reduction

August 2nd, 2023  •  Category News
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Yanghee Lee speaks to Channel News Asia.

International community needs to wake up to Myanmar junta’s ‘decades-old trick’ amid Aung San Suu Kyi pardon: Former UN expert

Dr Yanghee Lee, the former United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, told CNA’s Asia Tonight on Tuesday (Aug 1) the move signals that the military-controlled government, led by junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, is “really out of ideas and really at the end of the rope” in managing the country.


By Fabian Koh

2 August 2023

Reducing the jail term of Myanmar’s former leader Aung San Suu Kyi is part of the military junta’s attempt to seek international recognition as the country’s legitimate government, said Dr Yanghee Lee, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar.

The move signals that the military-controlled government led by junta chief Min Aung Hlaing is “really out of ideas and really at the end of the rope”, she told CNA’s Asia Tonight on Tuesday (Aug 1).

Her comments came hours after Ms Aung San Suu Kyi was pardoned on five of the 19 offences for which she was convicted and jailed a total of 33 years, reducing her jail term by six years.

Former president Win Myint, who was also arrested at the same time as Ms Aung San Suu Kyi after the 2021 coup, was also pardoned on some of the charges for which he was convicted.

The military junta has struggled for control in Myanmar, as conflict continues to break out across the country and its economy grapples with rising inflation.

On Monday, the military-controlled government had extended the country’s state of emergency by another six months, delaying elections that were promised.

Dr Lee said the pardon was “just another one of the schizophrenic behaviours of Min Aung Hlaing”, as the military resorted to its decades-old playbook.

“They think that reducing sentences for Aung San Suu Kyi and the president U Win Myint will first of all get some of the support of the people, and more importantly, get them international recognition,” she said.

“It’s like a coating, a veneer, so that the international community can recognise them as a legitimate government of Myanmar.”

She noted that the military junta does not have control over the country, with over 50 per cent of the country under the control of the local ethnic groups.

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing had acknowledged that much of the nation is not under full military control, with fighting continuing in Sagaing, Magway, Bago and Tanintharyi regions, as well as Karen, Kayah and Chin states.

The military junta will be aiming to be recognised as the country’s legitimate government, especially with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and the UN General Assembly session coming up later this year.

International Community Response


“I think it’s time that the international community really wakes up and sees that what he (Min Aung Hlaing) is doing has been a decades-old trick, and will not get him far enough because he will never have the support of the people,” said Dr Lee.

Dr Lee added that she has been surprised by the international community’s response to the Myanmar crisis as compared to the war in Ukraine.

She said the international community has been generous with aid for Ukraine, as it is seen as a “country-to-country invasion … and it’s in the backyard of the European continent”.

“But when it comes to Myanmar, it’s the same thing. Min Aung Hlaing and the military have invaded its own people. It’s not just a coup,” said Dr Lee.

She noted that the junta is employing the same tactics it had used against the Rohingya in 2016 and 2017 when driving them away, which is to burn their villages, schools and places of worship.

Does it matter for the Myanmar people?


Dr Lee said that Ms Aung San Suu Kyi’s pardon will not affect the Myanmar people’s fight against the junta.

“I think the people of Myanmar have moved on. Aung San Suu Kyi is still very much respected. However, the fight now is the people’s fight (and) the young generation’s,” she said.

“The people have now been united. They are built on solid consolidation and solidarity across ethnic lines and across generation lines. The Bamar people cannot fight this war by themselves without the ethnic communities, and the ethnic communities are now joining hands with the Bamar and the young generation.”

The Bamar is Myanmar’s largest ethnic group, accounting for 68 per cent of the country’s population.

Dr Lee said that the young generation are fighting for a dream that has existed since their parents’ time, which is for a “free democratic federal Myanmar”.

“Aung San Suu Kyi’s pardon may not and definitely will not affect the young people’s minds, because they are fighting for their lives, to defend their family and their country and their hope and their aspirations,” she said.