From one side of the world yesterday we watched the pictures of Rachel and Paul Chandler emerging from the Somali bush after 13 months as hostages. From another part of Asia we saw the euphoric scenes of the release of Aung San Su Kyi. Both have been the subject of terrible injustice. And even if we find it hard to imagine the suffering of the Chandlers and Aung San Su Kyi in captivity it is not hard to feel the appalling injustice that lies at the heart of their experience. There is something instinctive in the feeling that depriving a person of their freedom as a means to an unjust end is simply and fundamentally wrong. The release of the Chandlers and of Aung San Suu Kyi is long overdue.
On her release, Aung San Suu Kyi said, “I think it’s quite obvious what the people want; the people just want better lives based on security and on freedom.” And the idea of freedom is a powerful one. We remember Nelson Mandela. We remember the floods of East Germans crossing the crumbling Wall. So we can perhaps share the hope that the Burmese regime will now begin to release the other 2,100 political prisoners and begin a genuine dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and all opposition and ethnic groups. These remain the crucial first steps to solving Burma’s many problems and addressing the pressing needs of its people.
Every public tragedy is also a personal one. I remember talking to someone who had lived for many years imprisoned by a regime that wanted him out of the way and out of sight. He told me that release was a sort of freedom, but a limited one. The experience of detention continued to live with him as a psychological restriction on his liberty. My thoughts are with Aung San Su Kyi, the Chandlers and the detainees of Burma and Somalia today.