TIME foreign affairs

Lifting the Embargo Means Cuba Can No Longer Play Victim

Many tourists visit Cuba despite embargo
The number of U.S. citizens increase despite embargo laid on since 1960 in Havana, Cuba on 2 May, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Jose Miguel Vivanco is the Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

The status quo has allowed the Cuban government to exploit U.S. policy to garner sympathy abroad

President Obama’s new approach to Cuba diplomacy is a breath of fresh air and a chance to make some real progress on human rights if the U.S. government uses the policy wisely.

Some critics contend that President Obama’s decision to re-establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba means that the United States has abandoned its commitment to protect human rights in the island. Some even argue that Obama’s new approach actually rewards Cuba, giving up leverage the United States allegedly had against the Cuban authoritarian government. This view is profoundly mistaken.

The confusion arises from the U.S. government’s own misguided rhetoric to maintain a costly embargo. For decades, U.S. authorities stubbornly held that the embargo was necessary to promote human rights and democratic change in the island. In fact, though, the embargo did nothing to improve human rights in Cuba. Instead, it imposed indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban population as a whole, and provided the Cuban government with an excuse for its problems and a pretext for its abuses.

Rather than isolating Cuba, the policy has isolated the United States, enabling the Castro government to garner sympathy abroad while simultaneously alienating Washington’s potential allies.

Not surprisingly, advocates in Cuba and abroad, as well as a majority of countries in the UN General Assembly —188 out of 192 in an October resolution — have repeatedly called for an end to the U.S. embargo.

Meanwhile, despite some positive reforms in recent years, the Cuban government continues to engage in systematic abuses aimed at punishing critics and discouraging dissent.

In 2010 and 2011, Cuba’s government released dozens of political prisoners on condition that they accept exile in exchange for freedom. Since then, the Cuban government has relied less on long prison sentences to punish dissent and has relaxed draconian travel restrictions that divided families and prevented its critics from leaving and returning to the island.

But the Cuban government uses other tactics to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights. Arbitrary arrests and short-term detention have increased dramatically in recent years and routinely prevent human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others from gathering or moving about freely. Detention is often used pre-emptively to prevent people from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours or days.

The government controls all media outlets in Cuba and tightly restricts access to outside information, severely limiting the right to freedom of expression. Only a very small fraction of Cubans are able to read independent websites and blogs because of limited access to – and the high cost of – the Internet.

Let’s be clear: the responsibility for the crackdown on dissent in Cuba lies with the Cuban government. Yet, the status quo has allowed the Cuban government to exploit U.S. policy to portray itself as a victim.

Empirical evidence shows that it was irrational to continue insisting on a policy that never achieved its proposed objectives. The unilateral approach, a relic of the Cold War, has been ineffective for decades, and that’s precisely why this new policy by the White House provides a golden opportunity.

To promote human rights, judicial independence, free elections, independent unions, and free expression in Cuba, the U.S. government must understand that a multilateral approach is necessary. Involving key democracies in the region in reaching out to Cuba is much more likely to move the Cuban government toward respecting fundamental rights. It seems that Obama gets it.

No one should be under the illusion that the human rights situation in Cuba will improve overnight. On the contrary, it will be a long and frustrating process. But there is no doubt that with Obama’s new approach toward Cuba we are in much better shape to go in the right direction.

Jose Miguel Vivanco is the Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME United Nations

UNICEF Declares 2014 a ‘Devastating’ Year for Children

Turkey Syria
A Syrian Kurdish refugee child from the Kobani area holds another's hand as he walks between tents at a camp in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border on Nov. 14, 2014. Vadim Ghirda—AP

Up to 15 million children are caught up in armed conflicts

A new report by the United Nations grimly labels 2014 one of the worst years for children on record.

The United Nation’s Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, reports that up to 15 million children have been exposed to violence in Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Ukraine. Across the world, the agency adds, 230 million youth live in lands torn by armed conflict. That figure includes those who are internally displaced or who have been refugees.

In West Africa, where the Ebola outbreak has proven deadly for more than 6,000 people, an estimated 5 million children ave been kept out of schools.

“This has been a devastating year for millions of children,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s executive director. “Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such unspeakable brutality.”

The agency called for a greater outpouring of humanitarian funding to help missions reach children in volatile and inaccessible areas.

TIME Bahrain

Three Years in Jail for Bahraini Activist Who Tore Up Picture of King

Bahraini human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja, sister of jailed prominent rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja, sits at a cafe near the Bahrain court building after she was barred by authorities from attending the hearing, in the capital Manama on Sept. 6, 2014.
Bahraini human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja, sister of jailed prominent rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja, sits at a cafe near the Bahrain court building after she was barred by authorities from attending the hearing, in the capital Manama on Sept. 6, 2014. Mohammed Al-Shaikh—AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. ally has repeatedly been condemned by human-rights groups for flouting international standards in how it treats its citizens

A Bahraini human-rights activist has been sentenced to three years in prison for tearing up a photo of the Gulf state’s King, the human-rights group Amnesty International said Friday.

Zainab al-Khawaja was sentenced to the jail term and $8,000 in fines for insulting King Hamad, after she destroyed a picture of the kingdom’s top leader during an appeal hearing for the committing the same offense in 2012. Bahraini law allows fines and a jail sentence of up to seven years for publicly insulting the nation’s monarch.

“Tearing up a photo of the head of state should not be a criminal offense,” said Said Boumedouha, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Amnesty International.

Al-Khawaja rose to prominence during the 2011 uprising in Bahrain, when protesters roared into a traffic circle in the capital city of Manama on Feb. 14 and demanded a place for their state in the Arab Spring, a regional call for rights and democratic reform.

Yet police made quick work of the protests, and the Bahraini government sought immediate fixes to quell political dissent. Al-Khawaja’s father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, was one of eight opposition figures given life in prison for their role in the pro-democracy protests. Zainab al-Khawaja also spent a year in prison for joining the demonstrations.

Her sister Maryam, who is a co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, said in Twitter posts that the sentence was not immediately carried out and al-Khawaja will seek an appeal. Al-Khawaja is also appealing convictions in three other cases, including for insulting a police officer while in prison. The mother of two was not in court for her most recent sentencing, after giving birth just a week earlier.

Al-Khawaja has sharply criticized American officials for failing to lean harder on Bahrain to address its human-rights abuses. The Gulf state hosts the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet, and the kingdom has been a U.S. ally in fighting the meteoric rise of jihadist cult the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syrian (ISIS) in Bahrain’s neighbors.

The U.S. State Department’s highest official on human rights, Tom Malinowsk, concluded a trip to Bahrain on Thursday, his first visit to the state since he was told to leave five months earlier. The Bahraini Foreign Ministry had accused the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights of violating “conventional diplomatic norms” by meeting with the leader and members of the country’s largest opposition party.

Asked by a reporter on Tuesday if the U.S. State Department had comment on al-Khawaja’s sentencing, a spokesperson said: “I don’t think I do. I’m happy to check with our folks.”

TIME Thailand

The Two Men Charged With the Thai Backpacker Murders Face a Dubious Trial

Parents of Myanmar workers suspected of killing British tourist in Thailand, show their passports as at a monastery outside Yangon
Parents of Burmese workers suspected of killing British tourists in Thailand show their passports as at a monastery outside Rangoon on Oct. 16, 2014 Soe Zeya Tun—Reuters

Observers have been left aghast at a litany of procedural irregularities

The two Burmese migrant workers accused of killing a pair of British backpackers on an idyllic Thai beach appeared in court to be formality indicted Thursday. But there are growing fears that any trial will be a sham.

The two men say they were tortured into a confession and various domestic and international human rights groups have raised concerns about their interrogation.

There are serious doubts about the evidence linking Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21, with the brutal slaying of David Miller, 24, and rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, on the Thai Gulf island of Koh Tao.

The victims’ bodies were discovered bludgeoned to death near rocks on Sairee Beach on Sept. 15. A fumbling investigation initially assumed Burmese migrants were to blame, then local hoodlums, then a jilted suitor of Witheridge. Eventually, police picked up Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, who were both working on the island illegally at the time.

“[The police] can see a wider investigation is needed but they are not interested,” Nakhon Chompoochart, the lead lawyer on the defense team, tells TIME. “They are only focused on the accused.”

Thai Metropolitan Police Bureau deputy commissioner Pol Maj Gen Suwat Jaengyodsuk denied the suspects had been coerced when speaking to the Thai National Human Rights Commission on Wednesday. He had been summoned by the commission on four previous occasions but failed to appear.

Allegations of torture aside, observers have been appalled by procedural irregularities. Tourists were allowed to wander through the crime scene, the suspects were forced into a reconstruction that may prejudice their chances of a fair hearing, and there was a lack of a forensic experts to collect evidence. Foreign nationals were also immediately blamed for the crime because, a police spokesman claimed, “Thais wouldn’t do this.”

“The prosecution has said that this is an important case and must be dealt with quickly,” says Andy Hall, a Thailand-based migrant labor expert aiding the defense. “There’s a real fear that justice will not be served.”

Under Thai law, the 900-page police report, upon which the prosecutors will base their case, will not be disclosed to the defense team until the trial commences. Instead, the defense lawyers will be given a summary containing a list of names and addresses of witnesses as well as a cursory inventory of evidence.

According to Felicity Gerry QC, a prominent British defense lawyer specializing in high-profile sexual-assault cases, “Not to have any access until the day of trial can’t possibly be fair.”

In many other jurisdictions, including the U.S. and U.K., as soon as charges are brought the defense has access to all evidence, including witness statements, physical exhibits and expert testimony. This allows lawyers to take instructions from their clients and call their own experts to refute any testimony relied upon by the prosecution.

“Sometimes the analysis takes time,” says Gerry, citing the checking of telephone records or the disputing of forensic conclusions. “My concern would be it’s all far too rushed and unfair to the defense.”

The arrival of British police observers has not helped. A team from the U.K., including a senior homicide detective and crime scene analyst, was dispatched to Thailand early last month in order to assist in the investigation. However, they spent only two hours on Koh Tao after arriving by helicopter and did not meet with either the accused or their legal team. Their findings have still not been released.

“You’d expect the Thai police to welcome the additional assistance,” says Gerry. “My suspicion is that [the British police have] been limited regarding what they’ve been allowed to do.”

Meanwhile, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, who face a death sentence if convicted, stay cut off from their families. “They are in good spirits but really miss their parents,” says Hall, who has met with the suspects three times each week since they were arrested.

Two British families have already been devastated by the Koh Tao killings. The Thai authorities must now ensure two Burmese families don’t needlessly experience similar anguish.

TIME Human Rights

WHO Condemns ‘Virginity Tests’ as HRW Calls for a Universal Ban

The building hosting the World Health Or
The building hosting the World Health Organization headquarters is pictured in Geneva on April 28, 2009 Fabrice Coffrini—AFP/Getty Images

Calls come in the wake of a report condemning the Indonesian police force for administering "virginity tests" to female recruits

Human Rights Watch (HRW) urges governments to end the “virgin testing” of women and girls, in accordance with the recommendation of a new handbook released by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The handbook emphasizes: “There is no place for virginity (or ‘two-finger’) testing; it has no scientific validity.”

Though focusing on health care after sexual and domestic violence, HRW claims that the recommendation has relevance for all cases of “virginity testing.”

“The WHO handbook upholds the widely accepted medical view that ‘virginity tests’ are worthless,” says Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at HRW. “Health authorities worldwide should end the practice of ‘virginity testing’ in all cases and prohibit health workers from perpetuating this discriminatory and degrading practice.”

HRW notes that the test is applied in many parts of the world. In Afghanistan, it is routinely used on women and girls accused of “moral crimes” such as “running away,” usually fleeing domestic violence and forced marriages. A couple of weeks ago, HRW reported that “virginity tests” are carried out in the physical examination of female applicants to the Indonesian police force. The Middle East and North Africa are other regions where the practice is still in use, and India has not yet systematically put in place a new protocol banning the test on rape survivors.

“Virginity tests” have been acknowledged internationally as a violation of human rights, especially the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

TIME North Korea

New Kim on the Block: The Rise of Kim Jong Un’s Little Sister

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the Sinchon Museum
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the Sinchon Museum in Pyongyang in this undated photo released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency on Nov. 25, 2014 KCNA/Reuters

But who exactly is Kim Yo Jong?

At last, a North Korea rumor proves true: all year, Korea watchers have been buzzing about the rise of Kim Jong Un’s little sister, Kim Yo Jong. She popped up at her father Kim Jong Il’s December 2011 funeral, then reappeared next to her brother on election day in March of this year. (Yes, North Korea has elections, of sorts.) Experts speculated that her presence at a high-profile political event signaled that she was on the rise within the regime but, as with many things in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as it is officially called, the theory was just that — until now.

On Thursday, Nov. 26, in an otherwise humdrum account of Kim Jong Un’s visit to a cartoon studio, state media listed Kim Yo Jong as “vice department director” in the powerful Central Committee of the ruling Worker’s Party. In March, when she was pictured beside her brother on polling day, she was identified only as a “senior official.” Though the precise role of a “vice department director” is unclear, that she has an official title suggests a relatively high-profile, and potentially important, role.

So who is Kim Yo Jong? Korea scholars believe she was born in 1987 or 1988, making her 26 or 27 years old, and that she is close to her brother, Kim Jong Un. Their father, former dictator Kim Jong Il, fathered at least seven children by four women, but Kim Jong Un and Kim Yo Jong have the same parentage. They were raised by their mother Ko Young Hui at a hillside estate, says Michael Madden, the founder of North Korea Leadership Watch. Largely restricted to the palace grounds, they were exposed, for the most part, to family members and close friends. “As they say in [Martin Scorsese’s mafia epic] Goodfellas, ‘There were never any outsiders,’” says Madden. “The life of Kim children was hermetically sealed.”

At some point in the mid-1990s, as North Korea starved, Kim Jong Un and his sister Kim Yo Jong were sent to to school in Switzerland. They studied under pseudonyms, presumably to protect their privacy and keep them safe. Remarkably little is known about their time there, Madden says. Upon returning to the DPRK, Kim Yo Jong likely attended university, although the details of that period are still fuzzy. Her stature within the clan started to crystallize at Kim Jong Il’s funeral, when she was spotted walking directly behind heir-apparent Kim Jong Un.

Analysts are still piecing together what, exactly, Kim Yo Jong does. She has been pictured several times in her brother’s company, often on “field guidance tours” (that’s DPRK-speak for the Kim clan looking at things). These appearances have fueled theories that she serves as a sort of events director and aide to her brother, managing his schedule and accompanying him on trips. If that is indeed her role — and again, these things are difficult to pinpoint — it suggests a level of closeness that would give her access to a lot of information. “She may be one of the only people Kim Jong Un trusts completely,” Madden says.

Her presence at Kim Jong Un’s side is rich with symbolism. Her first official public appearance, in March 2014, came not long after the disappearance of her aunt Kim Kyong Hui, who has not been seen since her husband Jang Sung Thaek was executed in late 2013. Before the purge, Kim Kyong Hui was a close adviser to Kim Jong Il, holding key jobs in the ruling party and “protecting her brother’s flank,” according to Ken Gause, a Korea expert at CNA Corp., a Washington, D.C.–based research firm. Kim Il Sung, the country’s revered founding father, also ruled with a sibling — his brother — at his side (until he demoted him).

This new sibling pairing provides an important sense of continuity. Though North Korea is often called a communist state, it is really more of a totalitarian monarchy. North Koreans are taught that Kim Il Sung was a fearsome warrior who, while camped at the base of Mount Paektu with some comrades, crushed a much larger force of Japanese invaders. His son and heir, Kim Jong Il, is said to have been born at the same site, imbued with the same superhuman abilities — heck, he officially shot 11 holes in one in his first-ever game of golf.

Since the deification of the Kim clan is what makes North Korea tick, providing a symbolic link to the past makes sense, even while power passes to the next generation. “The old power elites loyal to Kim Jong Il are being pushed out,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, in an interview earlier this year. “They will be replaced by new, younger elites who can safeguard the leadership of Kim Jong Un.” So goodbye, Kim Kyong Hui, and hello, Kim Yo Jong.

Vote Now: Who Should Be TIME’s Person of the Year?

TIME Ukraine

U.N. Says Nearly 1,000 Killed in Ukraine Since September Truce

A man of the Don battalion Lugansk People's Republic militia on the firing line on the Seversky Donets River on Nov. 18, 2014.
A man of the Don battalion Lugansk People's Republic militia on the firing line on the Seversky Donets River on Nov. 18, 2014. Krasilnikov Stanislav—Corbis

An average of 13 people every day since Sept. 5

Almost 1,000 people have been killed in Ukraine since a truce was signed in September between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists controlling parts of the restive eastern region, according to a United Nations report.

An average of 13 people have been killed every day since the Sept. 5 cease-fire was brokered between Ukraine and the rebels, equating to at least 957 deaths up to Tuesday, the U.N. human rights group found in the report. At least 4,317 people have been killed in the conflict since April, including the 298 who died when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in July, and thousands of others have been injured. Some 466,000 people have been registered as displaced.

MORE: Cease-Fire in Ukraine Fails and Preparations for War Begin

“Respect for the cease-fire has been sporadic at best,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the U.N.’s top human rights official, in a statement. “All parties need to make a far more whole-hearted effort to resolve this protracted crisis peacefully and in line with international human rights laws and standards.”

[AFP]

TIME China

U.N. Panel Claims China Tried to Silence Women’s Rights Activists

Some claimed to have been censored by "state agents"

A United Nations committee on women’s rights accused China on Friday of aiming to silence activists who were scheduled to testify about the government’s human rights record at a conference in Geneva.

Some activists claimed to have been censored by “state agents,” according to Reuters, and at least one wasn’t able to travel to Switzerland based on “travel restrictions.”

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women asked that China “take steps to ensure that in the future no travel restrictions are placed on individuals/human rights defenders,” and also to fight other practices like forced abortions and “infanticide of girls.”

Read more at Reuters

TIME Malaysia

Malaysian Court Legalizes Muslim Cross-Dressing

A judge called the law 'degrading, oppressive and inhumane'

An appeals court in Malaysia Friday struck down a law prohibiting Muslim men from wearing women’s clothing, calling the ban “degrading, oppressive and inhumane.”

“It has the effect of denying the appellants and other sufferers of GID [gender identify disorder] to move freely in public place,” Judge Hishamudin Yunus said of the ban, according to the BBC.

Though Malaysia technically allows for freedom of religion, many Malaysian states mandate Shari’a law for Muslims and maintains a separate court system to enforce it. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights are not readily recognized in the country.

Aston Paiva, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the decision was a significant step forward.

“This will be a precedent. This court binds all other high courts,” he said, according to Agence France-Presse.

[BBC]

TIME Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Silence on Burma’s Human-Rights Abuses Is Appalling

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi listens as reporter asks her a question during a news conference in Yangon
Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi listens as reporter asks her a question during a news conference at the National League for Democracy party head office in Rangoon on Nov. 5, 2014 Soe Zeya Tun—Reuters

The Nobel laureate's refusal to condemn documented atrocities suggests that political calculation has trumped human rights in her thinking

Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is not happy with the pace of democratic change in Burma, officially now known as Myanmar. On Wednesday, the Nobel Peace Prize winner gave a press conference to denounce the “stalling” reform process.

“The U.S. government has been too optimistic,” she said. “What significant reform steps have been taken in the last 24 months?”

This remark comes days before U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Rangoon, and after talks to reform the nation’s much maligned constitution broke down between Suu Kyi, Burma’s powerful military generals, the current military-backed government and various ethnic leaders.

The constitution bars Suu Kyi from becoming President in next year’s elections because she was married to a British man and has two sons who are foreign citizens. It also guarantees 25% of legislative seats to military appointees. Since more than 75% of lawmakers are required to enact any constitutional change, this gives the generals a de facto parliamentary veto.

Talks aimed at amending these provisions, which were shamelessly included with the sole purpose of barring Suu Kyi from the nation’s highest office, have gone nowhere, and the 69-year-old is attempting one last throw of the dice — appealing to Obama to put pressure on current President Thein Sein, himself a former junta general.

“Democratic reform would not be successful alone with the parliament,” Suu Kyi told assembled media.

Nobody would argue against Burma’s current constitution desperately needing revision, or pretend that reforms haven’t stalled. In fact, when Obama returns to Burma next week, he will find one of his few foreign policy successes in tatters.

“The hope and the optimism we had in 2012, when the country was opening up, has all been squandered,” Aung Zaw, managing editor of the Irrawaddy magazine, tells TIME, lamenting a “backsliding reform process” akin to watching “a train wreck in slow motion.”

Even so, Suu Kyi’s condemnation is curious.

It comes after her steadfast refusal to criticize the military or the government for myriad human-rights abuses. In Burma’s west, for example, more than 100,000 Rohingya Muslims languish in squalid displacement camps, but Suu Kyi repudiates evidence-based allegations of ethnic cleansing by Human Rights Watch and instead calls the crisis an “immigration issue.”

In northernmost Kachin state, civilians face “attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, internal displacement, land confiscation, the recruitment of child soldiers, forced labor and portering.” That’s been documented by the U.N., but Suu Kyi has refused to condemn those atrocities. Her silence is so pointed that 23 local NGOs signed an open letter of protest.

Other causes of concern, like the 10 journalists jailed this year on the flimsiest of pretenses, are brushed aside with platitudinous references to the “rule of law.” Meanwhile, Suu Kyi’s own Rule of Law Parliamentary Committee has achieved “nothing at all,” says Aung Zaw.

“We would’ve liked to have seen Aung San Suu Kyi speak on human-rights issues in a more forthright way,” says Matthew Smith, executive director of the Fortify Rights advocacy group. “She’s issued equivocal statements on serious human-rights violations, in some cases amounting to crimes against humanity.”

In fact, when a high-level delegation from Human Rights Watch came to Burma earlier this year for landmark talks, they met with senior government officials including the President but were snubbed by Suu Kyi.

And that’s not all. Suu Kyi’s baffling behavior goes beyond the area of human rights.

In April 2013, peaceful protesters blockaded a Chinese-owned copper mine near Monywa, around 450 miles north of Rangoon. The police attacked them using white phosphorous, leaving dozens with horrific burns, including traditionally sacrosanct Buddhist monks.

Suu Kyi headed the investigation commission but found that the mine must continue operations or else risk “hurting Burma,” despite the fact that it is desecrating the environment, was set up without scrutiny by the junta, and provides no jobs for local people. In unprecedented scenes, the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader was harangued by furious locals.

Suu Kyi has certainly experienced enormous personal sacrifice. Since returning to her homeland in 1988, she has spent 15 years under house arrest, not even being able to see her beloved husband Michael Aris before he died.

But this is also why her current aloofness is so painful to behold.

“The NLD under her leadership has had big question marks,” says Aung Zaw, “and they misread the whole situation.”

In August 2011, Suu Kyi met Thein Sein for the first time, formally marking her belated return to mainstream politics. The following April, she and 42 NLD colleagues were elected to parliament in a landslide amid jubilant scenes.

The common perception among analysts is that some deal was struck to allow Suu Kyi to stand for election in exchange for muting her criticism of the generals. The presumption was that reforms would take baby steps forward. But, three years on, there has been no progress, and she is partly culpable.

When Suu Kyi finally gave her Nobel acceptance speech in June 2012 — the prize having been originally bestowed in 1991 during a period of house arrest — she said that “receiving the Nobel Peace Prize means personally extending my concerns for democracy and human rights beyond national borders.”

But her present recalcitrance suggests that her own political career may be more important, even if we accept the mitigation that it is for some vague greater good.

“There is no version of pragmatism that would make silence on human-rights atrocities defensible,” says Smith. “These are some of the most serious human-rights violations that can be committed.”

Admittedly, Suu Kyi has always said she is a politician, rather than a human-rights defender. But the truth today is that she is pretty awful at both.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser