Aung San Suu Kyi
The beloved leader of Burma's democracy movement, Aung San Suu Kyi (often affectionately referred to as either "Aunty," or "The Lady") was born June 19, 1945 in what was then known as Rangoon, Burma (now: Yangon, Myanmar). Suu Kyi is a nonviolent pro-democracy activist and leader of the National League for Democracy in Myanmar (Burma). In 2016 she became the first State Counsellor, a position akin to a prime minister. A devout Buddhist, Suu Kyi won the Rafto Prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and in 1991 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her peaceful and non-violent struggle under a repressive military dictatorship.
General Aung San, the country's founding father, broke with his culture's traditions in the naming of his daughter. In Burmese historical tradition, children are seldom named after their parents. However, he gave his name to his two sons as well as to his daughter. To balance the masculinity of the name Aung San (meaning victory), he used both his mother's and wife's names as well. Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced "Ong Sahn Soo Chee"), means "a bright collection of strange victories." This powerful name seems to have been one of great destiny, which she has gracefully carried.
Aung San Suu Kyi has become a symbol of peaceful resistance in one of the most oppressive nations on Earth. As such, many have come to regard her as the "Nelson Mandela of south-east Asia."
Beyond the mere cause of democracy, more fundamentally she reveals the potential for women in positions of leadership, and as peacemakers, and she makes bright the power and potential to be derived from following spiritual principles without compromise.
Early Life and Education
The de facto prime minister of soon–to–be–independent Burma was assassinated when his daughter was two years old. Aung San had negotiated Burma's independence from the United Kingdom in 1947, and was assassinated by rivals later that same year.
Suu Kyi lived with her mother Khin Kyi and two brothers Aung San Lin and Aung San U in Rangoon. One of her brothers, Aung San Lin, died in an accidental drowning when Suu Kyi was eight. Meanwhile, her mother Khin Kyi gained prominence as a political figure in the newly-formed Burmese government.
She was educated in English Catholic schools for much of her childhood in Burma. When she was 15 years old her mother was appointed the Burmese Ambassador to India and Nepal. At that time she accompanied her mother to Delhi, where she studied politics at Delhi University. She graduated from Lady Shri Ram College for Women in New Delhi in 1964.
From 1964 to 1967, Suu Kyi continued her education at Saint Hugh's College, Oxford, obtaining a B.A. degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. This is where she met her future husband, Michael Aris.
Upon graduation, Suu Kyi furthered her education in New York, where she worked for the United Nations. In 1972, she married Michael Aris, a scholar of Tibetan culture, living abroad in Bhutan. The following year, in 1973, Suu Kyi gave birth to her first son, Alexander, in London. In 1977, she had her second child, Kim.
After living outside of her home-country since her marriage, Aung San Suu Kyi returned to Myanmar in March 1988 to care for her mother who had suffered a massive stroke. Her husband and sons joined her later that summer.
That summer on July 23, General Ne Win announced that he was resigning and that a referendum on the country's political future would be held. It was a time of hope for the Burmese people, who believed they would be able to have a voice, thus gaining control of their future.
A nationwide pro-democracy strike was called for August 8, 1988 (to become known as the "Four Eights"). Beginning at 8:08 a.m., the date and time were chosen because of the importance the Burmese people placed on numerology. Around midnight, President Sein Lwin ordered troops to fire on the hundreds of thousands who had poured into the streets; monks, students, and civil servants.
Suu Kyi responded to this mass slaughter of protestors by writing an open letter to the government proposing that a committee be formed with the purpose of taking the nation toward multiparty elections. She followed this by delivering a public speech demanding a multiparty system be established.
Martial law was declared on September 18. The ruling military junta named itself the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) (Renamed in 1997 as the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC.)
The National League for Democracy was formed by those seeking the multi-party system. Suu Kyi was named general secretary and U Tin Oo, the elderly deputy, was named chairman. The campaign for national elections then began.
In 1990, the military junta called general elections, which Suu Kyi's party, the NLD, won decisively by gaining 82 percent of the vote, even though Suu Kyi had by that time been under house arrest for more than a year. Under normal circumstances, she would have assumed the office of Prime Minister.
The military regime refused to relinquish power and instead increased repression of Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy.
Detention in Myanmar
Suu Kyi's popularity grew as she committed herself more strongly to the mission she termed the "second struggle for national independence." As her popularity grew, the military's fear of her grew.
On July 20, 1989 soldiers surrounded the home of NLD party chairman, U Tin Oo, cut the phone lines and barred him from leaving. When Suu Kyi received word of this, she arranged care for her children, knowing that her arrest would soon follow. That afternoon, soldiers stormed the NLD compound, seizing 40 members, and delivered them to the notorious Insein Prison.
Later that afternoon, a military official arrived at the Aris home and read a detention order to Suu Kyi. Rather than be confined to her home, she demanded to be taken to prison with her colleagues. To force the issue, she embarked on a hunger strike, during which time she took only water for 12 days. Finally, she was assured that her imprisoned colleagues would be treated humanely.
Though under house arrest for over a year, Suu Kyi won the majority of votes in the national elections in 1990. The ruling junta refused to recognize the result and responded by systematically harassing and sentencing to long prison terms members of the NLD and other opposition parties as well as student activists.
She was released from house arrest six years later in July 1995, although it was made clear that if she left the country to visit her family in the United Kingdom, she would be denied re-entry. When her husband Michael, a British citizen, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997, the Burmese government denied him an entry visa. Aung San Suu Kyi remained in Burma, and never again saw her husband, who died in March 1999. She remains separated from their children, who remain in the United Kingdom. 
She was repeatedly prevented from meeting with her party supporters, and in September 2000 was again put under house arrest. On May 6, 2002, following secret confidence-building negotiations led by the United Nations, she was released; a government spokesman said that she was free to move "because we are confident that we can trust each other." Suu Kyi proclaimed "a new dawn for the country." However on May 30, 2003, her caravan was attacked in the northern village of Depayin by a government-sponsored mob, murdering and wounding many of her supporters.  She fled the scene with the help of her driver, Ko Kyaw Soe Lin, but was arrested upon reaching Ye-U. She was imprisoned at Insein Prison in Yangon. After receiving a hysterectomy in September 2003, she was again placed under house arrest in Yangon. 
On May 28 2004, the United Nations Working Group for Arbitrary Detention rendered an Opinion (No. 9 of 2004) that her deprivation of liberty was arbitrary, as being in contravention of Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, and requested that the authorities in Burma set the prisoner free, but the authorities have so far ignored this request. 
On November 28, 2005, the National League for Democracy confirmed that Suu Kyi's house arrest would be extended for yet another year. Many western countries, as well as the United Nations, have expressed their disapproval of this latest extension. On May 20, 2006, Ibrahim Gambari, United Nations Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs, met with Aung San Suu Kyi, the first visit by a foreign official since 2004.  Suu Kyi's house arrest term was set to expire May 27, 2006, but the Burmese government extended it for another year,  flouting a direct appeal from U.N. General Secretary Kofi Annan to Than Shwe. Suu Kyi continues to be imprisoned under the 1975 State Protection Act (Article 10 b), which grants the government the power to imprison persons for up to five years without a trial. 
On January 18, 2007, the state-run paper The New Light of Myanmar accused Suu Kyi of tax evasion for spending her Nobel Prize money outside of the country. The accusation followed the defeat of a U.S.-sponsored United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Myanmar as a threat to international security. 
In August 2009 Suu Kyi was found guilty of breaking the terms of her house arrest after allowing a U.S. national into her lakeside home after he swam there earlier in the year. Claiming exhaustion, she allowed the man to remain for two days in order to recover. As a result she remained under house arrest until after the 2010 general election.
Release and Political Activity
On the evening of November 13, 2010, Suu Kyi was released from house arrest, six days after a widely criticized general election. She appeared in front of a crowd of her supporters, who rushed to her house in Rangoon when nearby barricades were removed by the security forces. Her son Kim Aris was granted a visa in November 2010 to see his mother shortly after her release, for the first time in ten years.
Discussions were held between Suu Kyi and the Burmese government during 2011, which led to a number of official gestures to meet her demands. In October, around a tenth of Burma's political prisoners were freed in an amnesty, and trade unions were legalized.
In November 2011, following a meeting of its leaders, the NLD announced its intention to re-register as a political party in order to contend 48 by-elections necessitated by the promotion of parliamentarians to ministerial rank. Following the decision, Suu Kyi held a telephone conference with U.S. President Barack Obama, in which it was agreed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would make a visit to Burma, a move received with caution by Burma's ally China. On December 1, 2011 Suu Kyi met with Hillary Clinton at the residence of the top-ranking US diplomat in Yangon.
On January 18, 2012, Suu Kyi formally registered to contest a Pyithu Hluttaw (lower house) seat in the Kawhmu Township constituency in special parliamentary elections to be held on April 1, 2012. The seat was previously held by Soe Tint, who vacated it after being appointed Construction Deputy Minister, in the 2010 election. She ran against Union Solidarity and Development Party candidate Soe Min, a retired army physician and native of Twante Township.
On April 1, 2012, the NLD announced that Suu Kyi had won the vote for a seat in Parliament. A news broadcast on state-run MRTV, reading the announcements of the Union Election Commission, confirmed her victory, as well as her party's victory in 43 of the 45 contested seats, officially making Suu Kyi the Leader of the Opposition in the lower house.
On May 2, 2012, National League for Democracy MP-elects, including Aung San Suu Kyi, took their oaths and took office. On July 9, 2012, she attended the Parliament for the first time as a lawmaker.
On 6 July 2012, Suu Kyi announced on the World Economic Forum's website that she wanted to run for the presidency in Myanmar's 2015 elections. The current Constitution, which came into effect in 2008, bars her from the presidency because she is the widow and mother of foreigners.
The NLD won a sweeping victory in those elections, winning at least 255 seats in the House of Representatives and 135 seats in the House of Nationalities. In addition, Suu Kyi won re-election to the House of Representatives. Under the 2008 constitution, the NLD needed to win at least a two-thirds majority in both houses to ensure that its candidate would become president. Before the elections, Suu Kyi announced that even though she is constitutionally barred from the presidency, she would hold the real power in any NLD-led government. On March 30, 2016 she became Minister for the President's Office, for Foreign Affairs, for Education and for Electric Power and Energy in President Htin Kyaw's government; later she relinquished the latter two ministries and President Htin Kyaw appointed her State Counsellor, a position akin to a Prime Minister created especially for her. The position of State Counsellor was approved by the House of Nationalities on April 1, 2016 and the House of Representatives on April 5, 2016. The next day, her role as State Counsellor was established.
Initially, upon accepting the State Counsellor position, she granted amnesty to the students who were arrested for opposing the National Education Bill, and announced a creation of the commission on Rakhine state, which had a long record of persecution of the Muslim Rohingya minority. However, soon Aung San Suu Kyi's government did not manage with the ethnic conflicts in Shan and Kachin states, where thousands of refugees fled to China, and by 2017 the persecution of the Rohingya by the government forces escalated to the point that it is not uncommonly called a genocide. Aung San Suu Kyi, when interviewed, denied the allegations of ethnic cleansing. She has also refused to grant citizenship to the Rohingya, instead taking steps to issue ID cards for residency but no guarantees of citizenship.
A devout Buddhist, Aung San Suu Kyi's life has been inspired not only by her religion, by the non-violent paths of the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, and India's Mahatma Gandhi as well. She has always called for peaceful democratic reforms and free elections, while she has encouraged progress through dialogue and negotiation. Her name, Aung San Suu Kyi, means "a bright collection of strange victories." This powerful name seems to have been one of great destiny, which Ms. Suu Kyi has gracefully carried.
Knowing that if she traveled outside Myanmar, whether to accept the Nobel Peace Prize or to sit with her dying husband, that she would not be allowed back into the country, she reaffirmed her dedication to her nation by staying in Yangon, remaining under house arrest. Leaving would grant her the daily freedom that she had not experienced in years, but she made it clear she is not willing to abandon the cause. Such dedication won her widespread respect and affection both inside and outside of Myanmar.  On June 16, 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi was finally able to deliver her Nobel acceptance speech (Nobel lecture) at Oslo's City Hall, two decades after being awarded the peace prize.
Honors and Awards
In addition to the following awards, Suu Kyi has also garnered numerous honorary degrees from various universities and institutions around the world, as well as medals of honor and special commendations from many cities all over the world.
- 1990, Oct 12: Awarded, in absentia, the 1990 Rafto Human Rights Prize.
- 1991, Jul 10: Awarded, in absentia, the 1990 Sakharov Prize (human rights prize of the European Parliament)
- 1991, Oct 14: Awarded, in absentia, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize
- 1993, Awarded, in absentia, the 1993 Jawaharlal Nehru Award from India
- 2000, Dec 07: US President Bill Clinton conferred America's highest civilian honor on Aung San Suu Kyi, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Aung San Suu Kyi is a prolific writer, authoring her own speeches as well as political and social dissertations. Her book list includes:
- 1984: Aung San in Leaders of Asia series of University of Queensland Press. (See Freedom from Fear, pp. 3-38.)
- 1985: Let's Visit Burma for juvenile readers (see Freedom from Fear, pp. 39-81)
- also books on Nepal and Bhutan in the same series for Burke Publishing Company, London.
- 1987: Socio-Political Currents in Burmese Literature, 1910-1940 in journal of Tokyo University. (See Freedom from Fear, pp. 140-164.)
- 1991: December. Freedom from Fear was published by Penguin in New York, England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. It is also in Norwegian, French, Spanish languages.
- 1995: Freedom from Fear and Other Writings. Edited with an introduction by Michael Aris. 2nd ed., revised. New York and London: Penguin, 1995. This edition includes essays by friends and scholars.
- 1997 Voice of Hope: Conversations. London: Penguin, and New York City: Seven Stories Press, 1997. This book contains conversations beginning in November 1995 with Alan Clements, the founder of the Burma Project in California who helped with the script for the film based on her life, “Beyond Rangoon”.
Suu Kyi is also a writer of poetry.
- It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.
- It would be difficult to dispel ignorance unless there is freedom to pursue the truth unfettered by fear. With so close a relationship between fear and corruption it is little wonder that in any society where fear is rife corruption in all forms becomes deeply entrenched.
- The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear. (attributed)
- The quintessential revolution is that of the spirit, born of an intellectual conviction of the need for change in those mental attitudes and values which shape the course of a nation's development. A revolution which aims merely at changing official policies and institutions with a view to an improvement in material conditions has little chance of genuine success.
During her time of house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi garnered public support from dozens of nations, as well as from the United Nations. However, the ruling junta of Myanmar turned a deaf ear to the world. However, Suu Kyi's courage, conviction, and grace under adversity remained a source of hope for her people.
On June 17, 2005 numerous countries from around the world held protests outside Myanmar (Burmese) embassies, in recognition of Suu Kyi's 60th birthday, which took place on June 19, 2005. The protests received international attention.
In late November 2005, the United States again returned to diplomatic pressure, this time in the United Nations Security Council, strongly urging multilateral action to address the "deteriorating situation" in Myanmar, requesting to put it into the official agenda docket. This action was due largely to a reinstatement of Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest, an extension of precisely one year.
The Vrije Universiteit Brussel, located in Belgium, granted her the title of Doctor Honoris Causa.
Saint Hugh's College, Oxford, where she studied, had a Burmese theme for their annual ball in support of her in 2006.
Not only have governmental bodies voiced their support, numerous musicians and entertainers have written songs and held concerts for the benefit of Suu Kyi and the nation of Myanmar. In 2001, Irish rock band U2 released the song "Walk On," which was written about and dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi. "Walk On" was banned by the junta. During concerts in London and Glasgow on June 19 and June 21, 2005 (respectively) U2 dedicated performances of "Running to Stand Still" to Aung San Suu Kyi. Other artists such as Coldplay, R.E.M., and Damien Rice also publicly supported Aung San Suu Kyi's cause.
In 2003's MTV Europe Music Awards, she was given the "Free Your Mind" award.
Aung San Suu Kyi is featured prominently in John Boorman's 1995 film Beyond Rangoon, starring Patricia Arquette.
The Bommersvik Declarations
Bommersvik Declaration I
In 1995, during the first convention that lasted from 16-23 July, the Representatives issued the Bommersvik Declaration I:
|“||We, the representatives of the people of Burma, elected in the 27 May 1990 general elections, meeting at the First Convention of Elected Representatives from the liberated areas of Burma, hereby - Warmly welcome the unconditional release of 1991 Nobel Peace laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on 10 July 1995; Thank all who have worked tirelessly and consistently for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the cause of democracy in Burma; Applaud Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's determination, in spite of having spent 6 years under house arrest, to continue to work to bring true democracy to Burma; Welcome Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's return to politics to take up the mantle of her father, General Aung San, in Burma's second struggle for independence;...||”|
— The Elected Representatives of the Union of Burma
Bommersvik Declaration II
In 2002, during the second convention that lasted from 25 February to the 1st of March, the Representatives issued the Bommersvik Declaration II:
|“||We, the representatives of the people of Burma, elected in the 27 May 1990 general elections presently serving as members of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma and/or the Members of Parliament Union, meeting at the Convention of Elected Representatives held in Bommersvik for the second time, hereby reaffirm - Our Mandate, Position, and Strategic Objectives - that we will never ignore the will of the Burmese people expressed through the May 1990 general elections; - that the military’s refusal to honor the election results does not in any way diminish the validity of these results.....||”|
— The Elected Representatives of the Union of Burma
- Aung San Suu Kyi: The Nobel Peace Prize 1991, The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Ellen Nakashima, Burma's Iron 'Aunty', The Washington Post, October 13, 2003. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Profile: Aung San Suu Kyi, BBC News, August 25, 2000. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Obituary: A courageous and patient man, BBC News, March 27, 1999. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- U Aung Htoo, The Depayin Massacre: A Crime against Humanity and its Effect on National Reonciliation, Article 2, December 17, 2003. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Suu Kyi has 'major' operation, BBC News, September 19, 2003. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Daw Aung San Suu Kyi v. Myanmar, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, University of Minnesota Human Rights Library, May 28, 2004. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- After meeting Aung San Suu Kyi, UN envoy leaves Myanmar, United Nations, May 20, 2006. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
- Burma extends Suu Kyi detention, CNN, May 27, 2006. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Opposition Condemns Extension of Suu Kyi’s Detention, The Irrawaddy, May 27, 2006. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Seth Mydans, Burmese Daily at Odds With Democracy Advocate, New York Times, January 19, 2007. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Burma court finds Suu Kyi guilty BBC News, August 11, 2009. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Myanmar Dissident Calls for Change The New York Times, November 14, 2010. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Phoebe Kennedy, Suu Kyi and son reunited after 10-year separation The Independent, November 24, 2010. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Burma frees dozens of political prisoners BBC News, October 12, 2011. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Burma law to allow labour unions and strikes BBC News, October 14, 2011. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Suu Kyi's NLD democracy party to rejoin Burma politics BBC News, November 18, 2011. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- David Nakamura and William Wan, U.S. sees Burma reforms as strategic opening to support democracy The Washington Post, November 18, 2011. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Steven Lee Myers, Clinton Says U.S. Will Relax Some Curbs on Aid to Myanmar The New York Times, December 1, 2011. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Aung San Suu Kyi registers for Burma election run BBC News, January 18, 2012. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi wins by-election: NLD party BBC News, April 1, 2012. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Aung San Suu Kyi makes history by taking Myanmar parliament seat Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2012. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Suu Kyi makes her parliamentary debut The Hindu, July 9, 2012. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Arno Maierbrugger, Suu Kyi wants to run for president Inside Investor, June 6, 2013. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Aung San Suu Kyi: The halo slips The Economist, June 15, 2013. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Wins Majority in Myanmar BBC News, November 13, 2015. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Burmese Parliamentary Elections Voice of America News, April 4, 2012. Retrieved April 23, 2018.
- NLD Claims Suu Kyi Victory, The Irrawaddy, April 1, 2012. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Poppy McPherson, Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar's great hope fails to live up to expectations The Guardian, March 30, 2017. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Shashank Bengali, Myanmar's long-suffering Rohingya Muslims hoped that Aung San Suu Kyi would make them full citizens. They were wrong Los Angeles Times, April 9, 2017. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Joe Havely, Profile: Aung San Suu Kyi, CNN.com, September 22, 2003. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- US urges Burmese to free Suu Kyi, BBC News, December 2, 2004. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- NEW DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT OF BURMA FORMED, Burma Library, July 27, 1995. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Bommersvik Declaration (1995) National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, February 3, 2012. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
- Bommersvik Declaration (2002) National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, February 3, 2012. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom from Fear: And Other Writings. Penguin Books, 2010. ISBN 978-0141039497
- Aung San Suu Kyi, Voice of Hope: Conversations with Alan Clements. Seven Stories Press, 2008. ISBN 1583228454
- Popham, Peter. The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi. The Experiment, 2012. ISBN 978-1615190645
- Wintle, Justin. Perfect Hostage: A Life of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's Prisoner of Conscience. Skyhorse Publishing, 2008. ISBN 1602392668
All links retrieved August 22, 2023.
- "Freed Burmese Democracy Leader Proclaims 'New Dawn'" by Seth Mydans, for The New York Times, May 7 2002, A3 (only abstract available)
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