Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma has gained international attention and prominence because of the cause she continues to fight for, even at the cost of her own liberty and happiness. Suu Kyi is a democracy advocate in military-ruled Burma.
Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of independence fighter and hero, Gen. Aung San. Her mother was a former ambassador to India and Nepal. She had her early education in Rangoon and in 1960 while her mother was the ambassador, she studied in Delhi University. Her early exposure in government and politics made her pursue her BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at St. Mary’s College in Oxford University. It was while here that she met Dr. Michael Aris, a British scholar in Tibet. Suu Kyi took various positions in the academe and in government service and its support agencies. In 1969 she was the Assistant Secretary of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions in the UN Secretariat. In 1972 she became the Research Officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bhutan and on the same year married Dr. Aris. Son, Alexander was born in London in 1973 while other son, Kim was born in 1977 in Oxford. From 1985 to 1986, she was a Visiting Scholar of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Kyoto University. In 1987, she was a fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies in Simia.
Developments in Rangoon prompted Aung San Suu Kyi to come home: first, to take care of her seriously ill mother and second, to involve herself in the pro-democracy movement. After 26 years under a military regime, protesters wanted a democratic government for Burma. Millions from the city and countryside combined to press for change. In the infamous August 8, 1988 or 8-8-88 civil unrest against the government, thousands of protesters were killed by the military. Two weeks afterwards, Suu Kyi was in the forefront of the rallies, addressing crowds as many as half a million in the Swedagon Pagoda in Rangoon. She called for the institution of a democratic government in place of the current military one. Another military one was formed, instead, which is the State Law and Order Restoration Council which once more held the reins of power. More protesters were killed, by the hundreds, and all revolts crushed. Aung San Suu Kyi was not daunted. She founded the National League for Democracy of which she was General Secretary.
Her high visibility and great responsibility to the public was a burden she had to bear along with her personal grief on the death of her mother. Her mother’s funeral drew sympathizers and supporters who turned it into a huge but peaceful anti-military march. Suu Kyi continued with her crusade and active dissent of martial rule. In July 1989, the Military Government placed Suu Kyi under House Arrest without charge or trial for 3 years. Despite her detention, her popularity won 82% seats by a landslide victory for her NLD Party in the elections, results of which the military continued to refuse to recognize. In 1991, the law that provided for Suu Kyi’s detention was amended retroactively to increase to 5 years the original 3 years. At about that time, Suu Kyi received international awards for her advocacy. She was awarded the 1990 Rafto Human Rights Prize, the 1990 Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament and the most prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. The Nobel prize money of $1.3 million was placed by Suu Kyi in Trust for the health and education of the Burmese people. In 1991, her works were published in London, among them is Freedom from Fear. In 1994, talks with junta leaders, Gen. Than Shwe and Gen. Khin Nyunt led to her release from house arrest in 1995. In defiance of the junta’s ban on party leadership changes, the NLD once again made her the party’s General Secretary.
In yet another display of extraordinary courage and selflessness was when the military junta of Burma gave her an option to leave Burma to visit her ailing husband Dr. Aris which she refused. It was not without pain and difficulty that she made the decision not to leave Burma and consigned herself and her husband to not seeing each other again. The fear of not being allowed to return to Burma was the overwhelming reason and ultimate deciding factor. Dr. Aris died without ever seeing his famous wife again after their last in 1995. She continues to be persecuted for her activities. She is prevented to from traveling around the country to meet supporters. Once in March 1996, aboard a train bound for Mandalay, the coach she was in was left behind at the station due to a problem that came up in the last minute. On another instance, her motorcade was forced to return to Rangoon after a standoff with 200 riot policemen. She was again placed under House Arrest in September 2000. Attempts to secure her release were made by the UN. She was freed in 2002. In a tour of northern Burma, her party was attacked where 70 were killed and 100 were arrested, including Suu Kyi. For more than 3 months no one knew where she was detained. UN representatives met with Aung San Suu Kyi but nothing came out of them. Suu Kyi’s House Arrest was extended for one more year. She appeared in public again in 2003 to pray with the Buddhist monks outside the gates of her home. It has been a continuing saga of arrest, detention, talks, arrest, detention. The latest of this chain of events is when an American intruder John Yettaw swan to her house and authorities arrested her for that. She is held in Insein Prison facing trial for breach of the terms of her House Arrest.
In spite of the condition that Aung San Suu Kyi is in she continuously seeks the liberty and happiness of her people which she believes is in having a democratic government. She fights a repressive military regime for and with the Burmese. She could have led a comfortable life outside of her country, but she chose the hard option of staying. She shared her affection, which she could have given wholly to her family, with her people. She gave up the best things for the good thing. She impacted the world in the same manner that her male counterparts like Gandhi, Nehru, Mandela, and Luther King had. She holds the special privilege of being a woman made to suffer to test her strength, bent her indomitable will, weaken her resolve and crush her spirit. Through all these she did not retreat from the fight. All these will be her legacy to future generations, whom she addresses with the message that “only by fighting fear can you truly be free.”
The Burma Campaign UK. (2009). Campaigning for Human Rights and Democracy
in Burma. Retrieved July 26, 2009 from
BBC News. (2009, May 19). Why is Burma’s Junta Afraid of Suu Kyi. Retrieved July 26,
2009 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2hi/asia-pacific/8050262.stm