Aung San Suu Kyi

Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi was born in Rangoon in 1945, the youngest child of Burma’s national hero, Aung San. When she was two years old, in the same year he won Burma’s independence from the British, her father was assassinated by political rivals. Aung San Suu Kyi grew up with her mother and two brothers. She was educated locally and attended colleges both in India and Oxford before earning her doctorate at the University of London.

In 1988, she returned to Burma to care for her ailing mother. That summer, a pro-democracy movement began to coalesce, in opposition to 26 years of military dictatorship. As the daughter of the great Aung San and an articulate spokesperson for democratic reform, Aung San Suu Kyi quickly became the face of the opposition.

A new political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), was formed with Aung San Suu Kyi as secretary-general. As a groundswell of support from every corner of Burma gathered around her, the regime grew nervous. Ten months later, she was detained and placed under house arrest.

Even in detention, her message was clear. The people of Burma were hungry for democracy and a fair and just society. When the regime allowed elections in 1990, even with their leader under house arrest, the NLD won 82 percent of the seats in the National Assembly. The military junta ignored the election results and maintained the status quo.

Aung San Suu Kyi remained under house arrest for 15 of the 21 years from 1989 until her release on November 13, 2010 — six days after the first election Burma had seen in 20 years. Candidates from the NLD were barred from participating in those elections, and the junta’s party swept decisively. On that day, President Barack Obama said:

“The November 7 elections in Burma were neither free nor fair, and failed to meet any of the internationally accepted standards associated with legitimate elections. The elections were based on a fundamentally flawed process and demonstrated the regime’s continued preference for repression and restriction over inclusion and transparency.”

Throughout periods of house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention was internationally condemned and has been challenged by the United Nations, Human Rights organizations and diplomats from dozens of countries. Since 1990, she has been awarded numerous honors and prizes in absentia. Upon conferring the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991, the Nobel Committee’s chairman declared:

“Aung San Suu Kyi brings out something of the best in us. We feel we need precisely her sort of person in order to retain our faith in the future. That is what gives her such power as a symbol, and that is why any ill treatment of her feels like a violation of what we have most at heart.”

Since her release, Aung San Suu Kyi has resumed her leadership of the NLD, committed to peace and reconciliation with all parties. She continues to call for non-violent, democratic reform, the release of over 2,200 political prisoners, and the right of all the citizens of Burma to live free from fear in their own country. The regime has not responded to her repeated calls for dialogue and national reconciliation.