Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi , Burma’s pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate, spent more than 15 years in detention, most of it under house arrest. She was released from her latest third period of detention on Saturday 13th November 2010.
Aung San Suu Kyi was born on June 19th, 1945, daughter of Burma’s independence hero, Aung San, who was assassinated when she was only two years old. Her father, Aung San, was a leading military general who orchestrated Burma’s independence from the United Kingdom and raised the Burmese army. Her father was assassinated on July 19th, 1947, when Suu Kyi was only two years old. After her father’s murder and the establishment of the new independent Burmese government on January 4th, 1948, Suu Kyi’s mother, Daw Khin Kyi, became a prominent figure in politics, working for the External Affairs Ministry.
Aung San Suu Kyi was educated in Burma, India, and the United Kingdom. Suu Kyi was educated through the English Catholic school system in Burma for 15 years, until 1960, when her mother was chosen to be the Burmese ambassador to India. Daw Khin Kyi took her daughter with her to New Delhi where she attended and graduated from Lady Shri Ram College of Delhi University.
While studying at Oxford University, she met Michael Aris, a Tibet scholar who she married in 1972. They had two sons, Alexander and Kim. Aung San Suu Kyi returned to Burma in 1988 to nurse her dying mother, and soon became engaged in the country’s nationwide democracy uprising.
The military regime responded to the uprising with brute force, killing up to 5,000 demonstrators on 8th August 1988. Following a military coup on 18th September 1988, on 24th September 1988 a new pro-democracy party, the National League for Democracy, was formed. Aung San Suu Kyi was appointed General Secretary. Aung San Suu Kyi gave numerous speeches calling for freedom and democracy, and political activities continued across the country.
Facing increasing domestic and international pressure, the dictatorship was forced to call a general election, held in 1990. As Aung San Suu Kyi began to campaign for the NLD, she and many others were detained by the regime. Aung San Suu Kyi was banned from personally standing in the election. Despite conditions around the elections being far from free and fair with Aung San Suu Kyi and other democracy activists being detained, biased media, and intimidation of politicians, the voting on the day was relatively free and fair. The NLD won 82% of the seats in Parliament. The dictatorship never recognised the results of the election, and refused to hand over power.
Aung San Suu Kyi was held under house arrest until July 1995. When released she faced restrictions on travel. On March 27 1999, Aung San Suu Kyi’s husband, Michael Aris, died of cancer in London. He had petitioned the Burmese authorities to allow him to visit Aung San Suu Kyi one last time, but they had rejected his request. He had not seen her since a Christmas visit in 1995. The government always urged Aung San Suu Kyi to join her family abroad, but she knew that she would not be allowed to return to Burma.
In 2000 Aung San Suu Kyi was again placed under house arrest after repeated attempts to leave the capital, Rangoon, to hold political meetings in other parts of the country. In 2002, Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and with freedom to travel around the country. The release was part of a deal negotiated by UN Envoy on Burma, Razali Ismail. He had facilitated secret meetings between Aung San Suu Kyi and the military. Confidence building steps had been agreed, including that the dictatorship would stop the vehement attacks on Aung San Suu Kyi in the media, and the NLD would stop publicly calling for sanctions, although its policy of still supporting targeted economic sanctions remained. However, when it came to move from confidence building meetings, and instead start dealing with matters of substance, the dictatorship refused to engage in any meaningful dialogue. As a low-level envoy without significant political backing from the UN itself or the international community, Razali was unable to persuade the Generals to move the dialogue forward.
After waiting patiently, Aung San Suu Kyi began to travel the country, holding meetings at which tens of thousands of people turned out to see her, dashing the hopes of the Generals that during her long period of detention the people would have forgotten her, and her support would have waned.
The dictatorship began using members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association to harass and attack NLD meetings. This political militia was set up and organised by the military, with Than Shwe, dictator of Burma, as its President. It later transformed as the Union Solidarity and Development Party, the political party front for the military in the elections held on 7th November 2010.
On May 30th 2003 members of the USDA attacked a convoy of vehicles Aung San Suu Kyi was travelling in. It was an attempt by the dictatorship to assassinate Aung San Suu Kyi, using a civilian front so as not to take the blame. Aung San Suu Kyi’s driver managed to drive her to safety, but more than 70 of Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters were beaten to death. The attack became known at the Depayin Massacre. The dictatorship claimed it was a riot between two political groups, incited by the NLD. The United Nations General Assembly called for the incident to be investigated, but it never was.
Following the attack, Aung San Suu Kyi was held in detention, and then placed back under house arrest. During this period of detention, conditions were much stricter than in the past. Her phone line was cut, her post stopped and National League for Democracy volunteers providing security at her compound were removed in December 2004. Diplomats were generally not allowed to meet her, although occasionally UN envoys and US government officials were allowed to meet her. However, even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was not allowed to meet her when he visited the country in 2009.
In May 2009, just days before her period of house arrest was due to expire, Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested and charged with breaking the terms of her house arrest, which forbids visitors, after John Yettaw, a United States citizen, swam across Inya lake and refused to leave her house. In August 2009 she was convicted, and sentenced to three years imprisonment. In an apparent attempt to placate international outrage about the trial, the sentence was reduced to 18 months under house arrest. By coincidence, this meant her release date turned out to be just 6 days after elections held in Burma, thereby ensuring that once again she was in detention during elections.
On 01 April 2012 Aung San Suu Kyi wins a seat in the by-election. The National League for Democracy (NLD) win 43 out of the 45 seats contested in the by-election. The 1991 Nobel peace prize winner became leader of Myanmar's civilian government in 2016 after the army agreed to limited reforms. Suu Kyi holds executive power in the government because of a legal loophole that allowed the creation of the post of state counsellor, to which she was appointed. Under the arrangement the actual president — a member of her party — defers to her.
The military also has the authority to appoint the ministers of defense, home affairs, and border affairs and assume power indefinitely over all branches of the government should the president declare a national state of emergency. In November 2015 the country held nationwide parliamentary elections that the public widely accepted as a credible reflection of the will of the people. The then opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi, won 390 of 491 contested seats in the bicameral parliament. Parliament elected NLD member U Htin Kyaw as president in March and created the position of State Counsellor for Aung San Suu Kyi in April, cementing her position as the country’s de facto leader.
Aung San Suu Kyi won numerous international awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament and the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom. She has called on people around the world to join the struggle for freedom in Burma, saying “Please use your liberty to promote ours.”
Aung San Suu Kyi defended her government's actions before the International Court of Justice in The Hague against genocide accusations. Speaking at the court 11 December 2019, she called the case against her country incomplete and misleading. Aung San Suu Kyi defended Myanmar's leadership against claims that genocide is happening in the country. Aung San Suu Kyi, once seen as one of the world's greatest human rights defenders, argued that the internal conflict might at most have led to potential violations of international humanitarian law.
Aung San Suu Kyi retains millions of mainly Buddhist supporters in Myanmar. They insist she is doing her best to govern a multiethnic country where the military still holds the reins of power. Myanmar’s parliament rejected on 11 March 2020 a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to officially become president. The rejection had been expected because the proposal was opposed by the military, which under the constitution adopted when it held power, holds enough parliamentary seats to block any constitutional change. The defeated motion was one of several constitutional changes proposed by Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy party, with most expected to be blocked.
Former supporters became vocal critics, accusing her of failing to stop the atrocities against the Rohingya. "She was one person who could have brought people together," said Mark Farmaner of Burma Campaign UK. "She had admiration across religions, across ethnic groups in the country. And she's chosen instead of doing that — to do the opposite. It turns out that she also has these Buddhist nationalist feelings, that she shares the prejudice against the Rohingya, and she is pursuing policies discriminating against them."
The European Parliament shunned its 1990 Sakharov Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi by suspending her from the prize community. Her standing plunged over Myanmar military abuses against the minority Rohingya people. Lawmakers at the European Parliament based their decision to suspend Aung San Suu Kyi, who received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990, on what they called "her lack of actions and her acceptance of the ongoing crimes against the Rohingya community in Myanmar," said European Parliament spokesperson Jaume Duch Guillot said 10 September 2020.
Though she won the prize in 1990 for her work to promote democracy in Myanmar, it was not until 2013 that Suu Kyi was able to collect it after being held for years under house arrest. European Parliament Vice-President Heidi Hautala said the decision "excludes Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi from all activities of the Community of Sakharov Prize laureates." Despite being Myanmar's top-level state counsellor and foreign minister, Suu Kyi had failed to safeguard the rights of the Rohingya people, said Hautala, a member of European Parliament from the Finnish Green Party. "To the contrary, she has made clear her support of the military that has led the assault against the Rohingya," Hautala said in a statement, adding she strongly supported the decision to suspend Suu Kyi from Sakharov community of prize-winners.
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