Aung San Suu Kyi MP AC is a Burmese opposition politician and chairperson of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Burma. In the 1990 general election, the NLD won 59% of the national votes and 81% (392 of 485) of the seats in Parliament. She had, however, already been detained under house arrest before the elections. She remained under house arrest in Burma for almost 15 of the 21 years from 20 July 1989 until her most recent release on 13 November 2010, becoming one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners.
Suu Kyi received the Rafto Prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In 1992 she was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding by the government of India and the International Simón Bolívar Prize from the government of Venezuela. In 2007, the Government of Canada made her an honorary citizen of that country, the fourth person ever to receive the honour. In 2011, she was awarded the Wallenberg Medal. On 19 September 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi was also presented with the Congressional Gold Medal, which is, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the United States.
On 1 April 2012, her party, the National League for Democracy, announced that she was elected to the Pyithu Hluttaw, the lower house of the Burmese parliament, representing the constituency of Kawhmu; her party also won 43 of the 45 vacant seats in the lower house. The election results were confirmed by the official electoral commission the following day.
On 6 June 2013, Suu Kyi announced on the World Economic Forum’s website that she wants to run for the presidency in Myanmar’s 2015 elections.
Aung San Suu Kyi returned to Burma in 1988, after years living and studying abroad, only to find widespread slaughter of protesters rallying against the brutal rule of dictator U Ne Win. She spoke out against him and initiated a nonviolent movement toward achieving democracy and human rights. In 1989, the government placed Suu Kyi under house arrest, and she spent 15 of the next 21 years in custody. In 1991, her ongoing efforts won her the Nobel Prize for Peace, and she was finally released from house arrest in November 2010. Early Years
Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, formerly the de facto prime minister of British Burma, was assassinated in 1947. Her mother, Khin Kyi, was appointed ambassador to India in 1960. Suu Kyi obtained a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oxford in 1969, and in 1972, she married. She had two children—in 1973 and 1977—and the family spent the 1970s and 1980s in England, the United States and India.
In 1988, Suu Kyi returned to Burma to care for her dying mother, and her life took a dramatic turn. Return to Burma
In 1962, Burma dictator U Ne Win staged and carried out a coup d’état in Burma, which spurred intermittent protests over his policies for the subsequent decades. By 1988, he had resigned his post of party chairman, essentially leaving the country in the hands of a military junta, but stayed behind the scenes to orchestrate various violent responses to the continuing protests and other events.
Suu Kyi returned to Burma from abroad in 1988, amidst the slaughter of protesters rallying against U Ne Win and his iron-fisted rule. She began speaking out against him, with democracy and human rights at the fore of her struggle. It did not take long for the junta to notice her efforts, and in July of 1989, the military government of Burman—which was renamed the “Union of Myanmar” in 1989—placed Suu Kyi under house arrest and cut off any communication she might have with the outside world.
Though the Union military told Suu Kyi that if she agreed to leave the country, they would free her, she refused to do so, insisting that her struggle would continue until the junta released the country to civilian government and political prisoners were freed. In 1990, a parliamentary election was held, and the party with which Suu Kyi was now affiliated—the National League for Democracy—won more than 80 percent of the parliamentary seats. The election results, though, were predictably ignored by the junta. Twenty years later, they formally annulled the results.
Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in July 1995, and the next year she attended the NLD party congress, under the continual harassment of the military. Three years later, she founded a representative committee and declared it as the country’s legitimate ruling body, and in response, in September 2000, the junta once again placed her under house arrest. She was released in May of 2002.
In 2003, the NLD clashed in the streets with pro-government demonstrators, and Suu Kyi was yet again arrested and placed under house arrest.
Her sentence was then renewed yearly, and the international community came to her aid each time, calling continually for her release (to no avail).
A family portrait, with Aung San Suu Kyi (in white) as a toddler, taken in 1947, shortly before her father’s assassination.
Aung San Suu Kyi derives her name from three relatives: “Aung San” from her father, “Suu” from her paternal grandmother, and “Kyi” from her mother Khin Kyi. She is frequently called Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Daw is not part of her name, but is an honorific, similar to madame, for older, revered women, literally meaning “aunt”. She is also often referred to as Daw Suu by the Burmese (or Amay Suu, lit. “Mother Suu,” by some followers), or “Aunty Suu”, and as Dr. Suu Kyi, Ms. Suu Kyi, or Miss Suu Kyi by the foreign media. However, like other Burmese, she has no surname (see Burmese names).
Aung San Suu Kyi was born on 19 June 1945 in Rangoon (now named Yangon). Her father, Aung San, founded the modern Burmese army and negotiated Burma’s independence from the British Empire in 1947; he was assassinated by his rivals in the same year. She grew up with her mother, Khin Kyi, and two brothers, Aung San Lin and Aung San Oo, in Rangoon. Aung San Lin died at the age of eight, when he drowned in an ornamental lake on the grounds of the house. Her elder brother emigrated to San Diego, California, becoming a United States citizen. After Aung San Lin’s death, the family moved to a house by Inya Lake where Suu Kyi met people of very different backgrounds, political views and religions. She was educated in Methodist English High School (now Basic Education High School No. 1 Dagon) for much of her childhood in Burma, where she was noted as having a talent for learning languages. She is a Theravada Buddhist. Aung San Suu Kyi at the age of six.
Suu Kyi’s mother, Khin Kyi, gained prominence as a political figure in the newly formed Burmese government. She was appointed Burmese ambassador to India and Nepal in 1960, and Aung San Suu Kyi followed her there. She studied in the Convent of Jesus and Mary School in New Delhi, and graduated from Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi with a degree in politics in 1964. Suu Kyi continued her education at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, obtaining a B.A. degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics in 1969. After graduating, she lived in New York City with a family friend Ma Than E, who was once a popular Burmese pop singer. She worked at the United Nations for three years, primarily on budget matters, writing daily to her future husband, Dr. Michael Aris. In late 1971, Aung San Suu Kyi married Aris, a scholar of Tibetan culture, living abroad in Bhutan. The following year she gave birth to their first son, Alexander Aris, in London; their second son, Kim, was born in 1977. Between 1985 and 1987, Suu Kyi was working toward an M.Phil degree in Burmese literature as a research student at SOAS the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She was elected as an Honorary Fellow of SOAS in 1990. For two years she was a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS) in Shimla, India. She also worked for the government of the Union of Burma.
In 1988 Suu Kyi returned to Burma, at first to tend for her ailing mother but later to lead the pro-democracy movement. Aris’ visit in Christmas 1995 turned out to be the last time that he and Suu Kyi met, as Suu Kyi remained in Burma and the Burmese dictatorship denied him any further entry visas. Aris was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 which was later found to be terminal. Despite appeals from prominent figures and organizations, including the United States, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Pope John Paul II, the Burmese government would not grant Aris a visa, saying that they did not have the facilities to care for him, and instead urged Aung San Suu Kyi to leave the country to visit him. She was at that time temporarily free from house arrest but was unwilling to depart, fearing that she would be refused re-entry if she left, as she did not trust the military junta’s assurance that she could return.
Aris died on his 53rd birthday on 27 March 1999. Since 1989, when his wife was first placed under house arrest, he had seen her only five times, the last of which was for Christmas in 1995. She was also separated from her children, who live in the United Kingdom, but starting in 2011, they have visited her in Burma.
On 2 May 2008, after Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, Suu Kyi lost the roof of her house and lived in virtual darkness after losing electricity in her dilapidated lakeside residence. She used candles at night as she was not provided any generator set. Plans to renovate and repair the house were announced in August 2009. Suu Kyi was released from house arrest on 13 November 2010.
Arrest and Election
In May of 2009, just before she was set to be released from house arrest, Suu Kyi was arrested yet again, this time charged with an actual crime—allowing an intruder to spend two nights at her home, a violation of her terms of house arrest. The intruder, an American named John Yettaw, had swum to her house to warn her after having a vision of an attempt on her life. He was also subsequently imprisoned, returning to the United States in August 2009.
That same year, the United Nations declared that Suu Kyi’s detention was illegal, under Myanmar law. In August, however, Suu Kyi went to trial, and was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison. The sentence was reduced to 18 months, however, and she was allowed to serve it as a continuation of her house arrest. Those within Myanmar and the concerned international community believed that the ruling was simply brought down to prevent Suu Kyi from participating in the multiparty parliamentary elections scheduled for the following year (the first since 1990). These fears were realized when a series of new election laws were put in place in March 2010: One law prohibited convicted criminals from participating in elections, and another barred anyone married to a foreign national from running for office (Suu Kyi’s husband was English).
In support of Suu Kyi, the NLD refused to re-register the party under these new laws and was disbanded. The government parties ran virtually unopposed in the 2010 election and easily won a vast majority of legislative seats, with charges of fraud following in their wake. Suu Kyi was released from house arrest six days after the election.
In November 2011, the NLD announced that it would re-register as a political party, and in January 2012, Suu Kyi formally registered to run for a seat in parliament. On April 1, 2012, following a grueling and exhausting campaign, the NLD announced that Suu Kyi had won her election. A news broadcast on state-run MRTV confirmed her victory, and on May 2, 2012, Suu Kyi took her oath and took office. Awards and Recognition
In 1991, Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. She has also received the Rafto prize (1990), the International Simón Bolívar Prize (1992) and the Jawaharlal Nehru Award (1993), among other accolades.
In December 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 400–0 to award Suu Kyi the Congressional Gold Medal, and in May 2008, U.S. President George Bush signed the vote into law, making Suu Kyi the first person in American history to receive the prize while imprisoned.