Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
Burma’s Icon of Democracy, Hope and Grace Under Pressure
Notable Quote: “It is not power that corrupts but fear.”
Biography in Brief
June 19, 1945
Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced Ong San Soo Chee) is born in Rangoon, Burma (now Myanmar). “Aung San” for her father, “Kyi” for her mother, and “Suu” for her grandmother and day of the week of her birth. Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, a general, is one of Myanmar’s foremost national heroes, having fought Japanese invaders during World War II and later helped to secure Burma’s independence from England.
Graduates from Oxford University with B.A. in philosophy, politics, and economics at St. Hugh’s College.
January 1, 1972
Marries Michael Aris and moves to Bhutan, where her husband tutors the royal family and heads the Translation Department. Later returns to Britain where they have two sons.
Massive student pro-democracy demonstrations breaks out in Burma in opposition to the military junta that ruled the nation since 1962. In what turned out to be brutal foreshadowing of China’s Tiananmen Square massacre a year later, Burmese troops react with wanton violence to quell the democracy demonstrations.
In the wake of the massacre, Aung San Suu Kyi returns to Burma to lead an opposition movement. Grounded in a deep faith in her native Buddhism, Aung San Suu Kyi’s message of “unity, discipline, and love” catches fire throughout the nation, and her National League for Democracy gains momentum.
In June, just weeks after Tiananmen Square, the Burmese junta places Aung San Suu Kyi and other democracy leaders in house arrest. This marks the beginning of a period of confinement that has continued on and off to this day.
Under intense political pressure, the Burmese junta permits national elections. Despite both subtle and overt pressure from the military, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy captures nearly 80% of the seats of the electoral assembly. Aung San Suu Kyi becomes the first prime minister-elect in Burma since 1962.
Sadly – yet predictably – the military refuses to respect the elections, and instead retains power under Orwellian-named “State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC),” which governs to this day. Burma becomes a human rights disaster zone. Political dissidents are routinely imprisoned and tortured.
Aung San Suu Kyi languishes under house arrest, but continues to speak out. By some accounts, neighbors reportedly heard her playing piano early in her detention – Mozart typically. Later, it is believed that she was forced to sell the piano to buy food.
Aung San Suu Kyi becomes the national symbol of the nation’s beleaguered democracy movement. She counsels patience, non-violence, and persistence.
On October 14th, the Nobel Committee in Oslo announces Aung San Suu Kyi to be the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1991. In December, her 18 year old son Alex Aris accepts on her behalf as she is still under house arrest in Burma, now renamed Myanmar by the SLORC.
In accepting the prize, Aris dedicates it to all the people of Burma: "Theirs is the prize and theirs will be the eventual victory in Burma's long struggle for peace, freedom, and democracy."
He continued: "Speaking as her son, however, I would add that I personally believe that by her own dedication and personal sacrifice she has come to be a worthy symbol through whom the plight of all the people of Burma may be recognized."
March 27, 1999
Aung San Suu Kyi’s husband Michael Aris dies of cancer in London at the age of 53. He has not seen his wife since December 1995.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been in prison or house arrest for 10 of the past 15 years. She is currently in house arrest – an uneasy stalemate between a junta eager to be rid of her and continued global pressure on Myanmar’s ruling generals.
Today, the words of Vaclav Havel, who nominated her for the Nobel prize, ring more powerfully than they did in 1991: "She has refused to be bribed into silence by permanent exile. Under house arrest, she has lived in truth. She is an outstanding example of the power of the powerless."
To read about previously profiled human rights defenders, click below:
Digna Ochoa, Mexican Human Rights Lawyer
Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace laureate and Environmental Defender
Hawa Aden Mohamed, Somalian Women's rights defender and educator