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Aung San Suu Kyi is taking an historical trip through Europe where she will visit Switzerland, Norway, Britain, Ireland, and France. She is the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in her native home of Myanmar and will be delivering her acceptance speech more than a decade after being awarded the prize. She has been under house arrest for almost a quarter of a century in Myanmar (Burma) because the government – a military junta that ruled the country – viewed her as dangerous to the stability of the country and its regime.
Her father was General Bogyoke Aung San, the founder of modern Burma. He was assassinated when Aung San Suu Kyi was only two years old.
While under house arrest Kyi was isolated from her supporters and her family. She claims that her sanity was maintained with the help of her piano and the BBC, which she listened to every day. Having the support of the world also helped. She stated, “it’s all of you, and people like you who have given me the strength to continue.” Her husband died in 1999 of cancer, eleven years after she left the United Kingdom. While in Britain, Kyi will have a family reunion with her sons Kim and Alexander Aris and her grandchildren.
Kyi returned to Myanmar from the United Kingdom in 1988 to look after her sick mother. While she was in the country, protests broke out and she has remained in the country under house arrest since. She was a political prisoner in Myanmar until late 2010 when the new government began to release political prisoners as part of its democratic reforms. She then ran for and won a seat in parliament in April. Previous to 2010 she refused to leave Myanmar – even when she received the Nobel Peace Prize and when her husband was dying of cancer in the United Kingdom – because she was afraid that the government would not let her back into the country.
Kyi officially accepted her Nobel Prize on June 16. In her acceptance speech she warned that world leaders should be cautious of “reckless optimism” in regards to the democratic reforms occurring in Myanmar. She argued, “unless justice is done, and seen to be done, we cannot believe in genuine reform…the progress that we hope to make with regard to democratization and reform depends so much on an understanding and acceptance of the importance of the rule of law.”
In addition to receiving her Nobel award Kyi will receive Amnesty International’s Human Rights award in Dublin from Bono.
This is the second time Kyi has left the country since being released from house arrest; she traveled to Thailand in May and vowed to help the Myanmar refugees there. Before she left for Europe she expressed her excitement to reporters stating, “each country will be different. I will know how backward [Burma] is when I reach the other countries…[I] would like to do my best for the interests of the people.”
Shortly before Kyi arrived in Europe the International Labor Organization (ILO) lifted restrictions on Myanmar for the progress the country has made in getting rid of forced labor. In 1999 The ILO banned Myanmar from meetings and assistance because the government would use forced labor for infrastructure projects. The Myanmar government signed an agreement with the ILO in March to end forced labor by 2015. The ILO issued a statement saying, “The International Labor Organization has lifted its restrictions on the full participation of Myanmar in its activities and decided to review the progress on the elimination of forced labor in the country next year.” This decision from the ILO could help to lift the remaining sanctions from the European Union nations according to the Chicago Tribune.
Currently Myanmar has seen violence in the western Rakhine state between the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims. The Rohingya Muslims have been persecuted for many years by the government and majority groups within Myanmar. Many Rohingya Muslims living in Myanmar and refugee camps in Bangladesh have asked Aung San Suu Kyi for help.
Mahammad Islam, a Rohingya Muslim refugee, has stated, “Aung San Suu Kyi hasn’t done or said anything for us, yet the Rohingyas including my parents, campaigned for her in the 1990 elections. Like most other Burmese people, she is silent about the rights of Rohingyas.” According to Islam she has yet to mention the conflict in the Rakhine state and the plight of the Rohingyas.
Aung San Suu Kyi is also featured in the documentary entitled “The Lady” which was released in 2011.
Image Courtesy of the UK Department for International Development