Aung San Suu Kyi

About Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of General Aung San, who negotiated Burma’s independence from Britain in 1947 and was assassinated by rivals in the same year. She studied at Oxford in the United Kingdom and at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. While in England, Aung San Suu Kyi met and married Michael Aris, a scholar of Tibetan culture. They had two sons, Alexander and Kim.

Aung San Suu Kyi (AP/Ramzi)
Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters demonstrate in recognition of Suu Kyi’s 60th birthday, which took place on June 19, 2005.

The protests received international attention.

Suu Kyi returned to Myanmar in 1988 to care for her ailing mother. In that year, the long-time leader of the socialist ruling party, General Ne Win, stepped down, leading to mass demonstrations for democratisation, which were violently suppressed. A new military junta took power.

Heavily influenced by Mohandas Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence, Aung San Suu Kyi entered politics to work for democratisation and was put under house arrest in 1989. She was offered freedom if she would leave the country, but she refused.

In 1990, the military junta called general elections, which Aung San Suu Kyi’s party “National League for Democracy” won decisively. Under normal circumstances, she would have assumed the office of Prime Minister. Instead the results were nullified, and the military refused to hand over power. This resulted in an international outcry and partly led to Suu Kyi winning the Sakharov Prize that year and the Nobel Peace Prize in the following one. She used the Nobel Peace Prize’s US$1.3 million prize money to establish a health and education trust for the Burmese people.

She was released from house arrest in July 1995, although it was made clear that should she leave the country to visit her family in the United Kingdom she would be denied re-entry. When her husband Michael Aris, a British citizen, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997, the Burmese government denied him an entry visa. Aung remained in Burma, and never saw her husband again. He died in March 1999. She remains separated from their children, who remain in the UK.

Aung San Suu Kyi: The World's Only Imprisoned Nobel Laureate. (AFP/Joel Saget)
A Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporter demonstrates outside the Myanmar embassy in Paris. Officials, former leaders and prominent organisations in Europe added their voices to a worldwide call to Myanmar’s ruling junta to release Suu Kyi as she prepared to mark her 60th birthday under house arrest.

She was repeatedly prevented from meeting with her party supporters, and in September 2000 was again put under house arrest. On May 6, 2002, following secret confidence-building negotiations led by the United Nations, she was released; a government spokesman said that she was free to move “because we are confident that we can trust each other.” Aung San Suu Kyi proclaimed “a new dawn for the country.” However on May 30, 2003, her caravan was attacked in the northern village of Depayin by a government sponsored mob, murdering and wounding many of her supporters. Aung San Suu Kyi fled the scene with the help of her driver, Ko Kyaw Soe Lin, but was arrested upon reaching Ye-U. She was imprisoned at Insein Prison in Yangôn. After a surgical operation in September 2003, she was again placed under house arrest in Yangôn.

On December 2, 2004, the United States pressured the Burmese government to release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after a recent announcement that her house arrest would be extended. (BBC)

In 2001, Irish rock band U2 released the single “Walk On”, which was written about and dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi. “Walk On” was banned by the Junta. During concerts in London and Glasgow (June 19 and June 21 2005 respectively) U2 dedicated performances of “Running to Stand Still” to Aung San Suu Kyi. Other artists such as Coldplay, R.E.M., and Damien Rice have also been publicly supportive of Aung San Suu Kyi’s cause.

She is featured prominently in John Boorman’s 1995 film Beyond Rangoon, starring Patricia Arquette.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been an honorary board member of International IDEA since her detention, and has received support for her release from the organization.