There are some things in this world worth fighting for; freedom is one of them. Some will use physical force and military power to advance their cause, while others will use communication and peaceful protest. Aung San Suu Kyi falls into the second category. Known as a selfless, heroic and diplomatic campaigner for human rights and democracy in her homeland of Burma, Suu Kyi’s name belongs among the ranks of internationally known practitioners of non-violent resistance such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. Her drive and ambition have provided the young people of her country with hope and faith in a better tomorrow. She is an inspiration to all that value freedom.

Aung San Suu Kyi was born in Rangoon, the capital of Burma, on June 19, 1945 to Daw Khin Kyi -- at one time Burma’s ambassador to India -- and General Aung San -- an instrumental national leader who helped Burma gain their independence after 50-plus years of British rule. General Aung San was assassinated two years after the birth of Suu Kyi and though he never had the opportunity to raise his daughter he left a legacy behind that she was more than willing to fulfill.

After receiving her BA in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University she married British scholar Dr. Michael Aris and gave birth to sons Alexander and Kim. Then in 1988, Suu Kyi had an eventful but sad and tumultuous year. She went back to Burma to care for her sick mother; during her stay, General Ne Win stepped down as Chairman of the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) after 26 years of rule, causing a flurry of activity to try and implement a democratic government. The most notable being the infamous 8-8-88 protests against the BSPP, which started out in Rangoon with uprisings following all over the country. The military moved in to suppress the protesters, killing thousands. Suu Kyi was extremely active during this turbulent time, forming a committee to assist with the uprisings and speaking at a rally to over half a million people calling for a democratic government. Unfortunately, the military was able to gain control of the country and formed the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and in the process killed hundreds more. Less than a week later, Suu Kyi joined in the formation of the National League for Democracy -- taking the position of general secretary -- in efforts to make a bigger impact in her country. Then on December 27, her mother passed away. The funeral procession drew thousands and they celebrated the life of Daw Khin Kyi with a peaceful protest against military rule. All this in one year.

The next year, Suu Kyi continued her fight for democracy with even more vigilance. As leader of the National League for Democracy, she traveled all over the country to speak out and help unify the people of Burma. The military dictatorship - who in 1989 also renamed the country Myanmar -- did not appreciate Suu Kyi actions and they considered her to be a direct threat to their rule. On one occasion, they aimed rifles at her while she was on the campaign trail and she fearlessly confronted their actions. She only narrowly missed certain assassination when an army major intervened and countermanded the order. Still the military did not want Suu Kyi to continue with her mission and in July of 1989 ordered her to house arrest under martial law, which allows for detention up to three years without charge or trial. Despite the SLORC’s despicable actions to confine Suu Kyi and her message, on May 27, 1990, the National League for Democracy (NLD) secured an overwhelming 82 percent of the seats in the general elections, resulting in a victorious landslide. However, the victory never went into effect. The military refused to acknowledge the results of the election.

In spite of her imprisonment, or maybe because of it, Aung San Suu Kyi’s efforts did not go unrecognized by the world. In 1990, she was awarded the Rafto Human Rights Prize and the Sakharov Prize ( European Parliament’s Human Rights prize) in absentia. And then in 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In another of numerous selfless acts, she put the $1.3 million award in a trust she established for the health and education of the Burmese people. Just prior to this, the military regime retroactively amended the law which allowed them to keep Suu Kyi under house arrest, allowing for a five-year instead of three-year detention without charge or trial. Numerous appeals were made on her behalf by the international community - including several fellow Nobel Laureates - for her release, but the military refused. Then just a few short months before her release, the military added an extra year of house arrest, declaring that though the law indicates a maximum of five years, with the approval of a three-person committee it can be increased to six years.

When Suu Kyi was finally released in July 1995, she reassured reporters that she was still dedicated to the pro-democracy movement and called for a dialogue on political reform. For the next several years, she vigilantly continued to act on behalf of the NLD and a series of attempts were made to prevent crowds from gathering to hear her speak and to halt meetings with fellow NLD officials. In fact, she was stopped three times at a roadblock and confined to her car for up to six days, one time ending with the military forcibly driving her home and another time they refused to let her get fresh food and water. All three times it was the military that ended the standoff. Suu Kyi’s nerves of steel never wavered.

During this time, Suu Kyi found out her husband, who she had not seen since 1995, was dying of prostate cancer. She was unable to visit him, because if she did the military dictatorship would never let her back into her country and they would not issue him a visa to visit her. He passed away in March 1999.

Despite all the tragedy in Suu Kyi’s life, she persevered and continued efforts towards a democratic Burma. The SLORC made numerous travel restrictions on her and other NLD officials, often resulting in more house arrests, which is what they did again in August 2001 to Suu Kyi. After 19 more months of house arrest, Suu Kyi was released and she continues to peacefully fight for what she believes in.

No amount of words can convey the sacrifices Aung San Suu Kyi continues to make for her people and her country. At every turn, she was presented with an award - and will continue to receive them -- including the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award from President Clinton. But no amount of medals can do this woman’s accomplishments justice. At a time when the world is in chaos and countries are at war, there are people fighting for justice. And we should know their names.


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© Melt Magazine 2003