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The Visionary Leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi
by Melissa Cole

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was born in Rangoon, Burma, in June 1945, to her mother, Daw Khin Kyi, and her father, General Aung San, who is considered the "father of Burmese Independence."

Suu Kyi's father was assassinated when she was two years old. She subsequently spent much of her life abroad, primarily in India and Britain, and she obtained a degree from Oxford in 1967. But she always kept strong ties to her homeland, and when she returned to Burma in 1988, she became a leader in the emerging pro-democracy movement.

The military government, which had ruled the country since 1962, responded to the movement by killing thousands of demonstrators, and imprisoning thousands more. Suu Kyi did not shrink away from the danger. Instead, she helped form the National League for Democracy (NLD), and pushed for multi-party elections.

Over the next year, she gave several impassioned speeches in favor of democracy and against the military regime. On July 20, 1989, she was placed under house arrest by the military government, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), under a section of Burmese martial law that allowed dissidents to be imprisoned without trial or charge for three years. Suu Kyi continued to make impassioned pleas for democracy and an end to the human rights abuses in Burma (now called Myanmar by the military government).

In response to a call from the Secretary General of the UN, the government offered to free Suu Kyi on "humanitarian grounds" if she left Burma; if she stayed, her detention would continue. Suu Kyi chose to continue her role in the NLD; therefore, her imprisonment continued.

On May 27, 1990, while Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest, the NLD won a landslide victory in the general election, securing over 80% of the available seats. The SLORC, which had won only 2% of the seats, refused to recognize the results of the election.

In 1991, with the required release of Aung San Suu Kyi less than a year away, the military regime retroactively amended the law under which she was imprisoned, allowing for detention without arrest or charge for ten years. It appeared as if she would be held indefinitely.

That same year, Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize. She announced that she would use her $1.3 million prize money to establish a health and education trust for the Burmese people. On July 10, 1995, after impassioned pleas from the United Nations, the UNDP, and seven other Nobel laureates, the military junta finally released Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest.

Suu Kyi has constantly advocated a path of peaceful resistance, based on the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, and is regarded by the Burmese people as a savior and a martyr to the cause of democracy.

The SLORC is now ironically called the State Peace Development Council (SPDC) and in spite of its history, it was recently admitted into the ASEAN (Association of South East Asia Nations), and continues to solicit and receive both new business and many foreign tourists.



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