Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese politician, known for her efforts to turn her nation into a democracy and improve the lives of the Burmese people. She became a political prisoner as a result of her outspoken political beliefs, but has earned praise and recognition in Burma and around the world. Now free, she is the chair of Burma’s National League for Democracy (NLD). She became a representative in the Burmese parliament in 2012.
Early Life and Family
Aung San Suu Kyi was born on June 19, 1945, the youngest child and only daughter of Aung San, a founder of modern Burma, and Khin Kyi, a nurse. Both of her parents were active in the Burmese independence movement, so it is not surprising that Suu Kyi would later become a prominent advocate for reform. Her father, who had recently become Prime Minister of Burma, was assassinated by a group of his political enemies in 1947; in the 1960s, however, her mother went on to become an ambassador for the Burmese government. Suu Kyi accompanied Khin Kyi to Nepal as well as to India, where she became interested in the work of Mahatma Gandhi. She was still in India at the age of 19, when she earned a degree in politics from New Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College.
In 1972, Suu Kyi married Michael Aris, a British author and scholar she had met while attending Oxford University. Suu Kyi and Aris had two sons, Alexander and Kim. Aris died of cancer in 1999. Because the Burmese government would not allow him to re-enter the country, he and Suu Kyi only saw each other five times in the decade before his death.
Suu Kyi did not become politically active in Burma until 1988, when she returned to her home country after her mother suffered a stroke. Before this, she had lived in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Bhutan and worked for the United Nations and the Bhutanese government. Soon after her return to Burma, the country’s military dictator, Ne Win, resigned. Mass protests ensued and the military killed thousands of citizens. Amid the chaos, Suu Kyi began calling for multi-party elections and a democratic government in Burma. Her first speech attracted hundreds of thousands of people. The crowd included her husband and sons, who were all with her in Burma at the time.
Although the Burmese government quickly banned political gatherings, Suu Kyi began a speaking tour around the country in the latter part of 1988. She became General Secretary of the NLD, which embraced a platform of civil disobedience and non-violence.
House Arrest and Release
In 1989, the government placed Suu Kyi under house arrest for continuing her political campaign. She received no trial. Her book, Freedom from Fear, was published in a number of Western countries in 1991. That same year, she won the Nobel Peace Prize and a human rights prize from the European parliament for her efforts to promote democracy in Burma. She refused to keep the money she earned from her Nobel Prize, instead putting it into a trust she dedicated to the health and education of Burmese citizens. Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 1995, after the United Nations and the United States put pressure on the Burmese government. She was allowed to visit her family in the United Kingdom and remained extremely popular among the people of Burma, sometimes speaking to crowds of her supporters there. However, she was placed under house arrest again in 2000 and remained in this position for the better part of the next ten years.
Under mounting pressure from the U.N. and a variety of countries (including the U.S.), the Burmese government released Suu Kyi in November 2010. Since her latest release, Suu Kyi has been elected to the Burmese parliament, received the United States Congressional Gold Medal, and given an acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize her sons previously had to accept for her.