Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi – human rights defender

HAKHA, MYANMAR - JUNE 19 2015: Aung San Suu Kyi poster in the Hakha region in Chin State, Myanmar.

Aung San Suu Kyi has lived a difficult life and at the same time has risen to become one of the world’s respected citizens and noble leaders.


She was born in June of 1945, just as the world was recovering from the devastating and far-reaching effects of World War II. Her father was Aung San, a liberation movement leader and founder of the modern Burmese army. Because of his work, he was a prominent local figure. He was assassinated in 1947.


Suu Kyi was raised by her mother, Khin Kyi, who also rose to become a noted member of government. Khin Kyi took her daughter to India and Nepal for a period starting in 1960 when she was named ambassador.


Suu Kyi went on to study at Oxford, earning both a BA and MA. She worked at the United Nations in New York, married Dr. Michael Aris, and had two sons in the 1970s. In the 1980s, she remained active in academia and also worked for government organizations.


She returned home to Burma in 1988. From then on, she fought against the military junta that had taken over control of Burma.


Suu Kyi was instrumental in the founding of the National League of Democracy, which officially started in September of 1988. She was outspoken about what she believed to be disparities and unfair treatment of citizens. She called on the junta to release power and transition the country to civilian leadership with a democratic election process. She advocated nonviolence, but her remarks were not welcomed by those leading the country. In July of 1989, she was placed under house arrest. Though she was banned from traveling freely, she continued to spread her message from her home.


Though her party did make a strong enough impact to win the election in 1990, the military generals refused to relinquish power. Instead, they turned up the pressure on anyone who spoke against them.


For her fight for democracy and human rights, she was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Since she could not travel to receive her Nobel Peace Prize, her sons accepted on her behalf. With her $1.3 million in prize money, she set up a trust for her fellow Burmese citizens. Money in that trust has since gone to health and education reform efforts.


The tumultuous history of her opposition with the government has landed her in house arrest multiple times. She was under house arrest from 1989 – 1995, from 2000 – 2002, and several other periods. In November of 2010, she was officially released from her last period of house arrest.


Upon her release, she began to travel and conduct official meetings with various figures, including then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She went back to being a leader in the National League for Democracy, and she won a seat in Parliament in 2012. In 2016, she became a Minister, and soon after, she was appointed to State Counsellor. This was actually a new role created specifically for her, since she was not able to become president due to a country law that banned widows and mothers of foreigners to the highest office. (It is thought by many that this law was written by previous leaders specifically with her in mind.)


As State Counsellor, she has tried to push reforms that would bring new opportunities to the people of Burma. No doubt, she carries with her the lessons that she has learned from her lifetime of service and activism.


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