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Aung San Suu Kyi
Born June 19th, 1945 in British Burma (now Myanmar) to her mother Khin Kyi and her father, the cherished General Aung San. An advocate of democracy and freedom, her father became a national hero in Burma. He was instrumental in establishing the Communist Party of Burma which brought about independence from nearly 124 years of British colonial rule. When Suu Kyi was two years old her father was assassinated and the country fell into a military dictatorship.
Aung San Suu Kyi followed her mother to India as a diplomat and then went on to Oxford to complete her B.A. degree in Politics, Economics and Philosophy. After a short time in the United States working for the United Nations as well as a few years working in Japan and Bhutan, Suu Kyi moved back to England to earn her PhD, marry and raise two sons.
When Suu Kyi was 37 years old, her mother became terminally ill. She returned to Burma just as the military dictator retired from leadership after massive student protests in Rangoon. This sudden change brought back hopes of the democratic movement her father had begun. Educated in the non-violent methods of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, Suu Kyi used her knowledge to edify all of those involved in the movement.
She toured Burma speaking for peaceful reform, democracy and freedom in Burma. Her goal was to champion change through dialogue rather than military force.
“The struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma is a struggle for life and dignity. It is a struggle that encompasses our political, social and economic aspirations.” – Suu Kyi
Over half a million people rallied at the capital where Suu Kyi gave a speech calling for a democratic government. She would soon be selected as general secretary of the political party called “the National League for Democracy (NLD)” While millions rallied around the nation, the military junta retook power and began suppressing and killing those who called for democracy. Less than a year later, Suu Kyi would be arrested on the eve of general elections.
In order to appease the masses, the military dictatorship called for a general election in 1990. The NLD would win a majority of the votes, earning 80% of the seats in parliament, and electing Suu Kyi as prime minister. But the junta disqualified Suu Kyi because they felt she was “likely to undermine the community’s peace and stability.”
The military government was unsettled by the results and nullified all election results – effectively maintaining their power.
Over the next 21 years Suu Kyi would be detained without charges for a combined total of 15 years. Her first arrest spanned five years and often included solitary confinement. Suu Kyi was conditionally released when her husband was on his death bed with cancer. But fearing the government would not honor its guarantee of her ability to return to Burma, she chose to stay and continue her efforts for democracy.
“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” -Aung san Suu Kyi
After violating travel bans which kept her in her city, Suu Kyi was again placed on house arrest for another two years. A year later she and a few hundred civilians were attacked in an assassination attempt by the regime’s militia. Suu Kyi escaped with the help of her driver, but over 70 people were killed and another hundred were arrested. Aung San Suu Kyi was soon detained for three months in a secret detention facility then she was released to house arrest for seven more years.
Suu Kyi was set to be released in 2009, but had her sentence increased to another 18 months. Her new release date would conveniently be six days after the second general elections in 20 years. Once again, Suu Kyi would be considered ineligible to run for office.
The general elections were held on November 12, 2010 and were won exclusively by the junta-backed party. However, now that the elections have past and her term of arrest has expired, Suu Kyi has been freed. For the first time in many years, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is able to speak publicly about democracy, peace and freedom. Her continued commitment to peace after two decades of suppression has earned her a leading role in our list of moral heroes.