Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Aung San Suu Kyi - firm as stone in wind

Women's History Month

A stone is never overturned by the wind. (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Aung San Suu Kyi

Today, Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced as Ong San Soo Chee) is under house arrest. Today, a lot of women around the world are under house arrest by their cultures, their traditions, or their husbands. Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest by her government.

Those of us who live in what we may call democracies can consider voting out whom we don’t want, and sometimes we are lucky enough to find whom we like to vote into power. But the military in Myanmar (known as Burma when I was a child) hasn’t allowed voting in 20 years. And the military junta has had Aung San Suu Kyi under arrest for 14 of those 20 years. They say she is trying to topple their regime, and she says she wants freedom for her people.

Some activists like Aung San Suu Kyi are silenced permanently. Her father was assassinated when she was two years old. In 1988, when she first asked the Myanmar government to give the people a voice, the junta killed about 10,000 persons who dared to demonstrate for freedom. Others have since been killed for disagreeing with their government.

The junta would be relieved if Aung San Suu Kyi would leave Myanmar. The rulers have in the past invited her to leave, on the understanding that she would not be allowed to return. She could choose to be an exile, as she has strong overseas contacts. She studied in India, attended Oxford University in the UK and did further study in the US. She also worked at the United Nations in New York for three years. In addition, one of her brothers lives in California and is a US citizen. Her children, whom she is not able to see, live in the UK. But Aung San Suu Kyi is not looking for personal freedom. She is looking for freedom for her country, for all the people in her country.

Well, the junta is once again under pressure to seem democratic, so elections are due in Myanmar some time this year. The last time the junta felt forced to call elections was in 1990 when Aung San Suu Kyi won 82 per cent of the ballot even though she was under house arrest at the time. The junta solved that problem by refusing to recognize the election results. This time the junta has passed a law by which persons with convictions cannot be members of political parties, let alone run for office. Besides, the junta found fresh reason to re-arrest Aung San Suu Kyi just before she was due for release on May 27, 2009.

In mid-May last year, Kyi had an unexpected and uninvited visitor. Normally, she can see only her maids and her doctor, and occasionally foreign visitors. Somehow this man, John Yettaw, was able to elude security and swim across a lake to enter Aung San Suu Kyi’s home. He said he came to bring her a warning that came to him in a dream. Yettaw, 53 years old, was soaking wet and exhausted, and Aung San Suu Kyi allowed him to rest in her house till he was able to swim back across the lake. Yettaw was imprisoned for his action, and was recently released. Aung San Suu Kyi was tried and sentenced to three years’ hard labor, subsequently commuted to house arrest. She will be confined till after this year’s show of democracy.

Sometimes I wonder what the ‘democratic’ world is saying or doing about the injustices done to Aung San Suu Kyi for her peaceful and determined activism. Where is the voice of India that gave her the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding from India and Rafto Human Rights Prize? What of the European Parliament that gave her the Sakharov Prize for Freedom? What of the US that presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom? To top all of these honors, Aung San Suu Kyi also received the Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent struggle against the dictatorship.

Perhaps we can allow our voices to be heard for Aung San Suu Kyi – what do you think?

You can find information on the US campaign to free Aung San Suu Kyi at

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