Aung San Suu Kyi: What we know about ‘the Lady’
Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 in part for “striving” to attain “ethnic conciliation by peaceful means”.
Yet after she rose to power in Myanmar decades later, Suu Kyi has drawn international condemnation for her response to the military’s brutal use of force against the Muslim Rohingya minority.
Rise to power
Born in Rangoon (now Yangon) in 1945, Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Myanmar’s liberation movement leader Aung San, who was assassinated in July 1947.
Suu Kyi was talented in learning new languages. She speaks Burmese, English, French and Japanese. She completed high school in India following her mother’s appointment as ambassador to the country in 1960. Suu Kyi went on to study philosophy, politics and economics in the United Kingdom at the University of Oxford.
|Aung San Suu Kyi sits with other pro-democracy leaders [Sandro Tucci/Getty Images]|
Upon her return to Myanmar in 1988, Suu Kyi was elected secretary-general of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
In 1990, the party won elections but the military junta annulled the results and arrested Suu Kyi. She spent much of her time between 1989 and 2010 in some form of detention, most of it under house arrest. In 1991, while under house arrest, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2011, “The Lady” film told the love story of Suu Kyi and her British husband Michael Aris, separated by Suu Kyi’s detention. In 2012, Suu Kyi registered to run for a seat in parliament. In November 2015, the NLD won 80 percent of the available seats. But Suu Kyi was prevented by Myanmar’s constitution from taking up the post of president because she was married to a non-Myanmar citizen.
Today, Aung San Suu Kyi’s official title is state counsellor, a post created in 2016 to give her control over the president’s office, the foreign ministry, the energy ministry, and the ministry of education.
Despite Suu Kyi being the de facto head of state, the current commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces, Min Aung Hlaing, still maintains a great degree of power in the country.
In August 2017, a fierce military crackdown sent more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state. The United Nations described it as “textbook ethnic cleansing”.
“I don’t think there is ethnic cleansing going on,” Suu Kyi told the BBC in April. “I think ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what is happening.”
“It is a matter of people on different sides of the divide, and this divide we are trying to close up.”
|Aung San Suu Kyi [Micheline Pelletier/Getty Images]|
The mostly Muslim minority is not recognised as an ethnic group in Myanmar, despite having lived there for generations. Rohingya have been denied citizenship, effectively making them stateless.
While Suu Kyi has limited control over the military, she has been criticised for failing to denounce the violence in Rakhine.Myanmar’s constitution gives one-quarter of parliament seats to unelected military officers, effectively giving them a veto over constitutional changes.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, James Gomez, Amnesty International’s regional director for Southeast Asia, said: “It almost came across that she was shielding the military. What is the role of the military if she says there have been no attacks since September 5 in Rakhine state, then why is the burning going on?”
Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, but it was not until 2012 when she was able to deliver her acceptance speech at Oslo’s City Hall.
“In awarding the Nobel Peace Prize … to Aung San Suu Kyi,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced in 1991, it wished “to honour this woman for her unflagging efforts and to show its support for the many people throughout the world who are striving to attain democracy, human rights and ethnic conciliation by peaceful means”.
Suu Kyi, the committee added, was “an important symbol in the struggle against oppression”.
|An Indonesian protester tears a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi [Donal Husni/Getty Images]|
More than 400,000 people have signed an online petition in 2017 to strip her of the peace prize.
“When a laureate cannot maintain peace, then for the sake of peace itself the prize needs to be returned or confiscated by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee,” the change.org petition reads.