Aung San Suu Kyi

(b. 1945) Burmese political leader

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(1945– )

Burmese political activist, leader of the democratic opposition to army dictatorship in Myanmar (Burma) and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

The daughter of Aung San, leader of the struggle for Burmese independence from British rule, Suu Kyi was deprived of her father's guidance by his assassination in 1947. She has, however, fearlessly maintained the family tradition of political activism in the face of daunting odds. Educated in Burma, India, Oxford, and at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, where she took an MA in politics, she married an Englishman, Michael Aris, in 1972 and spent the following two years at the University of Kyoto in Japan. Returning to her native country in 1988, having lived abroad since 1960, she founded the National League for Democracy to campaign against the continuance of army rule. Her outspoken leadership of the movement was punished by house arrest in 1989. Despite her incarceration, the League gained huge public support in the 1990 elections; as a result, the military ignored the popular mandate and maintained her confinement until 1995.

Deliberately avoiding violence, which would certainly have invoked bloody repression, Aung San Suu Kyi has called consistently for dialogue with the generals, while encouraging pressure on the Burmese economy through sanctions on trade and tourism. International support for her stand has been shown by the award of the Sakharov Prize (1990), the European Parliament Human Rights Prize (1991), and the Nobel Peace Prize (1991). Released from house arrest in July 1995, in June 1996 she began to host ‘democracy parties’ in her garden. The government responded by arresting suspected invitees, prompting her to observe ‘If you're part of a movement for democracy in Burma, imprisonment is simply an occupational hazard.’ In 1998 her new tactic of trying to tour the country to sustain supporters led to repeated deadlock at road checkpoints when the military refused to let her pass and, for days at a time, she refused to back off. Her father's memory, coupled with her own tenaciousness, intelligence, and skilful use of world media, have so far combined to make her the most effective thorn in the side of a regime that is unable either to ignore her or to face international outrage by crushing her.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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