(1945– ) Nobel laureate and pro-democracy activist
Aung San Suu Kyi was born to diplomat Daw Khin Kyi and Burmese (Myanmar) national hero Bogyoke Aung San on June 19, 1945. She was educated in Yangon, New Delhi, Oxford, and London. In 1969 she worked in the United Nations Secretariat in New York and afterward in Bhutan. She was married to British academic Michael Aris in 1972, and the couple had two sons. In March 1988, Suu Kyi returned to Myanmar to take care of her ailing mother, and she became a prodemocracy political activist.
Suu Kyi was destined to take the leadership in a country under the military dominance since 1962 of General Ne Win, who was also the leader of the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP). Her status as daughter of Aung San and her sound knowledge about her country’s culture contributed to her immense popularity.
Ne Win resigned on July 23, 1988, but the military retained power and brutally crushed a popular uprising. The military junta then created the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997. Suu Kyi and her associates established the National League for Democracy (NLD), which called for nonviolent protests and appealed to the United Nations to intervene on their behalf. Her status as a national leader made her position formidable. She adhered to her nonviolent ideals in spite of the brutality, intimidation, and slander directed against her by the SLORC.
Suu Kyi criticized the violation of human rights by the military junta, calling for free and fair elections. Her meetings throughout the country attracted many people and caused the junta to put her under house arrest and to reject her candidature for the forthcoming elections. Despite this, her party won the May 1990 elections with 82 percent of the legislative seats. The international pressure forced the junta to release Suu Kyi in July 1995, but she was barred from leaving Yangon. In the same year her NLD delegates were expelled from the national convention, which was preparing a draft constitution. The convention itself was suspended in March 1996. In September 2000, Suu Kyi and 92 NLD members were put under house arrest again. There was another secret meeting between Suu Kyi and the junta in 2002 that resulted in the release of NLD prisoners due to increasing criticism of the regime from many lands over the world. She was released from house arrest on May 6, 2002, and was permitted to travel in Myanmar. But she was jailed again in 2003 and remained in jail in 2008. Her international standing remained high. The European Parliament awarded her the Sakharov prize for freedom of thought in July 1990. In October 1991 the Nobel Committee awarded her the Nobel Peace Prize, calling her “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless.” She donated the $1.3 million prize money to set up a trust for the health and education for her people. She was also given the Nehru Peace Award in 1995 by the government of India. Suu Kyi remained the undisputed leader of Myanmar for her ceaseless efforts to restore democracy and against the abuse of human rights.