The Rise and Fall of Politician, Diplomat, and Author, Aung San Suu Kyi
In 1991, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest at the time. In this article, we look at Suu Kyi’s fascinating life story, from her father’s assassination, to years spent under house arrest, to her fall from power as leader of Myanmar following a military coup.
Suu Kyi was born in Rangoon, Burma, on June 19, 1945. She is the youngest daughter of Khin Kyi and Aung San, the man renowned as the “Father of the Nation” of modern-day Myanmar.
Suu Kyi was 2 years old when her father, the then-prime minister, was assassinated. Aung San was an independent activist and revolutionary who played an instrumental role in Burma’s struggle for independence from British rule. His assassination came just six months before his goal was finally realized.
Upon graduating from the University of Delhi in 1964, Aung San Suu Kyi attended St Hugh’s College, Oxford in the United Kingdom. She worked for the United Nations for three years following graduation. In 1972 she married Michael Aris, and the couple went on to have two children.
In 1988, Suu Kyi returned to Burma, leaving her husband and sons behind to nurse her dying mother. The country was under the rule of military strongman U Ne Win at the time. Before her arrival, widespread antigovernment rioting had broken out in major cities across the country, and by the summer of 1988, even larger student-led protests were taking place. The government resorted to brutal tactics to suppress the uprisings, culminating in the death of hundreds of demonstrators and the incarceration of thousands more.
Political Activity in Myanmar
Aung San Suu Kyi felt compelled to speak out, launching a nonviolent struggle for human rights and democracy in the country. In 1989, the government of the newly named Union of Myanmar placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. The military pledged to free her if she agreed to leave the country, but she refused to go unless political prisoners were freed and the country was returned to civilian government.
In 1990, the National League for Democracy, which Aung San Suu Kyi had cofounded, won more than 80 percent of total parliamentary seats. However, the military government ignored the results of the election. In 1991, the news Suu Kyi was to receive the Nobel Prize triggered intense vilification of her by the government. Since she was still under house arrest, her son Alexander Aris accepted the award on her behalf. Aung San Suu Kyi also received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the International Simon Bolivar Prize. She was finally released from house arrest in 2010.
In 2012 Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to parliament. In a move reminiscent of Nelson Mandela, she became the elected State Counsellor of Myanmar in 2016.
During her time in power as the de facto leader of Myanmar, Suu Kyi was criticized for the persecution of the Rohingya people, as well as the unjust prosecution of journalists. She appeared at the Hague, claiming that reported government actions had been misconstrued and exaggerated, even though the UN and human rights groups had gathered evidence of summary killings and other atrocities perpetrated by Myanmar’s military and associated mobs.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s claims that her government was trying to lift the Rohingya from poverty were met with skepticism. Rather than acknowledge various crimes against the Rohingya, Aung San Suu Kyi characterized the reports as fake news, and her international reputation was diminished as a result.
After winning the general election in November 2020, Suu Kyi was arrested again in 2021, following a coup that returned control of Myanmar to the military. She was found guilty of several charges filed against her, and in December 2022, she received a 33-year prison sentence on 10 charges in total, including five corruption charges.
In June 2023, Aung San Suu Kyi’s youngest son Kim Aris appealed to the Myanmar government to release his mother. Speaking with the BBC, he said he could not let his mother languish in prison. Following the coup that toppled Suu Kyi’s government in 2021, Myanmar spiraled into civil war, and tens of thousands of civilians were killed as a result.
Despite international isolation and sanctions, Myanmar continues to import weapons as well as the raw materials required to make them. Kim Aris appealed to the international community to lobby more strongly for his mother’s release, as well as urge the world to provide the people of Myanmar with proper aid. He called on the international community to act, including establishing a proper arms embargo on the military.
Aung San Suu Kyi is currently believed to be in solitary confinement in Myanmar’s capital, Nay Pyi Taw. Virtually no news has emerged on her well-being in the last two years, and rumors that she is ill have been denied by the military. The United States and United Nations have condemned the arrests and trials that preceded her prison sentence as politically motivated.