An Enduring Symbol of Peace During Recent Unrest in Myanmar – Humanitarian Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

Lys Anzia – WNN Features

Update to this WNN story: Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was officially released from house arrest by the Myanmar government on November 13, 2010.

(WNN)BURMA/MYANMAR: Even after 18 years in and out of house arrest detention since 1989, and 12 years in prison, 62 year old Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, still has confidence and hope. In 1991, three years after her incarceration, Suu Kyi received the Nobel Prize in Peace “for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights” in the Union of Myanmar. As Suu Kyi was being kept under house arrest and in detention by the military junta during that time Suu Kyi’s sons accepted the Nobel prize in her absence.

“Her absence fills us with fear and anxiety,” said Professor Frances Sejersted, Chairman of the Nobel Committee in 1991. “But we also have confidence and hope,” he continued.

A year later, in 1992, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi set up a trust to use the 1.3 million dollar Nobel Peace Prize award monies for health and education programs for all Burmese-Myanmar citizens in need.

At the age of fifteen, as Suu Kyi was growing up without her father, the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi came to her, bringing her a deep understanding and commitment to non-violence and fearlessness. Gandhi’s teachings became part of her everyday life as she lived in India, in 1960, during the time when her mother, Daw Khin Kyi, became Burma’s Ambassador to India.

Later as Suu Kyi married the British Tibetan scholar, Dr. Michael Aris, the basic precepts of Buddhist teachings became another integral part of Suu Kyi’s approach to living.

In 1999, under house arrest, Suu Kyi was refused the right by the government of Myanmar to visit her dying husband in London. On March 27, 1999 Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was refused release from incarceration, to visit her dying husband, even though she had not seen Dr. Aris since 1995.

Through the teachings of Buddhism shared by Dr. Aris, Suu Kyi received a special gift, the gift of humility and what she still calls today “a profound simplicity.”

“In the good fight for peace and reconciliation, we are dependent on persons who set examples, persons who can symbolize what we are seeking and mobilize the best in us,” said Professor Sejersted of Suu Kyi in 1991. “Aung San Suu Kyi is just such a person. She unites deep commitment and tenacity with a vision in which the end and the means form a single unit. Its most important elements are: democracy, respect for human rights, reconciliation between groups, non-violence, and personal and collective discipline… During Suu Kyi’s election campaigning in Burma she courageously faced a detachment of soldiers, who lined up in front of her, prepared to fire if she continued to walk down the street, which she did.”

Today Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is still a vital symbol of peace among her people and the world.

“We ordinary people, I believe, feel that with her courage and her high ideals, Aung San Suu Kyi brings out something of the best in us… The little woman under house arrest stands for a positive hope. Knowing she is there gives us confidence and faith in the power of good,” added Professor Sejersted during the 1991 Nobel Prize ceremony.

The recent, Sept 2007, bloody pro-democracy protest in Rangoon between the Tatmadaw – the military police forces of Myanmar – and Burmese Buddhists monks, students and citizens has brought the issues of human rights searingly to the forefront. The government of Myanmar has acknowledged 12 dead and nearly 2,100 arrested, with 700 later released, although other reports indicate that the numbers may be much greater.

The recent 11 Oct, 2007 UN Security Council statement on the Myanmar protest states, “The Security Council emphasizes the importance of the early release of all political prisoners and remaining detainees. It also calls on the Government of Myanmar and all other parties concerned to work together towards a de-escalation of the situation and a peaceful solution.”

“These mass rallies prove that the desire of the majority people is the prevalence of peace and stability in the country and emergence of the new National Constitution,” said a recent 3 Oct 2007 press release from the Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations Office, Geneva.

On 2 Oct, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asked a UN envoy team to return to Myanmar. UN official Ibrahim Gambari met with Myanmar General Than Shwe and also separately with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in Rangoon. The UN Secretary General has hopes that the government of Myanmar can “make the bold choices” now toward positive change. Ban Ki-moon also said that he was “cautiously encouraged” that Senior General Than Shwe, Myanmar’s top military leader, has made recent statements saying he would meet in person under “certain conditions” with Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi’s history with the Union of Myanmar, previously known as the Union of Burma before 1988, is one of deep personal connection. Suu Kyi’s father, General Aung San, acting as transitional Prime Minister, in 1947, was assassinated by the military junta with several members of the transitional cabinet, including Suu Kyi’s uncle Ba Win, closely after Burma became an independent nation. Suu Kyi was only two years old at the time of the deaths – just months following the second Panglong Conference for Burmese independence.

Beset with internal struggles of country division and questions of equal representation of government, the Panglong Conference aided in the transfer of power from the British. During this time the conference attempted to gather all of the regions and ethnic groups of Burma. The second Panglong Conference changed Burma permanently from its status as a colony of British India to an independent Burmese republic.

Since that time Burma has undergone countless struggles as a nation.

“Unity in diversity has to be the principle for those who genuinely wish to build our country into a strong nation that allows for a variety of races, languages, beliefs and cultures to flourish in peaceful and happy coexistence. Only a government that tolerates opinions and attitudes different from its own will be able to create an environment where peoples of diverse traditions and aspirations can breathe freely in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and trust,” said Suu Kyi in a 1996 letter to the Mainichi Daily News.

In a famous speech given to the National League for Democracy Suu Kyi brought the concepts of Mahatma Gandhi into clear focus when she said:
“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it… Fearlessness may be a gift but perhaps more precious is the courage acquired through endeavor, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions, courage that could be described as ‘grace under pressure’ – grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure….

Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure.

A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity.

It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.

The wellspring of courage and endurance in the face of unbridled power is generally a firm belief in the sanctity of ethical principles combined with a historical sense that despite all the setbacks condition of man is set on an ultimate course for both spiritual and material advancement. It is his capacity for self-improvement and self-redemption which most distinguishes man from the mere brute.

At the root of human responsibility is the concept of perfection, the urge to achieve it, the intelligence to find a path towards it, and the will to follow that path if not to the end at least the distance needed to rise above individual limitations and environmental impediments.

It is man’s vision of a world fit for rational, civilized humanity which leads him to dare and to suffer to build societies free from want and fear. It is man’s vision of a world fit for rational, civilized humanity which leads him to dare and to suffer to build societies free from want and fear.

Concepts such as truth, justice and compassion cannot be dismissed as trite when these are often the only bulwarks which stand against ruthless power.”

“I always pray for Aung San Suu Kyi and hope that she will be released soon,” said the Dalai Lama to the press in 2006. The Dalai Lama has corresponded regularly with Suu Kyi up until the last three years when Suu Kyi’s contact with the outside world was discontinued. “Aung San Suu Kyi is a person I admire a lot, both for her courage and her sacrifice,” added fellow Nobel Peace Laureate H.H. Dalai Lama.

Today the words of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi ring clear, even through the rising conflict inside the Union of Myanmar today. For many of the citizens of Myanmar Suu Kyi still represents a new world and a greater possibility for peace.
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Nobel Peace Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi speaks on the philosophy of Non-Violence

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Sources for this article include The Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations – Geneva, Mainichi Daily News, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Pages, Associated Press, CBC news, Reuters news, Wikipedia, The Burma Campaign UK, VOA news, Nobelprize.org, UN News Centre, Human Rights House Network and the Daily Yomiuri Online.

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