Nobel Peace Laureates

"I've always thought that the best solution for those who feel helpless is for them to help others. I think then they will start feeling less helpless themselves."
- Aung San Suu Kyi
The youngest of three children, Aung San Suu Kyi was born in Rangoon, Burma, on June 19, 1945. She was named Aung San after her father, Suu after her grandmother and Kyi after her mother. In Burmese her name means “a bright collection of strange victories.”

Aung’s father was a leader of the struggle for Burmese independence from Great Britain. In fact, her mother and father met when he was wounded fighting the British and was sent to a hospital where her mother was a nurse. After World War II he was briefly head of a government that was to lead to an independent Burma, but he was assassinated by political rivals. Suu Kyi was only two years old.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother became an important figure in the newly independent Burma and in 1960 she was appointed Burma’s ambassador to India. Suu Kyi went to high school there and then finished her education at Oxford University in England. She later worked for the United Nations in New York where she got married and began a family. In 1988 she and her family moved back to Burma to care for her very sick mother, unaware that they were entering the middle of a political storm.

Dictatorship in Burma

The democratic government of Burma had been overthrown in 1962 by a military coup led by General Ne Win. From the start, many people in the country tried to resist the dictatorship. Throughout the 1970’s a strong democracy movement staged protests, but they were always violently crushed by the government.

In August of 1988, economic conditions in the country had become worse and the anti-government movement grew stronger. Thousands of people, primarily students and monks, came together to peacefully protest the military regime. They wanted democracy, peace, and an end to the oppressive rule they had endured for so long. In response to the massive protest, a new group of generals took power, calling itself the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), and martial law was declared.

The new rulers moved quickly to crush the democracy movement. SLORC soldiers were ordered to fire on a crowd at Rangoon City Hall and they killed over 2,000 people. Aung San Suu Kyi, was enraged by the slaughtering of so many citizens. She decided to work for a democracy in Burma.

Aung San Suu Kyi talks about the importance of the global call to Action
and the struggle for peace and democracy.

Speaking Out For Democracy

Aung San Suu Kyi began to speak out, organizing nonviolently for democracy. Her supporters, under her leadership, started a new political party called the National League for Democracy (NLD). In 1990, the regime agreed to hold elections in Burma. The NLD and Suu Kyi stunned the generals by launching a successful political campaign that had the support of most of the people. The military placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest before the elections took place. In spite of that, the NLD won the elections in a landslide.

But democracy still did not come to Burma. The generals just ignored the vote and kept Suu Kyi as a prisoner in her house, completely cutting her off from the outside world. All visitors, including her family at times, were forbidden.

In 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Still under house arrest, her sons accepted the prize in her honor at the Nobel ceremony in Oslo, Norway. She remained under house arrest for six years until 1995. The government told her she could leave the country, but she would not be allowed to return, so she refused to go.

In 1999, Suu Kyi’s husband, who she had not seen in many years, was suffering from prostate cancer. He petitioned the Burmese government to be able to travel to Burma to visit Aung San Suu Kyi one last time. The regime would not grant the visit, hoping that this would force Suu Kyi to leave the country to be at his side. She did not leave, and her husband died in England before he and Suu Kyi had a chance to see one another again.

The Saffron Revolution

From 1995 to 2000, Suu Kyi worked within Burma to revive the NLD. In 2000 she was put under house arrest again. She was briefly released two years later and allowed to travel inside Burma, but in May of 2003, after an assassination attempt, she was arrested again and this time she was put in prison for four months. She was then returned to house arrest.

In September of 2007, thousands of Buddhist monks began to march through the streets of Rangoon and other cities, protesting the repressive military government. The government tried to keep news of the protests from reaching the outside world, by censoring the press and cutting off Internet access. Yet the news got out and the movement, which came to be called the Saffron revolution, gained worldwide support.

The United Nations and world leaders, including nine of the GCA Nobel Laureates, called on the Burmese government to begin talks with Aung San Suu Kyi, with the aim of restoring democracy. But to date, those talks have not occurred. Instead, the military once again responded to peaceful protests with brutal violence.

Today Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, having spent 11 of the past 18 years in some form of detention. Yet she does not give up hope that someday, with continued worldwide support for their movement, the people of Burma will be free.