Safe World for Women Logo

Aung San Suu Kyi - Prisoner in Burma

October 2010

"We must work together in unison to achieve our goals"

"It cannot be doubted that in most countries today women, in comparison to men, still remain underprivileged."

A LIFE OF TRAGIC ACTIVISM

If you have heard of Burma you will have heard the name Aung San Suu Kyi. You will probably know that, until Saturday 13th November 2010, she was held under house arrest for 14 of the last 20 years by a dictatorial regime determined to crush her influence as a voice of freedom and human-rights.

Aung San Suu Kyi - Aged 2 with her familyAged 2 with familyBehind the political picture and face lies a story of personal sacrifice, tragedy and heartbreak.

Her childhood cannot have been easy.

 Aung San Suu Kyi in BhutanAged 25 in Bhutan Michael in BhutanMichael in Bhutan Suu Kyi and Michael's wedding in LondonWedding day in London Buddhist Ceremony after the WeddingBuddhist Ceremony after WeddingAung San Suu Kyi with husband MichaelBaby Alexander meets grandma Baby Alexander meets grandmaBaby Alexander meets grandma Suu Kyi playing with sonsSuu Kyi playing with sonsA family picnic A family picnic Having a barbecueHaving a barbecue Ari and Alexander sons of Aung San Suu Kyi at Nobel prize ceremonyKim and Alexander Aung San Suu Kyi on balcony addressing thousands of monks as they walk past her homeAddressing marching monks House of Aung San Suu Kyi where she is held under house arrestUnder house arrest Michael alone in the UKMichael alone in the UK

"To the best of my knowledge, no war was ever started by women. But it is women and children who have always suffered the most in situations of conflict...

Women with their capacity for compassion and self-sacrifice, their courage and perseverance, have done much to dissipate the darkness of intolerance and hate, suffering and despair. "

Aung San Suu Kui

Her father, a hero of the Burmese independance movement, was assasinated when she was 2 years old and her favorite brother, Aung San Lin, drowned in an ornamental lake in the garden of their home when he was 8 years old.

By 1960 her mother, Khin Kyi, had gained prominence as a political figure in the newly formed Burmese government and she was was appointed Burmese ambassador to India and Nepal in 1960. Aung San Suu Kyi followed her and went to a college in New Delhi where she graduated with a degree in politics.

Here in India she became interested in Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolent resistance, something which has stayed with her all her life.

Michael Aris

Suu Kyi continued her education at St Hugh's College, Oxford, obtaining a B.A. degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics in 1969. Here she met Michael who was to become her husband and father of her children.

Michael was born in Cuba, where his father was a career officer with the British Council.

His passion was Tibetan culture and he moved to Bhutan to work as a tutor to the Bhutanese royal family, where Suu Kyi would visit him.

They were both immensely happy in Bhutan and on a trip to visit Taktsang, "the lair of the pregnant tigeress", a complex of temples which make up one of the oldest and most sacred shrines in Bhutan, Michael proposed.

After a 4 year romance, kept alive through daily letters while Suu Kyi worked in New York, they finally married in 1972.

WEDDING

Before they marry, Suu Kyi tells Michael,

"I only ask one thing, that should my people need me, you would help me do my duty by them."

These words proved to be an omen for the future

They had a simple registry office ceremony in London before being formally blessed at a buddhist ceremony in a friends house.

Their first son, Alexander, was born a year later and they moved to Oxford, where Michael obtained a post in Tibetan and Himalayan studies at the university.

They briefly returned to Burma, where they proudly showed off baby Alex to his grandma.

Three years later, back in the UK, Suu Kyi gave birth to their second son, Kim, and settled in to life as a mother and an Oxford professors wife. The pictures on the right show an ordinary family having a picnic

At the same time Suu Kyi began writing a biography of her father followed by books on Burma, Nepal and Bhutan.

FAMILY LIFE

When Kim was 8 years old, Suu Kyi moved with him to Japan for a year, as a Visiting Scholar at the Center of Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, researching her father's time in Japan.

Alexander stayed with Michael, who had a fellowship at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies at Sima in northern India.

The next year, Suu Kyi and Kim re-joined Michael and Alexander in Simla and then the family returned to Oxford. Suu Kyi's mother was in London for a cataract operation and Suu Kyi enrolled at the London School of Oriental and African Studies.

A year later, in 1988, Suu Kyi's mother, now back in Rangoon, suffered a severe stroke. Suu Kyi returned to Burma to be with her.

While she was there, General Ne Win, the military dictator of Burma, resigned after 26 years in power. In March and June Students took to the streets protesting about a currency devaluation that wiped out the value of most people's savings.

As the protests grew, so too did the involvement of Aung San Suu Kyi. Soon she was part of the pro-democracy movement and was becoming involved in politics.

On the 8th August the military responded to the protests and in a brutal crackdown and thousands were killed. The die was cast.

MOTHER OF BURMA

For Suu Kui, there was no going back. On December 27th, at her mother's funeral, she made a vow to follow the example of her mother and father and to serve the people of Burma, no matter the personal cost.

She continued campaigning, despite harassment and the arrests and killings by soldiers going on around her. She was prohibited, however, from standing for election and in the summer was placed under house arrest.

Now under house arrest herself, for "endangering the state", Suu Kui was only allowed visits from members of her immediate family. She was told she can be held without charge or trial for three years. Alexander and Kim were with her.

Michael flew to Rangoon to be with them.

In Rangoon, Michael found his wife to be on the third day of a hunger strike, asking that she be sent to prison to join students who had been arrested at her home. She ended her hunger strike only when good treatment of the students was promised.

She calmly told her sons, then age 16 and 13, that their father would take them back to their home in England. She would stay in Burma to stand up for her countrymen and women.

The junta then revoked Suu Kyi's right to visits from her immediate family. All outside contact was forbidden, including by post.

In July 1991, Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and, in December that year, Alexander and Kim, then age 18 and 15, went to Oslo to accept the prize for their mother.

A LONELY WIDOWHOOD

At Christmas, Michael visited his wife for the last time.

Back in the UK, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and, terminally ill, he petitioned the Burmese authorities to allow him to visit Suu Kyi one last time.

The junta refused to grant him a visa but agreed to let Suu Kyi leave the country to visit him.

She declined, fearing she would not be allowed back into the country if she left.

Michael died on 27 March 1999, in London

In December 1999, the junta allowed Alexander and Kim to visit their mother.

13th November 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi was finally released from house arrest:

"We must work together in unison for our common goal' she said to the crowd, after waiting nearly half an hour for them to quieten down enough to hear her.


SOURCES

http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1991/kyi-bio.html

http://www.papertigers.org/wordpress/mother-of-all-burmas-sons/

Photos from "Before Duty Called" UK Guardian