Background Paper Daw Aung San Suu Kyi: 22 Years of Peaceful Resistance in the Face of a Brutal Military Regime (2010)
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi:
22 years of peaceful resistance in the face
of a brutal military regime
” Whatever they do to me, that’s between them and me;
I can take it. What’s more important is
what they are doing to the country,”
Daw Aung Suu Kyi, 1994.
Date: 13 November 2010
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and democracy leader, has spent the past seven years under house arrest and 15 of the past 21 years in detention for her peaceful
opposition to Burma’s military regime.She has come to symbolise courage, peaceful resistance and hope because despite her on-going imprisonment, she has remained the leader of the fight for democracy in Burma, for the past 22 years.
In Burma, in August 1988 the students started a mass protest movement, which became known as the 8888 uprising. Ruled since 1962 by the Burmese Socialist Program Party, led by General Ne Win, Burma had become one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia despite being rich in natural resources such as oil, gas and minerals. The military junta denied its citizens the most basic human rights.
The military dictatorship violently suppressed the pro-democracy,student-led demonstrations that by August 1988 had spread throughout the entire country and included hundreds of thousands of ordinary people from all sectors of society. On 8 August 1988, soldiers fired into a peaceful demonstration, killing up to 5,000 protesters.
The beginnings of her political career
At the time, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who had returned from England to take care of her ailing mother watched the protest from her mother’s bedside. Two weeks later, she entered the political
arena by addressing half a million people at Shwedagon Pagoda. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of independence hero Aung San quickly became an icon of the 8888 uprising.
As her father’s daughter, she said, she could not stand by let this happen. “True,” she said, “I have lived abroad. It is also true that I am married to a foreigner. These facts have never lessened my love and my devotion for my country.” She demanded freedom and democracy, a multi-party government, and free and fair elections. After the violent crackdown on the protests and despite the regime’s ban on public gatherings of more than four people, Aung San Suu Kyi continued campaigning for democracy, including a speaking tour of the country, where large audiences greeted her.
On 24 September 1988, the National League for Democracy was founded and Aung San Suu Kyi appointed General Secretary.
“We listened to the voice of the people that our policies might be in harmony with their legitimate needs and aspiration”
“We explained why, in spite of its inevitable flaws, we considered democracy to be better than other political systems. Most important, we sought to make them understand why we believed
political change was best achieved through non-violent means.” Aung San Suu Kyi, on her philosophy of non-violence.
Arrest and detention
“The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
In the aftermath of the 1988 demonstrations, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested on 20 July 1989 and placed under house arrest in Rangoon, under martial law, which allows for detention without charge or trial for up to three years. Offered the choice of freedom if she left Burma, she refused.
When the military junta held elections in 1990, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won an overwhelming majority of votes, despite Aung San Suu Kyi and
many other opposition candidates being imprisoned . However, the military junta refused to recognize the results.
In 1991 Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights. Her two sons, Alexander and Kim Aris, accepted the prize on her
behalf. In awarding her the Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee said:Suu Kyi’s struggle is one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades. She has become an
important symbol in the struggle against oppression…
On 10 July 1995 the junta released Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; she had served six years under house arrest. She continued to face travel restrictions. In the following years, despite the
governments travel ban Aung San Suu Kyi made several attempts to leave Rangoon in order to continue campaigning for freedom and democracy.
Starting from 1996, military regime’s organization the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) targeted Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of NLD.
In February 1996, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi gave a speech on the anniversary of U Nu’s death. USDA members donned red arm bands, entered the crowd in military vehicles and pelted Daw
Aung San Suu Kyi with tomatoes.
Later, on Burmese New Year’s Day in April 1996, the SPDC barricaded the roads leading to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s house. USDA members threatened to beat any NLD members seeking
to pass the barricades.
Prior to another attack, USDA Central Executive Committee member U Win Sein addressed an audience of 5,000 villagers in Sagaing Division with the following words:
“We must get rid of Aung San Suu Kyi who is creating political unrest. Do you understand what it means to ‘get rid of ’? It means we have to kill her. Have you got the guts to kill her?”
On 9 November 1996 the motorcade that NLD leaders U Tin Oo, U Kyi Maung and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi were travelling in was attacked in Rangoon. It is believed the offenders were members of the USDA who were allegedly paid 500 kyats each to participate. The NLD lodged an official complaint with the police,and according to reports the regime launched an investigation but no action was taken.
On 25 June 1998, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, four NLD members and 40 youths were beaten by security forces in front of her home, while trying to enter the house for a reading session. She sustained a light injury but the four young people were severely beaten.
On 27 March 1999, her husband Michael died in England. Before his death, he made repeated requests for a visa from the SPDC to visit his wife, but his request was denied. Daw Suu could not leave Burma to be with her husband before he died. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has not left Burma since her return there to nurse her mother in 1988, for fear she would not be allowed to re-enter.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was put under house arrest again on the 23 September 2000, after trying to leave Rangoon.A road blockade stopped her car and she held fast spending 6 days in her car at the blockade. The situation ended with her re-arrest. She was freed 19 months later on 6 May 2002. After her unconditional release, she toured to country, campaigning for democracy.
Depayin Massacre and re-arrest
On 30 May 2003, a USDA led mob of about 5,000 people attacked Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s convoy in the northern village of Depayin Township. It was an attempt to assassinate her,while shesurvived 70 NLD members and other supporters were killed and many more injured. The attack became known as the Depayin Massacre. Following the attack, she was held in detention without charge in Rangoon for over 3 months before being returned to house arrest.
In May 2004, she was charged under the 1975 State Protection Law 10(A).Her house arrest was regularly extended every 6 month from 2005 until 2009.
Following her detention the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention rendered the opinion that Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest was arbitrary and in contravention of article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The working group requested the Burmese government to remedy the situation.
On Saturday 22 September 2007, during the Saffron Revolution, although still under house arrest Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made a brief public appearance at the gate of her residence in Rangoon to accept the blessings of Buddhist monks who were marching in support of human rights and democracy in Burma.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi met the UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari on three different occasions: 30 September, 6 November 2007 and again on 8 March 2008. In November 2007, she also met the regime’s newly appointed liaison officer, Aung Kyi, but no details of their discussion were made public.
On 24 March 2009, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention violates not only international law but Burmese domestic law as well. The Working Group released a statement, which among other things “requests the government to immediately release without any condition Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi from her continued placement under house arrest”.
On 3 May 2009 US citizen John Yettaw swam across the lake in front of Daw Suu’s house and arrived unannounced, in what he claimed was an effort to save her from assassination. She let
Yettaw to stay there for two nights, as he pleaded exhaustion. He was then arrested by the authorities as he left her compound.
Later, on 14 May 2009 Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested along with her two live-in aides Daw Khin Khin Win and Daw Win Ma Ma. They were accused of having violated the terms of her house arrest following the intrusion of John Yettaw into her home. They were taken to a detention facility inside Insein Prison.
On 11 August 2009, Insein Special Court found Daw Aung San Suu Kyi guilty of violating her house arrest. The court initially sentenced Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to a three-year prison term.
However, the sentence was commuted to 18 month under house arrest under the orders of General Than Shwe.
On 3 September 2009 Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyers submitted an appeal against her sentence questioning the validity of the law under which she was sentenced.The Rangoon divisional court accepted the hearing of her appeal; however, her appeal was rejected.
Election year under house arrest
On 1 February 2010 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention again issued a judgment declaring that the ongoing detention of Aung San Suu Kyi is illegal and in violation of both Burma’s domestic law and international law.
Under the 2010 election laws, announced on 8 March 2010, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was prohibited from taking part in the pcoming election. In a further effort to undermine the democratic opposition, political parties were ordered to expel their members in prison or under detention orders, if they wanted to contest the elections, or face dissolution. The NLD, rather than expelling their Daw Suu and the other 412 NLD members in prison did not register to contest the elections and was disbanded.
Daw Aung san suu Kyi spent the election on 7 November 2010 incarcerated, the second election she has spent without her freedom.
On 13 November Aung San Suu Kyi house arrest sentence expires and the regime has no legal grounds to extend her already unlawful sentence.In September, the regime hinted that she would be released from house arrest, around the time of the election.
Periods under detention
• 20 July 1989: Placed under house arrest in Rangoon under martial law that allows for detention without charge or trial for three years.
• 10 July 1995: Released from house arrest.
• 23 September 2000: Placed under house arrest.
• 6 May 2002: Released after 19 months.
• 30 May 2003: Arrested following the Depayin massacre, she was held in secret detention for more than three months before being returned to house arrest.
• 25 May 2007: House arrest extended by one year despite a direct appeal from U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan to General Than Shwe.
• 24 October 2007: Reached 12 years under house arrest
• 27 May 2008: House arrest extended for another year, which is illegal under both international law and Burma’s own law.
• 11 August 2009: House arrest extended for 18 more months because of “violation” arising from the May 2009 trespass incident.
• 13 November 2010: current house arrest term expires
Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma)
For more information –
Tate Naing (Secretary): +66 (0) 812 878 751
Bo Kyi (Joint Secretary); +66 (0) 819 628 713