Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, born in 1945, leader of the nonviolent movement for human rights and the restoration of democracy in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Aung San Suu Kyi was born in Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) and educated in India and England, where she attended the University of Oxford. She received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the American University in Washington, D.C., in 1997. Her father, U Aung San, is widely acknowledged as the founder of modern Myanmar for negotiating Myanmar’s independence from British rule in 1947. Her mother, Daw Khin Kyi, was a prominent public figure who became Myanmar’s ambassador to India in 1960.
After living abroad for most of her life, Suu Kyi returned to Myanmar in 1988 and immediately became involved in the country’s growing movement for democracy. She and other prodemocracy leaders founded the National League for Democracy (NLD). General Ne Win, the military dictator of Myanmar since 1962, retired in 1988, plunging the country into political turmoil. Suu Kyi’s nonviolent strategy of peaceful rallies and pacifism in the face of threats from the military effectively defused the military’s sustained attempts to obstruct free elections.
In July 1989 Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest by the military government for staging and speaking at mass gatherings, which were illegal in Myanmar. Despite her house arrest, Suu Kyi led the NLD to a landslide victory in May 1990, winning 80 percent of the parliamentary seats. However, the military government refused to allow the elected parliament to convene. Suu Kyi’s arrest and confinement, which ended after six years in July 1995, drew national and international attention to the situation in Myanmar. She refused military offers that would allow her to leave the country because she would not be allowed to return.
While under house arrest, Suu Kyi was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Suu Kyi’s writings, collected in Freedom from Fear and Other Writings (1991), reflect on the life of her father, who was assassinated in 1947, and on the suppression of democracy in Myanmar during subsequent decades. Through these writings, Suu Kyi established the context for her advocacy of the principles of nonviolence established by Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi.
After her release from house arrest in 1995, Suu Kyi continued the struggle for democracy in Myanmar despite being barred from leading the NLD by the military government. The government increasingly restricted Suu Kyi’s movements during 1996 as it cracked down on NLD meetings and other activities. She was banned from traveling outside Yangon, but she defied the order and was again put under house arrest in September 2000. Under intense international pressure, the government released Suu Kyi from house arrest in May 2002. The government indicated the release was unconditional and that Suu Kyi was free to pursue her political activities as leader of the NLD.
Suu Kyi remained immensely popular in Myanmar, drawing large crowds to her public appearances throughout the country. In addition, the NLD reopened hundreds of local offices. However, her rallies provoked growing harassment by the government, and during a road trip in May 2003 her motorcade was violently ambushed. Many of Suu Kyi’s associates were killed during the attack, and Suu Kyi, who survived unharmed, was taken into government custody. Following the attack, the government imprisoned many party activists and closed most NLD offices. Suu Kyi was subsequently placed under house arrest a third time.
In 2007 a series of peaceful prodemocracy demonstrations were held in Myanmar under the leadership of Buddhist monks. The military government responded with a brutal crackdown, drawing international criticism. A United Nations envoy facilitated the beginning of talks between the military government and Suu Kyi, who had remained under house arrest. For the first time in more than three years, Suu Kyi was allowed to meet with other members of the NLD. They reported that she was optimistic about the government’s willingness to work toward national reconciliation.