Aung San Suu Kyi
From Freedom Fighter to Pariah
Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi had the global community rooting for her when she was the world’s most famous political prisoner. But, in recent years, she was accused of standing by while soldiers massacred Rohingya Muslims.
Darling of democracy
Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar’s assassinated founding father Aung San, returned to her home country in the late 1980s after studying and starting a family in England. She became a key figure in the 1988 uprisings against the country’s military dictatorship. Her National League for Democracy (NLD) was victorious in 1990 elections, but the government refused to honour the vote.
Suu Kyi spent 15 of the 21 years between 1989 and 2010 under house arrest. After 1995, the rights advocate was barred from seeing her two sons and husband, Michael Aris, even after the latter was diagnosed with cancer. Aris died in 1999.
Suu Kyi’s determination to bring democracy and human rights to her country won her international renown, including the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. She was so popular that, in 2011, famous French director Luc Besson made a biopic of her life starring. She was the world’s most famous political prisoner.
Sworn in as lawmaker
Decades of campaigning finally paid off, and, in 2012, Suu Kyi was allowed to run in free elections. She won a seat in parliament as Myanmar began its transition away from military government. After general elections in 2015, she became the country’s de facto civilian leader, although officially she was the foreign minister & state counsellor — a role akin to prime minister.
Persecution of the Rohingya
Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group, had their citizenship revoked by Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority government in 1982. Long persecuted, their plight intensified in 2016 when Myanmar’s military began what it called “clearance” of illegal immigrants. Groups such as Human Rights Watch described it as “ethnic cleansing.”
Fall from grace
When she became state counsellor in 2016, Suu Kyi set up a commission to investigate claims of atrocities against the Rohingya in Rakhine state. Suu Kyi accused the Rohingya of spreading “a huge iceberg of misinformation,” and said she was concerned by the “terrorist threat” posed by extremists. Her stance sparked protests in Muslim-majority countries around the world.
Nobel no more?
Due to her handling of the Rohingya crisis, Suu Kyi was stripped of various honours and lost much of her international support. The Nobel committee was forced to issue a statement saying that her peace prize could not be revoked. Fellow Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai called on Suu Kyi to “stop the violence.” Suu Kyi said that outsiders could not grasp the complexities of the situation.
A controversial election
In 2020, Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy party won the November 8 general election, with enough seats to form the next government. However, the military’s proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development party, claimed fraud and demanded a new election supervised by the military. With that came comments alluding to a possible coup. Supporters of the party also marched in protest.
Military detains Suu Kyi
Myanmar’s civilian leader, along with several of her political allies, was detained in an early morning raid on February 1, 2021, led by the military. The move came amid escalating tensions between the civilian government and army, which had been in control for decades. The junta claimed electoral fraud, announced a yearlong state of emergency and named a former general as the country’s acting president.