A graceful slip of a woman with flowers in her hair, Aung San Suu Kyi looks fragile.
Yet Suu Kyi displays steely determination, bravery and a unbending will. In the face of intimidation and threats, she has been a steadfast advocate for reform in Burma.
These traits have earned Suu Kyi the undying emnity of Burma's military dictators, who have kept her under house arrest for most of the past 18 years. She won the 1990 democratic presidential elections in Burma, but the junta vacated the results.
Despite a life full of hardship and tragedy, Aung San Suu Kyi remains a pillar of calm strength in the fight for democracy.
Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced "Ahng Sahn Sue Chee") was born in Rangoon, Burma on June 19, 1945. She had two older brothers: Aung San Lin, who drowned in 1953, and Aung San Oo, now a U.S. citizen.
Suu Kyi's father, General Aung San, was the commander of the Burma Independence Army. Her mother, Khin Kyi, was a senior nurse at Rangoon General Hospital when she met Aung San in 1942.
General Aung San negotiated Burma's independence from the U.K. in January of 1947. He was assassinated by conservative pro-British forces on July 19 of the same year, when his daughter was just two years old.
Aung San Suu Kyi went to English-run Catholic schools in Rangoon as a young girl.
Her mother, Khin Kyi, was appointed Burma's Ambassador to India in 1960. The teen-aged Suu Kyi soon moved to India as well, where she graduated from New Delhi's Lady Shri Ram College in 1964.
Suu Kyi then went to Britain for further study at Oxford University. She received a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from St. Hugh's College, Oxford in 1969. Suu Kyi completed her formal education with a PhD from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies in 1985.
Aung San Suu Kyi married a British expert on Tibetan culture, Dr. Michael Aris, in 1972. They have two sons: Alexander, born in 1973, and Kim, born in 1977.
Aung San Suu Kyi and her husband lived for some time in Japan and Bhutan. They then returned to Britain, where Suu Kyi was a stay-at-home mother to their two sons. Michael worked as a university professor.
Aung San Suu Kyi was in the U.K. when the "8888 Uprising" took place in her home country, on August 8, 1988. The military goverment's mishandling of economic affairs, coupled with a slight relaxation of controls on the population, led to wide-spread protests. The military responded by firing into the crowds and imposing martial law; an estimated 3,000 protestors, mainly students and monks, were killed.
Return to Burma and Arrest:
At about that time, Khin Kyi fell ill in Burma. Her daughter returned from Britain to take care of her, and soon became involved in politics.
On August 26 of that year, Aung San Suu Kyi spoke at Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, calling for the democratization of Burma before a crowd of half a million.
Her political activity soon drew the government's ire. When Suu Kyi stood up to give another pro-democracy speech on April 5, 1989, Burmese army troops trained their guns on her. Fortunately, the order to fire never came.
On July 20, 1989, Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest for the first time, for a six-year term.
Burmese Elections of 1990:
The military dictators called for multi-party democratic elections to be held in May of 1990. Bizarrely, they seem to have believed that they would win, providing a popular mandate for their policies.
Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) were banned from participation in the elections; nonetheless, she received 80% of the vote via write-ins. The NLD also won 392 of the 402 seats in the Constituent Assembly, which was supposed to amend the 1974 Constitution.
The junta refused to release Suu Kyi from house arrest, and also prevented the Assembly from convening. The election was nullified.
Nobel Prize and Continued Advocacy:
In 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Noble Peace Prize. She learned about the prize via foreign radio broadcasts; at the time, she could not receive phone calls, mail or visitors.
Suu Kyi was not allowed to leave her home to receive the prize in person. She used the $1.3 million prize money to establish a health and education trust for the Burmese people.
Suu Kyi's physical health deteriorated in confinement. She did not have enough to eat, and her weight fell to 90 pounds. Her eye sight and spine began to degenerate.
Nonetheless, she continued to write books and speeches, and to issue pro-democracy papers.
Unbending in the Face of Tragedy:
Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in July of 1995, but she was not allowed to travel outside of Rangoon. The junta did encourage her to visit her husband and sons in Britain - with the understanding that she would not be allowed back into Burma. Suu Kyi refused to go into exile.
In 1997, Michael Avis was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. He requested a visa to visit Suu Kyi before he died, but the Burmese government turned down his application. He died in London in March of 1999.
The junta placed Suu Kyi under formal house arrest once more in September of 2000.
The United Nations intervened on Aung San Suu Kyi's behalf in 2002, and she was released from house arrest on May 6 of that year. She declared the understanding between her party and the junta "a new dawn for the country."
The Depayin Massacre of May 30, 2003 showed this new dawn to be illusory. Suu Kyi's motorcade was attacked by a gang of thugs sponsored by the junta; approximately 100 of her supporters were beaten to death. She managed to escape the mayhem, but was arrested at her destination, Ye-U. For the next four months, she was held in Insein Prison in Rangoon.
The military government released Aung San Suu Kyi in order for her to have a hysterectomy in September of 2003, after which she went into house arrest once more.
Despite calls for her release by the United Nations, foreign governments, and human rights groups, Suu Kyi has remained under house arrest ever since.
On May 27, 2006, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan made a personal appeal to junta leader Than Shwe for Suu Kyi's release, but it was denied.
In September and October of 2007, pro-democracy protestors poured into the streets of Rangoon and Mandalay once more, goaded by the government's mismanagement of the Burmese economy. The protests were led by Buddhist monks, but soon tens or hundreds of thousands of students and other civilians joined in.
On September 22, protestors marched to Suu Kyi's house; she met them briefly at the gate. Two days later, another group of marchers tried to reach her home, but it was turned away by the army.
As the protests escalated, the junta declared martial law and began to raid monasteries, arresting monks and nuns. The crack-down turned deadly, with an unknown number of casualties. The junta says that 13 people were killed; army defector Colonel Hla Win told the U.K. Daily Mail that thousands had been killed, and their bodies thrown into mass graves in the jungle.
During the turmoil, U.N Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari was allowed to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi on September 30 and October 2. These meeting, however, provided no break-throughs in the UN's dealings with the junta.
On May 2, 2008, Cyclone Nargis slammed into Burma, killing almost 140,000 people and leaving millions homeless. Aung San Suu Kyi's home reportedly lost its roof, and was without electricity for several weeks.
In August of 2009, Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest was extended for a further 18 months, to prevent her from taking part in the spring 2010 presidential elections.