Welcoming Aung San Suu Kyi

Next month, Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will visit the UK following her momentous election to the Burmese Parliament earlier this year.

Suu Kyi’s election follows a long struggle to progress democracy in Burma, a cause for which she has spent most of the last two decades under house arrest.

In 2005, in recognition of her work, the City of Edinburgh Council granted Suu Kyi the freedom of the city.  I am delighted that the Council has now written to invite her to collect her award in person when she is in the UK. 

I was also pleased to learn that the Scottish Government has written to Suu Kyi to extend an invitation.  During Question Time last week I welcomed the Scottish Government’s support and highlighted the work of groups such as Burma Assist and the Burma Education Scholarship Trust supporting young people in Burma.

These invitations send a strong message of support to the many people in Scotland who have campaigned for democracy in Burma.

In 1988, after returning to Burma to care for her sick mother, Suu Kyi helped form the National League for Democracy.  The party won 82% of parliamentary seats in the 1990 elections but the ruling military junta refused to recognise the results of the poll. 

Suu Kyi was prohibited from standing in those elections and was under house arrest between 1989 and 1995 during which time she was not allowed to see her husband and two sons.  In 1991, while under house arrest, she was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her campaign of non-violence.

Despite being released in 1995, Suu Kyi’s movement’s remained severely restricted.  She was unable to leave the country to visit her family for fear she would not be granted re-entry while her husband Michael Aris was denied a visa to enter Burma.  Aris died of prostate cancer in 1999 and had not seen Suu Kyi since 1995.

Further periods of house arrest followed from 2000 until 2010 when she was released.

While her release and election are significant, Suu Kyi has warned against complacency.  When asked to rate present democracy in Burma on a scale of one to ten, she replied that the country was on its way to one, so there is still a long way to go.