Fri 28 Sep 2012
Filed under: International,News
New Haven – Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi described preparing the country’s people to be responsible citizens of a free society during a speech at Harvard University on Thursday.
Suu Kyi, whose struggle for democracy and human rights in Myanmar earned her a Nobel Peace Prize, spoke at Harvard and Yale University as part of her landmark U.S. visit. Her Ivy League speeches came on the day Myanmar President Thein Sein paid tribute to her during a U.N. General Assembly speech that reflected the momentous changes in the country, also called Burma, over the past year.
Before by-elections in April, Suu Kyi said, she and members of her National League for Democracy party had to educate citizens who had been treated as “immature children” under the country’s dictatorship on the importance of casting a vote and the meaning of democracy. People need to understand they have the power to change their own community, she said.
“On the day of the elections, you will be the equal of the president himself,” Suu Kyi recalled telling voters. “He will have one vote, you will have one vote. Use it.”
Suu Kyi said she’s surprised when people say she’s an icon but doesn’t have political experience.
“What do they think I’ve been doing for the last 24 years?” Suu Kyi said, adding that she was a founding member of the NLD and spent her time on house arrest preparing for release.
She emphasized the need to establish an independent judiciary to establish a genuine democracy, reiterating her statements at Yale earlier in the day.
“Once we can say that we have been able to re-establish rule of law, then we can say that the process of democratization has succeeded,” Suu Kyi said at Yale. “Until that point I do not think that we can say that the process of democratization has succeeded.”
She said the judiciary is “practically non-existent.”
“And until we have a strong, independent, clean judiciary, we cannot say that Burma is truly on the road to democracy,” Suu Kyi said.
But the newly elected member of Parliament said Myanmar would benefit from its late entrance onto the democratic stage.
“We can learn from the mistakes of the rest,” she said at Harvard.
Last week, the 67-year-old Suu Kyi met privately with President Barack Obama and accepted the highest honor from Congress, the Congressional Gold Medal, which was awarded in 2008 while she was under house arrest for her peaceful struggle against military rule. She was released in late 2010 and has since worked with members of the former ruling junta that detained her to push ahead with political reform.
Since Suu Kyi won a parliamentary seat in April, the U.S. has normalized diplomatic relations with Myanmar and allowed U.S. companies to start investing there again.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday the U.S. will ease its import ban, which had been a key plank of remaining American economic sanctions.
Suu Kyi last week voiced support for the step, saying Myanmar should not depend on the U.S. to keep up its momentum for democracy. For years she advocated sanctions as a way of putting political pressure on the then-ruling junta.
American economic sanctions have been gradually lifted since the beginning of this year in response to political and economic reforms initiated by Thein Sein since he became president last year.
Suu Kyi said the changes came after the country grew increasingly poor and faced public discontent.
At Harvard and Yale, students asked Suu Kyi what kept her going during her years of house arrest. She said “inner resources” and a focus on others are needed to face adversity.
“Whenever I heard people in distant places speaking out for our cause,” she said at Harvard, “I was encouraged.”