Congressman Don Manzullo (R-IL) is Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. Rep. Manzullo co-authored a bill that was signed into law in 2008 awarding Aung San Suu Kyi the Congressional Gold Medal for her brave fight for democracy in Burma. Manzullo has also kept pressure on the military junta in Burma by working annually to renew economic sanctions against them. Manzullo is also a member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China that monitors human rights and rule of law violations in China.
We have a remarkable opportunity Wednesday to hear directly from the extraordinary woman at the center of the decades-long struggle to bring freedom to Burma, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Ms. Suu Kyi – a Nobel Peace Prize winner and democracy advocate – has sent us a recorded video message that we will play at a Congressional hearing I will chair on Wednesday afternoon. The hearing of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific is titled “Piercing Burma’s Veil of Secrecy: The Truth Behind the Sham Election and the Difficult Road Ahead,” and it will share Suu Kyi’s account of the ruling military junta’s Nov. 2, 2010 sham election and changes that have occurred in Burma since then. The Capitol Hill hearing will take place in Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building and will be webcast live at http://www.hcfa.house.gov.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for Ms. Suu Kyi – both as a freedom fighter and a courageous leader. If you are looking for modern day heroes you certainly have to include Ms. Suu Kyi in a group with the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. She is a true inspiration to millions of people around the world.
Recounting Ms. Suu Kyi’s life requires understanding the historical context in which she emerged as the Lady of Burma. Ever elegant, eloquent, and gracious, Ms. Suu Kyi is not just a gift to Burma, but also a gift to the entire world. She remains a symbol of hope against a brutal military junta in Burma too cowardly to let democracy reign supreme. Ms. Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy Party were the landslide winners in the 1990 presidential elections. Yet Burma’s military regime continues to deny those election results to the detriment of its own people and its own legitimacy. For 23 years, Ms. Suu Kyi has championed the cause of democracy in Burma, and she spent the past 15 years as a prisoner for daring to believe in a better tomorrow.
The Saffron Revolution of September, 2007 exposed the Burmese regime for what it is – a brutal authoritarian regime willing to stop at nothing to crack down on thousands of peaceful, nonviolent protesters simply because they demanded their basic human rights. I vigorously spoke out against the actions of the Burmese government then, and will continue to do so in the future.
The recruitment of child soldiers, detention and torture of political dissidents, restrictions on freedoms of press, speech, assembly and association, and limited religious freedoms continue to prevail in Burma under the highly authoritarian military regime of General Thein Sein. Minority religious groups like Christians in Burma continue to struggle to obtain permits to repair places of worship or build new ones. Amidst all of this, Aung San Suu Kyi and her countless followers continue to pressure the government to reform. But these voices need support from us and others around the world who share in Ms. Suu Kyi’s vision for a democratic and free Burma.
Many Burmese people fittingly refer to Ms. Suu Kyi as “mother,” indicative of the important and enduring role that she plays in her country. She is the mother of the movement for democracy and human rights in Burma who has earned, by every standard measurable, not only the Nobel Peace Prize and the Congressional Gold Medal, but also our enduring respect. Ms. Suu Kyi’s spirit has not been broken by 15 years of house arrest, but given strength through her faith and hope in a brighter future for millions of Burmese citizens. Our Lady of Burma continues to inspire us all.