Monday, 19 November 2012

The Lady Aung San Suu Kyi

And so I come to the one film of significance, based on fact and the story of one of the most remarkable women of our time entitled The Lady.

Aung San Suu Kyi was born on June 19th 1945 when her father who had created the Burmese Army was instrumental in negotiating independence from the British for his country and which was achieved in January 1948 with the intention of establishing a British style democracy. He was assassinated by others from the army beforehand and who then established an authoritarian military dictatorship, which has consistently beat, tortured, raped, imprisoned and killed anyone who challenged their power and control. In addition there has been child labour, sexual and work slavery and all forms of human trafficking allegedly to this day centred on the army and its interests.

The population of the country is similar to the UK having doubled in thirty years and has a huge geographical area of over two hundred and fifty thousand square miles bordering with India, Bangladesh, China, Thailand and Laos.

Following the assassination of her father and several of his government colleagues she was brought up by her mother with her two brothers in the family home by a lake. One of her brothers drowned when he was only eight years of age and the other brother is now a USA citizen, Aung San Suu Kyi travelled with her mother India when the widow became Ambassador to India and Nepal in 1960 where she continued her education graduating with a degree in politics in 1964. She also studied at Oxford with a degree in Politics Economics and Philosophy in 1969 and then worked for the United Nations in the USA for the years. In 1971 she married Dr Michael Aris whose subject was Tibetan culture and they had two sons together with a family home in Oxford. It is important to appreciate that despite her academic education she was not active in political matters until after her return to Burma in 1989 when her mother became sick and then died. While there two events occurred which was to change her life, the relationship with her husband and children. The military head of state stood down and this led to significant demonstrations for democracy and she was approached by interests as the one person who could unite the state because of the legacy of her father and mother.

The non violent calls for democracy were violently put down by members of military Junta. Without previous experience of public speaking she address a huge crowd with estimates between half and one million people reported. She went on an extended tour of the country although at one point she non violently faced down a local military commanded who threatened to shoot her if she proceeded to where she was to speak. The regime was aware of her power in the country, the danger that with her death she would become and even great force as a martyr and they hoped by isolation she would be forgotten.

Although her husband and sons were with her during 1988 and 1989 he was then ordered out of the country and he only saw her five times after that, the last at Christmas 1995 and permission was refused when arrangements were made for him to travel to Burma with private medical and nursing assistance for his last months before his death from prostate cancer in March 1999 at the age of 53. She has only had open contact with her sons since 2011 and who had remained in Britain cared for relatives and friends of her husband.

Although she wished to be with him he was insistent that if she left she would not be allowed back. She has been under House arrest for most of her time in Burma, In 1990 soon after her return, the political party which she led was allowed to contest the first free election for 30 years and her Party won 392 of the 489 seats against the Military Party. The Military Junta refused to accept the decision or lift martial law and her house detention continued until 1995 when she was released as a consequence of external pressure and the wish of the Junta to become members of the Organisation of South East Asia States where China had a significant interest. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 organised by her husband whoa accepted the award on her behalf with one of her sons making the acceptance speech which according to the film she was able to hear on a battery radio after the regime turned off electricity to the house. She received other major awards particularly the Nehru Award in 1993.

In 1995 she was allowed to address the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. She was placed back in House arrests in 2000 despite various interventions around the world including by the UN General Secretary and in many way her circumstances got worse and she has required hospital treatment for ill health,

There had been several notable incidents widely reported around the world. In 2007 the Buddhist monks took to the streets calling for her release and for democracy and their protest was violently attacked. She was able to see them at the Gates of her home when a large party assembled and she gave them her blessing.

In 2008 Burma was devastated by a cyclone with an estimated massive loss of life which increased because of the failure of the government to allow the help from International Agencies. The cyclone destroyed the roof of her home and the loss of electricity was not remedied by the authorities.

In 2009 an American swam the Lake to her house alleging that he wanted to warn her of an attempt to assassinate. She was arrested because she had allowed the man to stay at her house exhausted from the swim. She and her maids were arrested and imprisonment with charges which could have led to a long term of imprisonment. She was sentenced to three years with hard Labour which was then commuted by the Junta to further House arrest although under International Law and Burmese Law she period of permitted House arrest was being exceeded. It was also seen as an attempt to prevent participation in the first General Election for 20 years in 2010, the second in fifty. However it was agreed that her home could be repaired and she was then released from House arrest on 13 November 2010 at which point the film ends.

He son Kim Aris was allowed to visit and accompany her on trips in July and August of last year and she met with representatives of the government on several occasions. About a tenth of the political prisoners have been released as a consequence of her new involvement.

After speaking with President Obama a visit of Hilary Clinton was arranged last year. She has also been allowed to meet with the Prime Minister of Thailand and in 2012 she met with William Hague and the Burmese Foreign Minister. She was invited to address the Swiss Parliament and to collect her Nobel Peace Prize in Norway. Allowed to campaign for a seat in the Lower House in March of this year her speech calling for reform of the constitution, removal of restrictive laws, establishment of democratic rights and Independent judiciary was televised nationally. After successful election she made the Opposition leader of the Party in the lower House. She attended the Parliament for the first time in July of this year.

In September she made a coast to coast tour of the United States, accepting the Congressional Medal of Honour and meeting with President Obama at the White House and which she described as one of the most moving experiences of her life. It has to be recorded while it is hoped her story will go on, she has suggested from ill health over recent years. It is also not clear if the generals who have remained effectively in power since the End of World War II and British Independence intend to voluntary accept subordination to a civilian government. The position of China in this respect remains significant as does that of Aung San Suu Kyi.

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