Aung San Suu Kyi’s 17-day visit to the United States, which began on September
17, has been received with warmth and enthusiasm. Her years of perseverance and
dedication have deservingly earned such recognition.
The thought of Suu
Kyi receiving a standing ovation by members of the US Congress at the Capitol
Rotunda and a meeting with a US President at the White House seemed unrealistic
until recent years.
As Burma progresses with its democratic reforms,
expectations await Suu Kyi. In Burma’s democracy movement history, two
remarkable statements from Suu Kyi’s family continue to linger in the minds of
the Burmese people, especially ethnic minorities.
“If Burma receives one
kyat, you will also get one kyat,” was made a year before the country’s
independence in 1948. Aung San, founder of the Burmese Independence Army
and father of Suu Kyi, made this historic statement in an attempt to convince
other nationalities to join the Union of Burma.
The objective of the
statement was to guarantee equal rights for all nationalities in
post-independent Burma, regardless of their religious and ethnic
That assurance convinced the Chin, the Kachin, and the Shan
leaders to join the interim government led by Aung San, which led to the
formation of the Union of Burma on February 12, 1947. Until today, February 12th
has been observed as the country’s Union Day.
Even after 60 years of the
country’s independence, minority problems in the country remain unresolved.
Ceasefires have been reached with the majority of armed ethnic groups, but
tension remains high in the Kachin state. The core issue of autonomy has also
“Please use your liberty to promote ours,” was a
statement Aung San Suu Kyi made in her commencement address to the American
University in Washington, DC in 1997. The objective was to garner the support of
the international community.
During her tour in the United States, Suu
Kyi has been asked questions on minority problems, particularly in Kachin and
Rakhine (Arakan) states. In similar responses, Suu Kyi emphasized the need for
rule of law but refrained from condemning the Burmese military.
post-Independent era has been plagued by a majority-minority conundrum, which
ethnic minorities have accused the majority group of adopting Burmanization
policy and Burman chauvinism.
As someone who receives unflinching support
from ethnic minorities, Suu Kyi needs to speak up more on minority problems. The
issue must not wait until she becomes head of the government or when her
National League for Democracy has majority members in the parliament.
KYI’S reticence could entail the country’s ethnic minorities to question her
leadership and credibility. As she once famously said, she must use her freedom
to promote others and stress the need for equality of rights for all ethnic
nationalities, which her late father envisaged.
The latest US
government’s decision to lift economic sanctions should be a new impetus for
both the Thein Sein government and Suu Kyi-led opposition to address ethnic
conflict and human-rights violations in minority territories.
without resolving minority problems will not bring durable peace and stability
in the country. Building mutual trust is essential to strengthening the
relationship between the majority Burman and the minority non-Burman
Being the daughter of Aung San, her connection with the Western
world, a Noble-peace prize recipient, and because of her relentless commitment
toward democracy and human rights, Suu Kyi has the respect that no other of her
contemporaries has in the Burmese politics.
She must utilize this unique
position to win the hearts and minds of ethnic minorities in order to build a
unified and vibrant multi-ethnic society.
The writer is general secretary
of the US-based Kuki International Forum. His general research interests include
political transition, democratization, human rights, ethnic conflict and
identity politics. His research focuses on the politics of South and Southeast
Asia, with a concentration on Burma/Myanmar. He has written numerous
academic (peerreviewed) and nonacademic analytical articles on the politics of
Burma and Asia that have been widely published internationally.