Earlier this week, President Obama met with Democratic Leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to commemorate her achievements in promoting democracy in her native country of Burma. Suu Kyi was in Washington, D.C., to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for her distinguished contributions towards progress in Southeast Asia.
The Obama administration has made Southeast Asia a focus in its foreign policy and is dedicated to supporting democracy in the region. Aung San Suu Kyi’s release and the reinstatement of the National League for Democracy in 2011 is a testament to how subtle intervention can be instrumental in bringing about change. High level communications between Burma and the United States are open for the first time in decades and an United States ambassador has been reinstated in the region for the first time since 1990. The President assured Suu Kyi that the United States will continue its efforts to support her country’s political and economic reformation and the fundamental rights of the Burmese people.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now an elected member of the Burmese parliament and leader of the Democratic National League, has said that political pressure placed on the military regime by the United States and other members of the international community contributed to Burma’s transition to democracy. Her activism led to her arrest and she spent fifteen years as a political prisoner of the state. She continued to speak out against human rights violations and called for the international community to do the same, saying “please use your liberty to promote ours.” As Burma continues its transition to democracy, Suu Kyi calls for reconciliation and reformation over retribution, and asks the Burmese population in America to support their native country’s transition.
Upon receiving the Congressional Medal, Suu Kyi expressed her gratitude:
"This is one of the most moving days of my life, to be here in a house undivided, a house joined together to welcome a stranger from a distant land. Yet I do not feel myself to be a stranger, for I see many familiar faces, and faces that are new to me but known through what they have done for my country and for our cause."
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