Suu Kyi Faces Tough Questions at Yale, Harvard

Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi smiles before delivering the annual Godkin Lecture at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Sept. 27, 2012. (PHOTO: Reuters)

BOSTON—Burmese pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi enthralled students and journalists on Thursday at Yale and Harvard universities where she re-emphasized her position on the importance of the rule of law in Burma, but avoided getting involved in a debate about the conflicts in the country’s ethnic areas and the controversial crisis in Arakan State.

“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.”

Calling the current system of judiciary “practically non-existent,” Suu Kyi continued: “Until we have a strong, independent, clean judiciary, we cannot say that Burma is truly on the road to democracy.”

She introduced her new role as the chairperson of the Rule of Law Committee at the House of Representatives in Naypyidaw, saying she deplored that rule of law is “fundamentally lacking” and that corruption is “endemic” in Burma. She said that the restoration of rule of law is the most important and urgent task ahead for her country.

The two lectures she delivered on Thursday underscored both Suu Kyi’s strengths and vulnerabilities. Her extraordinary skills as a public speaker were clearly on display. Above all, it is her ability to speak with passion and in plain terms about basic principles of democracy that makes Suu Kyi an exceptionally appealing democracy campaigner.

It is also characteristic of her to advocate democracy in moral terms. Indeed Suu Kyi’s voice is most confident when she talks about normative values such as responsibility and duty. She concluded her talk on rule of law with the remark that education and training would not be enough, because ultimately the goal would be achieved only when citizens’ “attitude and mind-set” changed.

While many of the Ivy League students drew inspiration from her moral philosophy, it was also evident that Suu Kyi was not going to be simply adored and worshipped, and several questions focused on Suu Kyi’s perceived reticence on Burma’s majority-minority issues.

“It is explicitly feared by some that she might effectively end up reinforcing majority rule,” said one Harvard student.

Despite attempts by Harvard students to debate the topic of the Kachin, the Rohingya and other ethnic issues, Suu Kyi repeated the same answers that she had been giving for weeks: that she would not take one side over the other, and that she is opposed to all human rights abuses.

She went a step further in suggesting that there were “people trying to make political capital” by fueling an international outcry about the plight of minorities.

Yale’s president introduced Suu Kyi as “a great unifier.” But immediately after her talk an undergraduate student wrote an article titled “Promise still to be filled in Burma” for the school newspaper The Daily Yale, which criticized Suu Kyi’s for “remaining largely silent” on issues of ethnic minority.

Masao Imamura is a PhD candidate at the National University of Singapore and a Research Fellow at the Harvard Yenching Institute.


18 Responses to Suu Kyi Faces Tough Questions at Yale, Harvard

  1. Silence doesn’t mean not taking side. Duh. It doesn’t even look good for her to repeat such logical fallacy. Her silence itself is taking side. And when it comes to political capital, she is putting all her political capital and soft power completely on one side.

  2. The Burmese Freedom Fighter

    It doesn’t seem to me tough enough at all as the picture above show how confident she is in giving all the answers to any questions. She is fearless leader of Burma and questions like these ones are warmly welcomed as it gives our leader a chance to express her opinion and communicate all the Burma supporters.

    The Burmese Freedom Fighter 

  3. One should look at the things that are going well. It is not fair of those students to sort of blame Daw Suu for falling short. She has already done so much! A little more respect should be shown by students who have not even achieved a thing in this world.

  4. It is obvious that She will not speak out anything which against the Military becasue  She wants The Military to be her side….  In 2015, I think ; she wants that ther will be only two groups- NLD (herself) and The Military, like in 2008 election, USDP and Military  …   share power and authority !!!!!!
    She always talk about Human Right but  she is not speaking out the Human Right Abuse in Kachin Conflice (Kachin IDPs),, and other minority ethnic groups…   We did, we do believe that she is/will represent for Myanmar or Minority or Human Right…. but now……. Our/my believe will be changed if she keep saying or avoiding the conflict………  

  5. The obvious problem we non-Bamar ethnic nationals, the co-founders of the Union are facing is political hegemony. Most ethnic Burmans, the majority race, even educated ones, have no empathy for the situation of other ethnic nationalities. The question is what to do about it real fast? 

    Recommendation will be to engage the armed groups in political dialogues; declaring the natural resource and land management and sharing of the resources; explaining clearly the public of all risks they are to bear in the national projects in their states. This is DASSK’s moment to stop talking about “freedoms” and “democracy” but use her pedestal to educate people about equality and federalism.

  6. If Suu Kyi  and Thien Seing silent together for ethnic issues then both can be understood as the potential champion of democratic dictators—following the rules of dictatorship of majority..which is the short fall of democratic values….they are of course can be considered as reformist together not for all but for majority….in the country where there is no more opposition in party in the parliament or in the system of one eyed sided country. Kachins and all other ethnics do not forget the past….panlong…..and ancestral story which they cherish most and value most which possibility different from other Burman majority.

    If silent continue there is little scope of dialogue and negotiation between the conflicting parties…Kachin would probably silent and continue its struggle to deeper value which they cherish most…

  7. Silence breeds no solution…speak out, dialogue, debate, negotiation, trust building, win win…etc…encourage to sit on the table…are the only ways to find solution to all democratic issues as well as ethnic issues

  8. I would like to request President U Thein Sein  and Burmese military leaders to start an unconditional ceasefire against Kachin Independence Army (KIA) immediately.

    KIA leaders, KIA sympathizers and Irrawaddy staff, please, please appeal to KIA army to agree to an unconditional ceasefire with the government and sit down at the negotiating table. If you can’t persuade the rebels to stop fighting and start peaceful negotiations, there will definitely be hostilities. It’s useless just to give lips-service.

  9. “She went a step further in suggesting that there were “people trying to make political capital” by fueling an international outcry about the plight of minorities.”

    What makes you different? You are also making political capital by staying silent on gross human rights abuse in your own country. You oppose those human rights abuses but your actions are supporting it at the same time. Are you even aware what you’re doing? What are you really trying to achieve here, Ms. Suu Kyi? You don’t play politics with the lives of innocent civilian, do you? I can’t fathom you have courage to stay silent on these abuses with the world renowned peace prize in your hand. 

    Right now, you look insanely naive politician to me. 

  10. She has to be silence.. Everybody is still under the shadow of the previous dictator who is still alive and actively living in the Burmese Capital, All must understand that.

  11. Rules of law  shouldbe urgently settled . U Shwe Mann seems to be no one is above him, even the law is not above him, so who will  reinforce check- and balance thosw Hluttaw since they demolished the body who can overses their out of law rules.

  12. “If you are neutral in situations of Injustice, you are sided with oppressor”.
    She might probably need to schooling again to refresh her memory. She seems getting rusty in memory after getting house arrest. Courage, Humanitarian, Righteousness, Justice, Heroic Behaviors and Abilities seen in Leaderships are no more existent in the Lady.
    Lady has been living more than 60 years and want to question her what are you afraid of for acknowledging the Human Right abuses continuing inside the country. Shame on you for seeing you are just like a civilian who dare not make a right action. It is astounding for your silence even you have authority and people strengths. She should deserve a lot more than tough questions when you were in European Trip. Sigh……

  13. Her true colours are exposed here!

  14. The Burmese Freedom Fighter

    A ship in harbor is safe— but that is not what ships are for. She is enjoying her journey over there by her own choice. The questions thrown at her at these universities weren’t as hard enough as her little dog, that bites any one who try to go closer to its owner, keeping DSSK away from her close friends and a great conversation she adores at sun set by the lake.

    The Burmese Freedom Fighter

  15. The racial conflict in Myanmar has been going on for many centuries and through the British colonial rule.  How can anyone expects one person of Aung Saan Suu Kyi to resolve it at the blink of any eye?  While she is just an opposition leader, not the President of Myanmar.

  16. These Burmese.

    What Than Shwe has sold them is greed.  Every one is proud of this big concrete block “Parliament” which will be millstone on everyone’s neck with Chinese debt for decades to come. And the promises of richness like Thailand or big buildings like Singapore or 4G. Any fancy whim.

    All one needs to do is cheer every thing Thein Sein is doing. Now, cue is easy. Cheerleader is Aung San Suu Kyi.

    Let’s see. Chinese needs the Pipes. The “West” needs the Chinese. Currently if Chinese sneezes the Americans and European catch clod. 

    And Chinese can only be happy with the PIPES.

    Thein Sein wants the Pipes. And roads and rails for Papa. Aung San Suu Kyi wants the Pipes for Thein Sein as a sidekick should. She has never said a single word againts the “Shwe Gash”. Like a dagger through Burma’s heart.

    Burmese are happy to haul pipes for Chinese as they do not  know better. 

    Kachins stand in the way. Give blood to to hold the ground. Min Aung Hlaing cannot do any real thing except torture and rape. Thein Sein ( Yes, the one Ban Ki-mon loves)  said they would have Kachin annihilated  in  a month. But it will be now forever.

    A lot of Burmese, as seen in these comments columns, want the Kachins dead all the same. For the Pipes.  For sucking up the “Thamada Gyi”.Thant Myint-U writes  it is good for Burma to get the Chinese and India connected, as ADB wants, relinquishing Burmese sovereignty as Burmese should be proud to be of service to the multinational companies’ desire.

    Aung San Suu Kyi has no say!  Her denial is akin to the holocaust denial of the Jew exterminations unless someone believes a  Jew’s life is worth more than a Kachin’s life. Scale is different. Intention is same. Kill the different race for their riches.

  17. George Than Setkyar Heine

     Yale’s president introduced Suu Kyi as “a great unifier.” But
    immediately after her talk an undergraduate student wrote an article
    titled “Promise still to be filled in Burma” for the school newspaper
    The Daily Yale, which criticized Suu Kyi’s for “remaining largely
    silent” on issues of ethnic minority.
    Of course Daw Suu is NO IDIOT like The Daily Yale and many others took her for.
    Shame on The Daily Yale for criticizing Daw Suu for remaining silent on ethnic issues as well.
    People should take note of the fact Daw Suu is NO ANGEL much less a GOD at the moment with the power to CURE ALL ILLS specifically ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT VIRUS contracted by the like of Rohingya fence jumpers least of all.
    Thein Sein as president of Naypyidaw has  the DUTY/OBLIGATION to TAKE CARE of the MATTER since day one.
    Hence, Daw Suu has NO CALL much less OPEN HER PALM (to slap those trying to get her involve in the Rohingya shit and others ) for that matter of course as well.
    Of course it is NO MYSTERY today Thein Sein is compelled to commandeer Daw Suu’s HELP in running the country.
    He has even hinted Daw Suu would replace him as PRESIDENT in the wake of the 2015 elections.
    Certainly it is MORE THAN a POSSIBILITY as well in case she is given a FAIR GO in the 2015 elections.
    Despite the fact she is the LEADER of the OPPOSITION Daw Suu is ENTRUSTED with the IMPORTANT TASK – Chair of Rule of Law Commission – MOST CRUCIAL and VITAL for Burma’s future and posterity no doubt.
    Simply put Thein Sein is HIRING Daw Suu’s BRAIN/HEAD/NECK for NOTHING as well to FIGHT CORRUPTION/GRAFT running rampant from Than Shwe down to his doorman at Naypyidaw today.

  18. She is okay because her facial appearance looks more like Gandhi the Guru. What kind of question the students from Yale and Harvard raised, she can leave it to Beaver anyway.

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