Suu Kyi Prepares for Award-packed US Tour

By Lalit K Jha 10 September 2012

WASHINGTON DC—Aung San Suu Kyi will receive the Congressional Gold Medal—the highest civilian award of the US Congress—at the Capitol on Sept. 19 amongst many other honors during next week’s historic tour of the United States.

“Aung San Suu Kyi will be honored for her leadership and steadfast commitment to human rights and for promoting freedom, peace and democracy in her home country of Burma,” said the House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) leader’s historic award was approved by the US Congress and then signed into law on May 6, 2008. Last month, a House Resolution approved the use of the Capitol Rotunda for the ceremony.

Representing Congress’s highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions, the Gold Medal ceremony will be held by the bipartisan leadership of the Congress—John Boehner, the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and the House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

On her first visit to the US after being released from house arrest, Suu Kyi has reportedly been invited by First Lady Michelle Obama to stay at the White House where a dinner in her honor will be attended by former US Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton as well as Microsoft chief Bill Gates.

Suu Kyi is also expected to ring the bell that starts the day’s trading at the New York Stock Exchange and address the United Nations General Assembly in the city, according to sources close to her party. The 67-year-old previously worked for the UN in New York after graduating from Oxford University in 1969.

She is also due to receive several other awards and scheduled to address several public and think-tank meetings, including one organized by the Asia Society and US Institute of Peace in Washington on Sept. 18.

On that occasion, the Asia Society will present her with its Global Vision Award. Two days later, Suu Kyi will give a speech when the National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED) 2012 Democracy Award is bestowed upon five of her compatriots.

Min Ko Naing, a key leader of both the 1988 student movement and the 2007 Saffron Revolution; Hkun Htun Oo, chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy; Kyaw Thu, a prominent film director and actor-turned-activist who heads one of the country’s most important civil society organizations, the Free Funeral Service Society; Dr. Cynthia Maung, an ethnic Karen doctor; and Aung Din, a leader of the 1988 student movement and co-founder and executive director of the US Campaign for Burma, are set to be honored.

“Aung San Suu Kyi is the iconic leader of this movement, but beside her are many unsung heroes, brave people who have risked everything to advance their shared goal of a democratic Burma. With this award, we honor them all,” said NED President Carl Gershman.

On Sept. 21, in New York, the Nobel Laureate is due to receive the Global Citizen Awards from the Atlantic Council—the prestigious American think-tank.

The Atlantic Council said Suu Kyi would be honored for her unwavering devotion to democracy and human rights, serving as an international symbol of freedom and dignity.

“Despite spending much of the last two decades under house arrest, she played a historic role in the recent Burmese elections, marking an important triumph that continues to inspire people across the globe,” the council said. The 2011 Global Citizen winner Christine Lagarde will present this year’s award.

Meanwhile, the Burmese community living in Canada has expressed hope that Suu Kyi would be able to make a stopover to coincide with her US trip. “In my opinion, it would be very important for her to consider a visit to Canada since she will be in North America for the first time in 25 years. I don’t expect she can make another trip in the foreseeable future,” said Tin Maung Htoo, executive director of the Canadian Friends of Burma.

According to Tin Maung Htoo, Suu Kyi’s late husband usually visited Canada to meet family members on holiday each December. His last visit was apparently two months before he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“In one of her messages sent to Canada, Daw Suu said she has a special place in her heart for Canada. Maybe she might be indicating the family connection that her late husband had. Her mother-in-law is French-Canadian and married to a British man who eventually migrated to Canada and became a Canadian diplomat,” added Tin Maung Htoo.