Suu Kyi Receives Congressional Gold Medal

By Lalit K Jha 20 September 2012

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was bestowed with the Congressional Gold Medal— the highest civilian award of the US Congress—on Wednesday at the Rotunda of the US Capitol.

“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,” Suu Kyi said moments after receiving the Congressional Gold Medal in the presence of top American lawmakers.

Very rarely bestowed to a foreign leader, Suu Kyi on Wednesday joined the group of small world leaders such as Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama who have received the Congressional Gold Medal.

“This is a moment for which I have been waiting for many years,” an emotional Suu Kyi said. “The great honor that you have conferred to me will be a lasting memento of the steadfast support of the United States Congress for the democratic aspirations of my people. From the depths of my heart, I thank you, the people of America, and you, their representatives, for keeping us in your hearts and minds during the dark years when freedom and justice seemed beyond our reach.

“It has always been my opinion that democracy offers the best balance between freedom and security for all of us. To be a full human being, we need both security and freedom. Without security, we cannot rest in the peace necessary to discover the world to be the beautiful place that it can be. Without freedom also we will be deprived of the many opportunities that would make us more human and more humane,” Suu Kyi said.

To the surprise of many, the event was joined by Aung Min, representing the Burmese President ‘s Office, and the new Burmese Ambassador, Than Swe, reflecting the changing times in Burma.

“It’s almost too delicious to believe, my friend, that you are here in the Rotunda of our great Capitol, the centerpiece of our democracy as an elected member of your Parliament, as the leader of the political opposition, the leader of a political party,” Clinton said in her remarks. “I am so deeply moved by what she has stood for and what she has represented, first and foremost for the people of her country, but for people everywhere who yearn for freedom, whose voices deserve to be heard. But I am also very impressed that she was not satisfied upon the release from house arrest to remain an advocate, a symbol, an icon,” she said.

“So as we honor her, a time that many of us feared would never happen. It’s good to recognize that one phase of her work may be over, but another phase equally important is just beginning, and that the United States will stand with her, with the President of Burma and those who are reformers in the executive branch and the legislative branch, with the activists, with civil society as they fan the flickers of democratic progress and press forward with reform. And we wish them all Godspeed,” Clinton said.

Laura Bush, a strong supporter of Burma and Suu Kyi during the previous Bush administration, said that the transition in Burma, like past events in South Africa or Eastern Europe, shows that history has a hopeful direction. “It’s capable of miracles. There is a part of every soul that longs for freedom. And any government built on oppression is built on sand,” she said.

One of the most repressive governments on earth attempted to isolate and silence one woman. It must have seemed an easy task. Instead, the regime encountered an immovable object and its legitimacy broke against here character, Bush said.

“Daw Suu became a symbol of courage, perseverance and defiance—a symbol that integrity was still possible in Burma, and this symbol became an inspiration for activists, monks and millions around the world,” she said.

“When her long isolation ended, some of us have finally met Daw Suu in person and found not a symbol, but a women of tremendous humor, honesty and grace. And that’s only increased our admiration,” Bush said, adding that Suu Kyi’s contribution to Burma is decades-old and just beginning.

“Today we celebrate Ms. Suu Kyi’s steadfast commitment to democracy, civility and human dignity, and we do so in a manner worthy of these ideals. After all, it was a House led by a speaker from the Democrat Party, Nancy Pelosi, that initiated this measure awarding this medal, and a Republican president, George W. Bush, who signed it into law,” said Joe Boehner, speaker of the US House of Representatives.

Congressman Joe Crowley, the sponsor of the Congressional resolution to award the Gold Medal to Suu Kyi, said it was an incredible day. “Who would have thought that when this bill was introduced in the House in 2008 when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest that in a few short years she would be standing here with us on US soil receiving this honor and as a member of the Burmese parliament,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Suu Kyi met top US lawmakers and discussed the current situation in Burma and the progress being made under the reforms.