On 1 April 2012, the NLD announced that Aung San Suu Kyi had won the vote for a seat in Parliament. A news broadcast on state-run MRTV, reading the announcements of the Union Election Commission, confirmed her victory, as well as her party’s victory in 43 of the 45 contested seats, officially making Aung San Suu Kyi the Leader of the Opposition in the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw.
Although she and other MP-elects were expected to take office on 23 April when the Hluttaws resumed session, National League for Democracy MP-elects, including Aung San Suu Kyi, said they might not take their oaths because of its wording; in its present form, parliamentarians must vow to “safeguard” the constitution. In an address on Radio Free Asia, she said “We don’t mean we will not attend the parliament, we mean we will attend only after taking the oath … Changing that wording in the oath is also in conformity with the Constitution. I don’t expect there will be any difficulty in doing it.”
On 2 May 2012, National League for Democracy MP-elects, including Aung San Suu Kyi, took their oaths and took office, though the wording of the oath was not changed. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Suu Kyi and her colleagues decided they could do more by joining as lawmakers than maintaining their boycott on principle.” On 9 July 2012, she attended the Parliament for the first time as a lawmaker. 
On 16 June 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi was finally able to deliver her Nobel acceptance speech (Nobel lecture) at Oslo’s City Hall, two decades after being awarded the peace prize. In September 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi received in person the United States Congressional Gold Medal, which is the highest Congressional award. Although she was awarded this medal in 2008, at the time she was under house arrest, and was unable to receive the medal. Aung San Suu Kyi was greeted with bipartisan support at Congress, as part of a coast-to-coast tour in the United States. In addition, Aung San Suu Kyi met President Barack Obama at the White House. The experience was described by Aung San Suu Kyi as “one of the most moving days of my life.” In 2014, she was listed as the 61st most powerful woman in the world by Forbes.
Suu Kyi meeting Barack Obama at the White House in September 2012
On 6 July 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi announced on the World Economic Forum’s website that she wanted to run for the presidency in Myanmar’s 2015 elections. The current Constitution, which came into effect in 2008, bars her from the presidency because she is the widow and mother of foreigners – provisions that appeared to be written specifically to prevent her from being eligible.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meeting Aung San Suu Kyi in London, 12 September 2016
The NLD won a sweeping victory in those elections, winning at least 255 seats in the House of Representatives and 135 seats in the House of Nationalities. In addition, Aung San Suu Kyi won re-election to the House of Representatives. Under the 2008 constitution, the NLD needed to win at least a two-thirds majority in both houses to ensure that its candidate would become president. Before the elections, Aung San Suu Kyi announced that even though she is constitutionally barred from the presidency, she would hold the real power in any NLD-led government. On 30 March 2016 she became Minister for the President’s Office, for Foreign Affairs, for Education and for Electric Power and Energy in President Htin Kyaw’s government; later she relinquished the latter two ministries and President Htin Kyaw appointed her State Counsellor, a position akin to a Prime Minister created especially for her. The position of State Counsellor was approved by the House of Nationalities on 1 April 2016 and the House of Representatives on 5 April 2016. The next day, her role as State Counsellor was established.
Foreign Minister and State Counsellor (2016–present)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Aung San Suu Kyi in New Delhi, 24 January 2018
As soon as she became foreign minister, she invited Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Canadian Foreign Minister Stephane Dion and Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni in April and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in May and discussed to have good diplomatic relationships with these countries.
Aung San Suu Kyi with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, 25 January 2018. Initially, upon accepting the State Counsellor position, she granted amnesty to the students who were arrested for opposing the National Education Bill, and announced a creation of the commission on Rakhine state, which had a long record of persecution of the Muslim Rohingya minority. However, soon Aung San Suu Kyi’s government did not manage with the ethnic conflicts in Shan and Kachin states, where thousands of refugees fled to China, and by 2017 the persecution of the Rohingya by the government forces escalated to the point that it is not uncommonly called a genocide. Aung San Suu Kyi, when interviewed, has denied the allegations of ethnic cleansing. She has also refused to grant citizenship to the Rohingya, instead taking steps to issue ID cards for residency but no guarantees of citizenship.
Aung San Suu Kyi with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, 14 November 2018
Her tenure as State Counsellor of Myanmar has drawn international criticism for her failure to address her country’s economic and ethnic problems, particularly the plight of the Rohingya following the 25 August 2017 ARSA attacks (described as “certainly one of the biggest refugee crises and cases of ethnic cleansing since the second world war”), for the weakening of freedom of the press and for her style of leadership, described as imperious and “distracted and out of touch”.
Response to violence against Rohingya Muslims and refugees
In 2017, critics called for Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel prize to be revoked, citing her silence over the persecution of Rohingya people in Myanmar. Some activists criticised Aung San Suu Kyi for her silence on the 2012 Rakhine State riots (later repeated during the 2015 Rohingya refugee crisis), and her indifference to the plight of the Rohingya, Myanmar’s persecuted Muslim minority. In 2012, she told reporters she did not know if the Rohingya could be regarded as Burmese citizens. In a 2013 interview with the BBC’s Mishal Husain, Aung San Suu Kyi did not condemn violence against the Rohingya and denied that Muslims in Myanmar have been subject to ethnic cleansing, insisting that the tensions were due to a “climate of fear” caused by “a worldwide perception that global Muslim power is ‘very great'”. She did condemn “hate of any kind” in the interview. According to Peter Popham, in the aftermath of the interview, she expressed anger at being interviewed by a Muslim. Husain had challenged Suu Kyi that almost all of the impact of violence was against the Rohingya, in response to Aung San Suu Kyi’s claim that violence was happening on both sides, and Peter Popham described her position on the issue as one of purposeful ambiguity for political gain.[page needed]
However, she said that she wanted to work towards reconciliation and she cannot take sides as violence has been committed by both sides. According to The Economist, her “halo has even slipped among foreign human-rights lobbyists, disappointed at her failure to make a clear stand on behalf of the Rohingya minority”. However, she has spoken out “against a ban on Rohingya families near the Bangladeshi border having more than two children”.
In a 2015 BBC News article, reporter Jonah Fisher suggested that Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence over the Rohingya issue is due to a need to obtain support from the majority Bamar ethnicity as she is in “the middle of a general election campaign”. In May 2015, the Dalai Lama publicly called upon her to do more to help the Rohingya in Myanmar, claiming that he had previously urged her to address the plight of the Rohingya in private during two separate meetings and that she had resisted his urging. In May 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi asked the newly appointed United States Ambassador to Myanmar, Scot Marciel, not to refer to the Rohingya by that name as they “are not recognized as among the 135 official ethnic groups” in Myanmar. This followed Bamar protests at Marciel’s use of the word “Rohingya”.
In 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi was accused of failing to protect Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims during the 2016–17 persecution. State crime experts from Queen Mary University of London warned that Aung San Suu Kyi is “legitimising genocide” in Myanmar. Despite continued persecution of the Rohingya well into 2017, Aung San Suu Kyi was “not even admitting, let alone trying to stop, the army’s well-documented campaign of rape, murder and destruction against Rohingya villages”. On 4 September 2017, Yanghee Lee, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, criticised Suu Kyi’s response to the “really grave” situation in Rakhine, saying: “The de facto leader needs to step in – that is what we would expect from any government, to protect everybody within their own jurisdiction.” The BBC reported that “Her comments came as the number of Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh reached 87,000, according to UN estimates”, adding that “her sentiments were echoed by Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai, who said she was waiting to hear from Ms Suu Kyi – who has not commented on the crisis since it erupted”. The next day George Monbiot, writing in The Guardian, called on readers to sign a change.org petition to have the Nobel peace prize revoked, criticising her silence on the matter and asserting “whether out of prejudice or out of fear, she denies to others the freedoms she rightly claimed for herself. Her regime excludes – and in some cases seeks to silence – the very activists who helped to ensure her own rights were recognised.” The Nobel Foundation replied that there existed no provision for revoking a Nobel Prize. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a fellow peace prize holder, also criticised Suu Kyi’s silence: in an open letter published on social media, he said: “If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep … It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country.” On 13 September it was revealed that Aung San Suu Kyi would not be attending a UN General Assembly debate being held the following week to discuss the humanitarian crisis, with a Myanmar government spokesman stating “perhaps she has more pressing matters to deal with”.
In October 2017, Oxford City Council announced that, following a unanimous cross-party vote, the honour of Freedom of the City, granted in 1997 in recognition of her “long struggle for democracy”, was to be withdrawn following evidence emerging from the United Nations which meant that she was “no longer worthy of the honour”. A few days later, Munsur Ali, a councillor for City of London Corporation, tabled a motion to rescind the Freedom of the City of London: the motion was supported by Catherine McGuinness, chair of the corporation’s policy and resources committee, who expressed “distress … at the situation in Burma and the atrocities committed by the Burmese military”. On 13 November 2017, Bob Geldof returned his Freedom of the City of Dublin award in protest over Aung San Suu Kyi also holding the accolade, stating that he does not “wish to be associated in any way with an individual currently engaged in the mass ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people of north-west Burma”. Calling Aung San Suu Kyi a “handmaiden to genocide”, Geldof added that he would take pride in his award being restored if it is first stripped from her. The Dublin City Council voted 59–2 (with one abstention) to revoke Aung San Suu Kyi’s Freedom of the City award over Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya people in December 2017, though Lord Mayor of Dublin Mícheál Mac Donncha denied the decision was influenced by protests by Geldof and members of U2. At the same meeting, the Councillors voted 37–7 (with 5 abstentions) to remove Geldof’s name from the Roll of Honorary Freemen.
In March 2018, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum revoked Suu Kyi’s Elie Wiesel Award, awarded in 2012, citing her failure “to condemn and stop the military’s brutal campaign” against Rohingya Muslims.
In May 2018, Aung San Suu Kyi was considered complicit in the crimes against Rohingyas in a report by Britain’s International Development Committee.
Aung San Suu Kyi with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, 22 June 2019
In August 2018, it was revealed that Aung San Suu Kyi would be stripped of her Freedom of Edinburgh award over her refusal to speak out against the crimes committed against the Rohingya. She had received the award in 2005 for promoting peace and democracy in Burma. This will be only the second time that anyone has ever been stripped of the award, after Charles Stewart Parnell lost it in 1890 due to a salacious affair. Also in August, a UN report, while describing the violence as genocide, added that Aung San Suu Kyi did as little as possible to prevent it.
In early October 2018, both the Canadian Senate and its House of Commons voted unanimously to strip Aung San Suu Kyi of her honorary citizenship. This decision was caused by the Government of Canada’s determination that the treatment of the Rohingya by Myanmar’s government amounts to Genocide.
On 11 November 2018, Amnesty International announced it was revoking her Ambassador of Conscience award. In December 2019, Suu Kyi appeared in the International Court of Justice at The Hague where she defended the Burmese military against allegations of genocide against the Rohingya. In a speech of over 3,000 words, Suu Kyi did not use the term “Rohingya” in describing the ethnic group. She stated that the allegations of genocide were “incomplete and misleading”, claiming that the situation was actually a Burmese military response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. She also questioned how there could be “genocidal intent” when the Burmese government had opened investigations and also encouraged Rohingya to return after being displaced. However, experts have largely criticized the Burmese investigations as insincere, with the military declaring itself innocent and the government preventing a visit from investigators from the United Nations. Many Rohingya have also not returned due to perceiving danger and a lack of rights in Myanmar.
In January 2020, the International Court of Justice decided that there was a “real and imminent risk of irreparable prejudice to the rights” of the Rohingya. The court also took the view that the Burmese government’s efforts to remedy the situation “do not appear sufficient” enough to protect the Rohingya. Therefore, the court ordered the Burmese government to take “all measures within its power” to protect the Rohingya from genocidal actions. The court also instructed the Burmese government to preserve evidence and report back to the court at timely intervals about the situation.
Arrests and prosecution of journalists
In December 2017, two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were arrested while investigating the Inn Din massacre of Rohingyas alleged to have been carried out by Myanmar’s security forces. Suu Kyi publicly commented in June 2018 that the journalists “weren’t arrested for covering the Rakhine issue”, but because they had broken Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act. As the journalists were then on trial for violating the Official Secrets Act, Aung San Suu Kyi’s presumption of their guilt were criticized by rights groups for potentially influencing the verdict. American diplomat Bill Richardson said that he had privately discussed the arrest with Suu Kyi, and he alleged that Aung San Suu Kyi reacted angrily and labelled the journalists “traitors”. A police officer testified that he was ordered by superiors to use entrapment to frame and arrest the journalists; he was later jailed and his family evicted from their home in the police camp. The judge found the journalists guilty in September 2018 and to be jailed for seven years. Aung San Suu Kyi reacted to widespread international criticism of the verdict by stating: “I don’t think anyone has bothered to read” the judgement as it had “nothing to do with freedom of expression at all”, but the Official Secrets Act. She also challenged critics to “point out where there has been a miscarriage of justice”, and told the two Reuters journalists that they could appeal their case to a higher court.
In September 2018, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report that since Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the NLD, came to power, the arrests and criminal prosecutions of journalists in Myanmar by the government and military, under laws which are too vague and broad, have “made it impossible for journalists to do their job without fear or favour.”
On 1 February 2021, according to the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested by the Myanmar military after they declared the November 2020 general election results fraudulent.
It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.
Asked what democratic models Myanmar could look to, she said: “We have many, many lessons to learn from various places, not just the Asian countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia, and Indonesia.” She also cited “the eastern European countries, which made the transition from communist autocracy to democracy in the 1980s and 1990s, and the Latin American countries, which made the transition from military governments. “And we cannot of course forget South Africa, because although it wasn’t a military regime, it was certainly an authoritarian regime.” She added: “We wish to learn from everybody who has achieved a transition to democracy, and also … our great strong point is that, because we are so far behind everybody else, we can also learn which mistakes we should avoid.”
In a nod to the deep US political divide between Republicans led by Mitt Romney and the Democrats of Obama—then battling to win the 2012 Presidential election—she stressed, “Those of you who are familiar with American politics I’m sure understand the need for negotiated compromise.”
Suu Kyi with French Ambassador for Human Rights, Francois Zimeray
Freedom Now, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organisation, was retained in 2006 by a member of her family to help secure Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest. The organisation secured several opinions from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that her detention was in violation of international law; engaged in political advocacy such as spearheading a letter from 112 former presidents and Prime Ministers to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging him to go to Burma to seek her release, which he did six weeks later; and published numerous opeds and spoke widely to the media about her ongoing detention. Its representation of her ended when she was released from house arrest on 13 November 2010.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been an honorary board member of International IDEA and ARTICLE 19 since her detention, and has received support from these organisations.
The Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the University of Louvain (UCLouvain), both located in Belgium, granted her the title of Doctor Honoris Causa.
In 2003, the Freedom Forum recognised Suu Kyi’s efforts to promote democracy peacefully with the Al Neuharth Free Spirit of the Year Award, in which she was presented over satellite because she was under house arrest. She was awarded one million dollars.
In June of each year, the U.S. Campaign for Burma organises hundreds of “Arrest Yourself” house parties around the world in support of Aung San Suu Kyi. At these parties, the organisers keep themselves under house arrest for 24 hours, invite their friends, and learn more about Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Freedom Campaign, a joint effort between the Human Rights Action Center and US Campaign for Burma, looks to raise worldwide attention to the struggles of Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma.
The Burma Campaign UK is a UK-based NGO (Non Governmental Organisation) that aims to raise awareness of Burma’s struggles and follow the guidelines established by the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi.
St. Hugh’s College, Oxford, where she studied, had a Burmese theme for their annual ball in support of her in 2006. The University later awarded her an honorary doctorate in civil law on 20 June 2012 during her visitation on her alma mater.
Aung San Suu Kyi is the official patron of The Rafto Human Rights House in Bergen, Norway. She received the Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize in 1990.
She was made an honorary free person of the City of Dublin, Ireland in November 1999, although a space had been left on the roll of signatures to symbolize her continued detention. This was subsequently revoked on 13 December 2017.
In November 2005 the human rights group Equality Now proposed Aung Sun Suu Kyi as a potential candidate, among other qualifying women, for the position of U.N. Secretary General. In the proposed list of qualified women Suu Kyi is recognised by Equality Now as the Prime Minister-Elect of Burma.
The UN’ special envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, met Aung San Suu Kyi on 10 March 2008 before wrapping up his trip to the military-ruled country.
Aung San Suu Kyi was an honorary member of The Elders, a group of eminent global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela. Her ongoing detention meant that she was unable to take an active role in the group, so The Elders placed an empty chair for her at their meetings. The Elders have consistently called for the release of all political prisoners in Burma. Upon her election to parliament, she stepped down from her post.
In 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi was given an honorary doctorate from the University of Johannesburg.
In 2011, Aung San Suu Kyi was named the Guest Director of the 45th Brighton Festival. She was part of the international jury of Human Rights Defenders and Personalities who helped to choose a universal Logo for Human Rights in 2011. In June 2011, the BBC announced that Aung San Suu Kyi was to deliver the 2011 Reith Lectures. The BBC covertly recorded two lectures with Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, which were then smuggled out of the country and brought back to London. The lectures were broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service on 28 June 2011 and 5 July 2011.
In November 2011, Aung San Suu Kyi received Francois Zimeray, France’s Ambassador for Human Rights.
8 March 2012, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird presented Aung San Suu Kyi a certificate of honorary Canadian citizenship and an informal invitation to visit Canada. The honorary citizenship was revoked in September 2018 due to the Rohingya conflict.
In April 2012, British Prime Minister David Cameron became the first leader of a major world power to visit Aung San Suu Kyi and the first British prime minister to visit Burma since the 1950s. In his visit, Cameron invited San Suu Kyi to Britain where she would be able to visit her ‘beloved’ Oxford, an invitation which she later accepted. She visited Britain on 19 June 2012.
In 2012 she received the Honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law from the University of Oxford.
In May 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi received the inaugural Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent of the Human Rights Foundation.
29 May 2012 PM Manmohan Singh of India visited Aung San Suu Kyi. In his visit, PM invited Aung San Suu Kyi to India as well. She started her 6-day visit to India on 16 November 2012 where among the places she visited was her alma mater Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi.
In 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi set up the charity Daw Khin Kyi Foundation to improve health, education and living standards in underdeveloped parts of Myanmar. The charity was named after Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother. Htin Kyaw played a leadership role in the charity before his election as President of Myanmar. The charity runs a Hospitality and Catering Training Academy in Kawhmu Township, in Yangon Region, and runs a mobile library service which in 2014 had 8000 members.
Seoul National University in South Korea conferred an honorary doctorate degree to Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2013. University of Bologna, Italy conferred an honorary doctorate degree in philosophy to Aung San Suu Kyi in October 2013. Monash University, The Australian National University, University of Sydney and University of Technology, Sydney conferred an honorary degree to Aung San Suu Kyi in November 2013.
Suu Kyi on the cover of Ms. in 2012
The life of Aung San Suu Kyi and her husband Michael Aris is portrayed in Luc Besson’s 2011 film The Lady, in which they are played by Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis. Yeoh visited Suu Kyi in 2011 before the film’s release in November. In the John Boorman’s 1995 film Beyond Rangoon, Aung San Suu Kyi was played by Adelle Lutz.
Since 2009, Indian actress and Bharathanatyam dancer Rukmini Vijayakumar has been portraying Aung San Suu Kyi in a one-act play titled The Lady of Burma directed by Prakash Belawadi, which also happens to be an eponymous play written by Richard Shannon.
Irish songwriters Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan released in 2005 the single “Unplayed Piano”, in support of the Free Aung San Suu Kyi 60th Birthday Campaign that was happening at the time. U2’s Bono wrote the song “Walk On” in tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi, and publicized her plight during the U2 360° Tour, 2009–2011. Saxophonist Wayne Shorter composed a song titled “Aung San Suu Kyi”. It appears on his albums 1+1 (with pianist Herbie Hancock) and Footprints Live!.
Suu Kyi underwent surgery for a gynecological condition in September 2003 at Asia Royal Hospital during her house arrest. She also underwent minor foot surgery in December 2013 and eye surgery in April 2016. Her doctor said that she had no serious health problems but weighed only 48 kg, had low blood pressure, and could become weak easily.
Letters from Burma (1991)
Honours of Aung San Suu Kyi