There was a time, not so long ago, when Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was hailed by the international community as “the bravest and most moral person in the world … the immaculate heroine who allows us all to feel a little better about human nature”. As a political prisoner for almost fifteen years, she was widely lauded for her moral and physical courage, her unwavering commitment to the principles of universal human rights and her steadfast advocacy of peaceful political change. From world capitals to the smallest villages of Myanmar, from the highest in rank to the lowest in social status, the charismatic opposition leader with “orchids in her hair and iron in her will” was an inspiration to millions.
In recognition of these qualities, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 (for her “non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights”), the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1993 and the Olof Palme Prize in 2005. In 2008, she was awarded the US Congressional Gold Medal, the country’s highest civilian honour. When it was finally presented to her, in 2012, President Barack Obama expressed his admiration for “her courage, determination and personal sacrifice in championing democracy and human rights over the years”. For most of that time, she was being held under house arrest by Myanmar’s ruling military council. In 2012, after her release, she was given the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent, and France awarded her the Legion d’Honneur.