Senators Feinstein and McConnell Introduce Legislation to Award Congressional Gold Medal to Aung San Suu Kyi, Leader of Burma’s Democratic Movement
- Feinstein-McConnell bill has bipartisan support of 73 other senators -
Feb 13 2008
Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) today introduced a measure to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Burma’s democratic movement and Nobel Peace Laureate. The bill has the bipartisan support of 73 other senators.
The Aung Sung Suu Kyi Congressional Gold Medal Act would recognize that Suu Kyi embodies the qualities represented by the medal, the highest honor bestowed by Congress. The Gold Medal would be awarded in recognition of her courageous and unwavering commitment to peace, non-violence, human rights, and democracy in Burma. The legislation would also express solidarity with Suu Kyi and the people of Burma in their continuing struggle for a free and democratic Burma.
“Aung San Suu Kyi is a woman of unrivaled courage and commitment. Her vision of democracy, peace and hope resonates throughout Burma and around the world. And she has never wavered from her principles, even in the face of harassment, intimidation, and threats on her life,” Senator Feinstein said. “This Congressional Gold Medal will not only honor the life and legacy of this remarkable woman, it will also demonstrate to the world that her cause is our cause: a free and democratic Burma.”
“While the Burmese government continues its campaign of oppression and abuse against its own people, one woman symbolizes the peaceful struggle for freedom and democracy in Burma,” Senator McConnell said. “That woman is Aung San Suu Kyi and by awarding her the Congressional Gold Medal, we are letting the military junta and the world know that the people of America will continue to speak out in favor of meaningful reform in her country. Her cause is our cause.”
For more than two centuries, Congress has expressed public gratitude on behalf of the nation for distinguished contributions through the occasional commissioning of individual struck gold medals in its name.
This award, which initially was bestowed on military leaders, has also been given to such diverse individuals as Sir Winston Churchill and Bob Hope, George Washington and Robert Frost, Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, and other Nobel Peace Laureates, such as Elie Wiesel and Nelson Mandela. Most recently, Congress awarded the Gold Medal to His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet. Senator Feinstein was the lead Democratic sponsor of the legislation to authorize the medal.
Under the rules, Congressional Gold Medals require the support of at least two-thirds of the Members of both the Senate and House of Representatives before they can be signed into law by the president.
The Gold Medal bill must now be considered by the Senate Banking Committee before it can be brought to the Senate floor for final passage.
The Feinstein-McConnell legislation is the Senate companion to legislation introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Don Manzullo (R-Ill.) Their legislation passed the House in a 400 to 0 vote on December 17, 2007.
Background on Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi was born on June 19, 1945 in Rangoon to Aung San, commander of the Burma Independence Army, and Ma Khin Kyi.
In August 1988, Suu Kyi, in her first political action, sent an open letter to the military- controlled government, asking for free, open and multi-party elections. The following month, she founded the National League for Democracy, which remains dedicated to a policy of non-violence and civil disobedience. Suu Kyi was named its general-secretary.
Recognizing the threat Suu Kyi posted to their grip on power, the Burmese junta had her placed under house arrest and held without charges or trial. Yet, despite the best efforts of the military junta to suppress the growing democratic movement, in 1990 the National League for Democracy won 82 percent of the seats in parliamentary elections. But the junta annulled the election results and refused to release Suu Kyi.
Since then, the Burmese regime – now called the State Peace and Development Council -- has refused to engage in a national dialogue with Suu Kyi and the democratic opposition, and has intensified its campaign of oppression and abuse. In 2003, pro-government thugs attempted to assassinate Su Kyi and other members of the National League for Democracy as they rode in a motorcade in the northern city of Depayin.
Last May, the military junta renewed her house arrest for another year. In fact, for most of the past 18 years, she has remained imprisoned or under house arrest, alone even without minimal contact with the outside world.
Suu Kyi’s commitment to freedom and democracy has been widely recognized:
- In 1990, Suu Kyi was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament. The prize honors efforts on behalf of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and in opposition to injustice and oppression. It is named for the late Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
- In 1991, Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to non-violence and support for freedom and democracy for Burma. She was not allowed to attend the ceremony. Suu Kyi donated her $1.3 million in prize money to establish a health and education fund for Burma. She is the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
- In 2000, Suu Kyi was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, by President Bill Clinton.
Last year, Senators Feinstein, McConnell, and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), co-chair of the U.S. Senate Women’s Caucus on Burma, introduced a resolution honoring Suu Kyi, and calling for her immediate release and the release of other political prisoners in Burma. In May 2007, First Lady Laura Bush joined with the Senate Women’s Caucus on Burma to express solidarity with Suu Kyi.
In August, Burmese monks sparked the “Saffron Revolution,” leading peaceful protests against the military regime. They were joined by hundreds of thousands of Burmese citizens. The movement was brutally repressed by the regime, with hundreds of monks, nuns and other civilians beaten and jailed. At least 31 people were killed and 74 reported missing. More than 600 protesters remain imprisoned.
McConnell-Feinstein Burma Sanctions Legislation:
In July 2007, the Senate passed a Burma sanctions bill introduced by Senators McConnell and Feinstein. The Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, signed into law by President Bush, calls for renewal of sanctions against the Burmese junta, including an import ban on Burmese goods and visa restrictions on officials from the Burmese regime.
This was the fifth consecutive year that Senators McConnell and Feinstein worked together to extend the annual ban on imports from Burma. The McConnell-Feinstein legislation maintains sanctions until the regime takes concrete, irreversible steps toward reconciliation and democratization, including unconditional release of all political prisoners, such as Suu Kyi.