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Senate Approves Measure to Award Congressional Gold Medal to Aung San Suu Kyi, Leader of Burma’s Democratic Movement

- Senators Feinstein and McConnell co-author legislation honoring Suu Kyi -

Washington, DC – The Senate today approved a measure to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Burma’s democratic movement and Nobel Peace Laureate.

The legislation approved today was the House companion to a measure sponsored by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and a bipartisan group of 76 other Senators. The measure would award the Congressional Gold Medal to Aung San Suu Kyi in recognition of her courageous and unwavering commitment to peace, non-violence, human rights, and democracy in Burma. It would also express solidarity with Suu Kyi and the people of Burma in their continuing struggle for a free and democratic Burma.

“The Senate today has approved a measure to award our nation’s highest civilian honor to Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Burma’s democratic opposition,” Senator Feinstein said. “Suu Kyi has inspired millions of people in Burma and around the world with her unwavering commitment to the principles of democracy and freedom. This Congressional Gold Medal is a tribute to Suu Kyi’s courage and conviction, and a symbol of solidarity with the oppressed people of Burma.”

“The awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to Aung San Suu Kyi is a fitting recognition for the democratically elected leader of Burma,” Senator McConnell said.  “This is a well-deserved honor for a remarkable woman who has led the struggle for freedom and democracy in her country.”

The House legislation was sponsored by Representatives Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Don Manzullo (R-Ill.). It was approved by the House 400-0 on December 17, 2007.

“For three decades, Aung San Suu Kyi has valiantly led the nonviolent movement in Burma for democracy and human rights,” said Representative Crowley, a member of both the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Human Rights Caucus.  “Her work and dedication to the cause of freedom and individual liberty has earned her recognition throughout the world, including the Nobel Peace Prize.  Aung San Suu Kyi’s passionate and nonviolent commitment to a free democratic Burma, has won the hearts and minds of the Burmese people.  Today, the U.S. Senate showed her and the world that she has also won the hearts and minds of the U.S. Congress.”

“The American people are outraged by the continued detention of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Burma’s revolutionary hero and one of the most honorable advocates for democracy and human rights the world will ever know,” said Representative Manzullo, lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment. “It is time for the junta to recognize the will of the Burmese people and open the door for true reconciliation.  By awarding Ms. Suu Kyi with the Congressional Gold Medal, we send a strong message that enough is enough.” 

About the Congressional Gold Medal

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. 

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 its 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.

In May 2007, 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 2007, Burmese monks sparked the “Saffron Revolution,” leading peaceful protests against the military regime. They were joined by 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.