Senators Feinstein and McConnell to Introduce Legislation to Award The Congressional Gold Medal to Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma
-Expression of solidarity with Suu Kyi in struggle for freedom and democracy-
Dec 21 2007
Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) today announced they will introduce legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in recognition of her courageous and unwavering commitment to peace, non-violence, human rights, and democracy in Burma.
“Aung San Suu Kyi is a woman of unrivaled courage,” Senator Feinstein said. “She is devoted to the cause of freedom and democracy in Burma, and she continues to suffer for her views at the hands of the military junta. She remains under house arrest, isolated and facing threats and intimidation. Despite this, she is an unrelenting force for change in Burma and is committed to the cause of national reconciliation. I am proud to join with Senator McConnell to co-author legislation that would honor her with the Congressional Gold Medal.”
Senator McConnell, the Senate Republican Leader, said: “I am honored to join my friend, Dianne Feinstein, in authoring legislation to award Aung San Suu Kyi the Congressional Gold Medal. The Burmese democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate is a tireless advocate for the rights and welfare of the Burmese people and continues to sacrifice much in the struggle for democracy in her country.”
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.
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 legislation would also express solidarity with Suu Kyi and the people of Burma in their continuing struggle for a free and democratic Burma.
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.
Aung San Suu 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. The Burmese junta had her placed under house arrest and held without charges or trial.
In 1990, the National League for Democracy won 82 percent of the seats in parliamentary elections, which would have made Suu Kyi Prime Minister. But the junta annulled the election results, and refused to release Suu Kyi.
Since then, the Burmese regime – called the State Peace and Development Council -- has refused to engage in a national dialogue with Suu Kyi and the democratic opposition, and intensified its campaign of oppression and abuse.
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. 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, and has spent more than 12 of the past 17 years under house arrest.
- In 2000, Suu Kyi was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, by President Bill Clinton.
Despite international recognition, Suu Kyi remains the target of intimidation and threats in her home country. In 2003, she was targeted for assassination while riding in a motorcade in the northern village of Depayin.
Earlier this 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, First Lady Laura Bush joined with the Senate Women’s Caucus on Burma to express solidarity with Suu Kyi.
McConnell-Feinstein Burma Sanctions Legislation:
In July, 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, including Suu Kyi.
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, Nelson Mandela, and the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.
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.