Washington — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton welcomed Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to Washington and affirmed that the United States is committed to standing with the Burmese government and the Burmese people to support the progress they have made toward greater freedom.
Suu Kyi “has represented the struggle for freedom and democracy, for human rights and opportunity, not only in her own country but … around the world,” Clinton said September 18 at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, where Suu Kyi was presented with the Asia Society’s Global Vision Award.
Suu Kyi, the chairwoman of Burma’s National League for Democracy, was recently elected to her country’s Parliament after enduring “years of house arrest and persecution,” but her “courage and moral leadership never wavered,” Clinton said.
Now, with President Thein Sein and a new government that includes members of Burma’s opposition, she is working to drive Burma’s recent wave of reforms forward, Clinton said.
“Hundreds of prisoners of conscience have been released over the past year, including some just this week. Opposition political parties have been legalized, and their members have won seats in Parliament. Restrictions on the press and on freedom of assembly have eased,” Clinton said.
In addition, new laws are expanding the rights of workers, including allowing labor unions and outlawing forced labor, and the government and some of Burma’s ethnic groups have been able to reach fragile cease-fires after years of armed conflict, she said.
The Obama administration has sent the first U.S. ambassador to Burma since 1990 and has taken steps to ease economic sanctions and to “pave the way for American companies to invest in the country in a way that advances, rather than undermines, continued reforms,” the secretary said.
Much work lies ahead, and the process of reform needs to continue, Clinton said, including the release of the remaining political prisoners, national reconciliation among ethnic and religious groups, strengthening the rule of law and transparency, and ending Burmese military contacts with North Korea.
The United States “is committed to standing with the government and the people of Burma to support this progress that has begun,” she said.
Suu Kyi said the Burmese people are “not yet at the end of our struggle, but we are getting there,” with more hurdles to cross in their long struggle for democracy.
“What we have to do in the future is not just to build democracy in Burma, but to rebuild our nation in a democratic mold. And in this, we look to help from our friends who understand and who appreciate the value of democracy and democratic values,” she said.
The Burmese people "don't need to cling to sanctions,” she said. “Our people need to be responsible for their own destiny ... not rely on external pressure."
She thanked the United States for standing firmly with Burma’s democratic forces from the beginning of their struggle.
“When people are in a difficult situation, we need friends. We need friends who are strong and who are committed. The United States is committed to democratic values and proved to be a good friend to all of us who struggled for democracy,” Suu Kyi said.