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REF NO.: 270
SUBJECT: Noted human rights activist and Nobel laureate to receive honorary degree from Memorial University
DATE: May 27
She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and is an international symbol of heroic and peaceful resistance in the face of oppression in her native Burma. Known throughout the world as a valiant promoter of human rights and democracy, her painful yet poignant story has attracted the attention of people like Bono, the front man for the rock band U2.
On Friday, May 28, 2004, Canada’s Memorial University of Newfoundland will award Aung San Suu Kyi an honorary doctor of laws degree for her work promoting freedom, democracy and human rights in Burma. She won’t be able to receive the honour in person, however, because she continues to be under house arrest in Burma, a fact of her life since 1989. She will receive the degree in absentia, a rare occurrence when it comes to honorary degrees.
“Her story is in many aspects a painful one, but it also reaffirms some of our most basic principles,” said Dr. Annette Staveley, a professor of English at Memorial and one of the official university orators who research and present honorary degree candidates at the graduation ceremonies. Dr. Staveley will deliver the oration in Aung San Suu Kyi’s honour.
“Aung San Suu Kyi’s life has been given over to a struggle that many believe in, but for which few of us are perhaps ready to give so much,” Dr. Staveley said. “Despite the isolation and deprivations brought about through her house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi has not only survived, but has become a beacon shining beyond the walls of her home in Rangoon. Memorial’s honour – even bestowed in absentia – is meant to raise awareness of her valiant vigil.”
Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of the late Burmese nationalist leader, General Aung San, whose resistance to British colonial rule culminated in Burma's independence in 1948. After attending school in the Burmese capital Rangoon, Aung San Suu Kyi lived in India, and then went to Britain where she received a bachelor of arts at Oxford University.
Aung San Suu Kyi first came to prominence when she returned to Burma in August 1988 and became the leader of a burgeoning pro-democracy movement in the aftermath of the brutal repression of a pro-democratic uprising earlier that summer. The movement quickly grew into a political party that went on to win an overwhelming majority of 82 per cent in national elections in 1990, by which time she had already been under house arrest for a year. She has been under government-enforced house arrest from 1989 to 1995, again from September 2000 to May 2002, and finally from May 2003 to present. Aung San Suu Kyi has written a number of books including, Letters from Burma (1998) Freedom From Fear and Other Writings (1991) and The Voice of Hope (1997).
“Peace, development and justice are all connected to each other,” Aung San Suu Kyi said in a speech in 2003. “We cannot talk about economic development without talking about peace. How can we expect economic development in a battlefield?... In a civil society, where basic human rights are ignored, where the rights of the people are violated every day, it is like a battlefield where lives are lost and people are crippled, because people can lose their lives… When we talk about peace, we cannot avoid talking about basic human rights, especially in a country like Burma where people are troubled constantly by a lack of human rights and a lack of justice and a lack of peace.”
“I do not like to be thought of as anything more than an ordinary person,” Aung San Suu Kyi told an interviewer writing for Marie Claire magazine in 1996. Still, Dr. Staveley notes that Aung San Suu Kyi’s political work of peaceful resistance has come at great personal cost. At one point in her house arrest, she was out of contact with her husband and two sons for two-and-a-half years. In 1998 her husband was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1999, and she never saw him during his illness, concerned that if she left Burma she would never be allowed to return.
Writing in a recent Time magazine special edition devoted to the 100 most influential people in the world, U2’s Bono – who wrote the award-winning song Walk On about Aung San Suu Kyi’s plight – noted that “Aung San Suu Kyi is a real hero in an age of phony phone-in celebrity, which hands out that title freely to the most spoiled and underqualified. Her quiet voice of reason makes the world look noisy, mad: it is a low mantra of grace in an age of terror, a reminder of everything we take for granted and just what it can take to get it. Thinking of her you can’t help but use the anachronistic language of duty and personal sacrifice.”
For more information on Aung San Suu Kyi, visit:
For more information about Memorial University’s convocation, including information about how to view convocation ceremonies live on the World Wide Web, please visit www.mun.ca/univrel/convocation/sc2004.
Memorial University of Newfoundland
Founded in 1925 as a memorial to Newfoundland’s war dead, Memorial University College was elevated to degree-granting status in 1949 as Memorial University of Newfoundland. Today, the university is the largest university in Atlantic Canada, with more than 17,000 students. Memorial provides excellent undergraduate, graduate and professional programs in virtually all disciplines. With locations in St. John's and Corner Brook in Newfoundland, Happy Valley-Goose Bay in
Labrador, the French-owned island of Saint-Pierre, and Harlow in England, Memorial is committed to experiential learning. The university’s many interdisciplinary programs abound with opportunities for living learning, ranging from on-campus employment to work terms around the world.
Outstanding research and scholarship, extraordinary teaching and a focus on community service are our hallmarks. Many teaching and research activities reflect our mid-North Atlantic locations; these unique settings and our cultural heritage have led to the creation of highly-regarded academic programs and specialized facilities in areas such as music, linguistics, folklore, and human genetics, as well as earth sciences, cold-ocean engineering, rural health care and archaeology.
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For further information, please contact Ivan Muzychka, manager, Memorial University News Service, 737-8665, cell 687-9433, firstname.lastname@example.org