Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar’s opposition, said the struggle for democracy and human rights is beginning to show results as she demanded the release of remaining prisoners of conscience in the South Asian nation.
“Over the past year, there have been signs that the endeavours of those who believe in democracy and human rights are beginning to bear fruit in Burma,” Suu Kyi said at the Nobel Peace Prize lecture in Oslo today. “There have been changes in a positive direction; steps towards democratization have been taken.”
The 66-year-old said she was optimistic about the continued struggle, while warning against “blind faith” and calling for the “earliest, unconditional release” of prisoners of conscience. Her lecture comes 21 years after she received the award. She was detained by Myanmar’s military junta after winning elections in 1990 and was unable to collect the prize.
Suu Kyi, who was released in 2010, said today that the prize helped break her isolation while in house arrest, drew her back into the world and restored a sense of reality. The award made sure the struggle was not forgotten, she said.
Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said that Norway had never forgotten about her, also mentioning other laureates who have been unable to receive their prizes, including Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010.
King Harald and Queen Sonja, as well as Burmese citizens who wore traditional folk dress, attended the lecture. Performances included a Norwegian violinist and a Burmese harpist. Outside, Burmese artists were giving performances and an exhibit in her honor is staged.
“We have been waiting for you for a very long time,” Jagland said at Oslo City Hall, the traditional site for Nobel Peace lectures. “We hope that Liu Xiaobo will not have to wait as long as she has had to before he can come to Oslo.”
Annual prizes for peace, physics, chemistry, medicine, and literature were established in the will of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite who died in 1896, and they were first awarded in 1901. The peace prize is handed out in Oslo and the others in Stockholm, including one for economics that was established by Sweden’s central bank. Past peace laureates include U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., President Barack Obama and Mother Teresa.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won 43 of 44 by-election seats it contested on April 1, giving it representation in the 664-member parliament still dominated by President Thein Sein and the military. The next nationwide election is scheduled for 2015.
“I stand ready and willing to play any role in the process of national reconciliation,” Suu Kyi said in her lecture. The reforms put in motion by the government “can be sustained only with the intelligent cooperation of all internal forces: the military, our ethnic nationalities, political parties, the media, civil society organizations, the business community and, most important of all, the general public.”
Many of the Burmese draped her in scarves and gave her flowers as she exited.
Clashes in western Myanmar involving Muslim Rohingyas near the Bangladesh border claimed dozens of lives this month and highlighted the plight of Rohingyas who are denied citizenship in Myanmar and restricted from traveling freely. Calm has returned to Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where an emergency was declared after six days of violence killed 50 people and displaced more than 30,000, the Associated Press reported.