Myanmar’s democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, received the highest civilian award from U.S. lawmakers, the Congressional Gold Medal, in a ceremony yesterday in Washington.
“This is one of the most moving days of my life,” she told a gathering of congressional leaders in the Capitol Rotunda that also included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former first lady Laura Bush. She thanked the American people for keeping her and her nation in mind during the many years of repression in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
Suu Kyi went from the Capitol to the White House for a private visit with President Barack Obama. During their meeting, Obama reaffirmed U.S. support for political and economic change in Myanmar while expressing admiration for Suu Kyi’s “courage, determination and personal sacrifice” in advocating democracy, according to a White House statement.
“The President expressed his conviction that the ongoing process of reconciliation and reform offers the people of that nation the opportunity to take charge of their destiny,” according to the statement.
Shortly after Suu Kyi left the meeting with Obama, the Treasury Department announced that the U.S. is lifting sanctions against Myanmar’s President Thein Sein and lower house of parliament Speaker Shwe Mann in recognition of their “efforts on behalf of reform” in the country.
‘Moment of Joy’
When Congress voted to grant her the award in 2008, Suu Kyi was under house arrest by a military junta in Myanmar for her advocacy of democracy and human rights. She was released in November 2010 after spending 15 years as a political prisoner. She was elected to parliament this year amid reforms.
“Today is a moment of joy, a moment to honor a genuine hero -- or heroine,” said Democratic Representative Joseph Crowley of New York, one of the lawmakers who sponsored her award.
She is someone who has inspired millions of others to stand up for human rights and for justice, he said.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona called Suu Kyi “my personal hero.”
Suu Kyi said Sept. 18 she supported the easing of sanctions as her nation moves toward more democracy. The U.S. has been encouraging an opening of Myanmar to the world, including business investment. The Treasury Department said in a statement that additional sanctions may be ended “to meet changing conditions.”
In July, Obama authorized U.S. companies to invest in Myanmar for the first time in about 15 years after Thein Sein freed political prisoners, allowed greater media freedom and held peace talks with rebels.