The International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) together honored Burmese democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at a dinner on Wednesday, September 19. The event was a part of Aung San Suu Kyi’s official trip to the United States and included remarks by former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, chair of NDI, and U.S. Senator John McCain, chair of IRI.

In her remarks, Aung San Suu Kyi talked about her country’s the historic April 2012 by-elections, the important work of governing and the future of Burma. She also commented that while democracy isn’t perfect it is the best system of government stating, “The best thing about democracy is that it allows for non-violent change in power, without hurt to the country.”

While she appealed to those who support democracy to continue to assist her country, Aung San Suu Kyi recognized that the country’s future rests with the Burmese people. “I know how much the world wants us to succeed. The world wants a success story, a happy ending. And we want to be that success story, that happy ending.”

During his remarks, Senator McCain, Senator McCain talked about the historic nature of Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit and the inspiration she is to millions around the world. “And if I could end on a personal note, the Lady we honor tonight has been, and remains, a personal hero and an inspiration to me. I’ve known quite a few brave and inspiring people, but none more so than Aung San Suu Kyi. I first met her 15 years ago…She was exquisitely polite and graceful. She spoke softly and calmly, the picture of gentleness and serenity. Is this the woman, I asked myself, who has managed somehow to cause so much trouble for the powerful, violent, cruel men who unlawfully ruled her country – men who are so befuddled by the implacable resistance offered by this one, gentle lady? They had attacked her, jailed her, threatened her, isolated her, kept her from her family. They had done all that could be done to break her spirit and will to resist. But she never, never yielded.”

During her U.S. trip, Aung San Suu Kyi is accepting in person many of the honors she was unable to receive while she was under house arrest. She accepted the Congressional Gold Medal, which she was awarded in 2008. She was awarded IRI’s Freedom Award in 1999 and NDI’s W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award in 1996.

On Wednesday, May 2, 2012, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent almost 15 of the last 20 years under house arrest, finally took her seat in Parliament. The historic April 2012 Burmese by-elections marked the first time in more than 20 years that her party, the National League for Democracy, was allowed to compete for public office.

After decades of military rule and economic stagnation, Burma has begun to initiate political and economic reforms, but the future of democracy for the citizens of Burma will depend greatly upon the presence and leadership of this Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Congressional Gold Medal recipient, and tireless champion of peaceful political reform.

Born in 1945 in Rangoon, Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of the hero of Burmese independence, the late Bogyoke Aung San, was educated abroad before returning to Burma in 1988 to care for her dying mother. Aung San Suu Kyi began to speak out, answering her people’s call – simply, fearlessly and to electrifying effect. Within two years, she was the leader of a democratic movement that won more than 80 percent of the parliamentary seats it contested. These election results, however, were overturned by the military junta, which violently repressed citizen demands for democratic civilian rule. While under extended periods of house arrest, she repeated her call for dialogue aimed at achieving a peaceful transition to democratic rule.

This year marks a truly historic milestone for Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese people. While the struggle for freedom is never easy and has no end, we salute this woman of valor whose determination and sacrifice for democracy has inspired not only the Burmese people, but the entire world.

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