- Wednesday, 23 October 2013 00:00
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday finally received the EU’s Sakharov rights prize she won in 1990 at the height of a brutal military crackdown, but said her work was not yet done.
Members of the European Parliament gave Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi a standing ovation as she accepted the award from the parliament’s president Martin Schulz.
“You demonstrate that people who fight for democracy will triumph in the end,” Schulz said. “I congratulate you…. You are a great symbol of freedom and democracy.”
Dressed in a striking traditional costume of bright yellow and dark green, Suu Kyi gracefully downplayed the praise, saying much work was still to be done to bring full democracy to Myanmar.
Recalling how the military prevented her National League for Democracy from taking power after she won elections in 1990, Suu Kyi asked: “Where are we now? We have made progress since 1990 but we have not made sufficient progress.”
She said her people were “just beginning to learn” that they can ask questions, stressing that the current military-backed constitution must be changed “so that it is a really democratic one.”
Suu Kyi, 68, spent 15 years under house arrest before she was freed after elections in 2010 produced a quasi-civilian government regime.
Myanmar President Thein Sein, who took power in March 2011, has earned international recognition for reforms since then that include freeing political prisoners, with Western sanctions largely lifted.
But the military and its political allies remain in control of parliament, and religious violence and the continued arrests of activists have tempered optimism.
The current Myanmar constitution would block Suu Kyi from becoming president in elections scheduled for 2015 as it excludes anyone whose spouses or children are foreign nationals.
Her two sons are British nationals through their father, the late scholar Michael Aris.
Earlier this month, the European Parliament awarded Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai the prestigious 50,000-euro ($65,000) Sakharov prize, whose past winners include South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.
Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, with the award accepted on her behalf by her sons.