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Aung San Suu Kyi: A Life on Trial

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    Aung San Suu Kyi receives a guard of honor prior to a meeting in Tokyo, Japan, on October 9, 2018. (The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images)
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    Anti-coup protesters hold posters with an image of deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon, Myanmar, on February 20, 2021. (AP)
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    Aung San Suu Kyi arrives at the Myanmar Entrepreneurship Summit in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, in 2018. (AP/Aung Shine Oo)
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    Myanmar’s military blocks a road leading to the parliament building on February 2, 2021, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. The military staged a coup and detained senior politicians on February 1. (AP)
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    Aung San Suu Kyi addresses thousands at a rally in Rangoon, Myanmar (also sometimes referred to as Burma), on October 14, 1991. (AP/The Nation)
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Author, politician, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is a key player in Myanmar’s history. She helped move the Asian country, also known as Burma, from a military-run government to a partial democracy—but at a cost. Suu Kyi faces charges of treason and bribery.

Political Beginnings

Aung San Suu Kyi is the youngest daughter of national hero Aung San, the Father of Modern Burma, and popular politician Khin Kyi. Suu Kyi graduated from the University of Delhi in 1964 and the University of Oxford in 1968. She worked at the United Nations before marrying British citizen Michael Aris in 1972.

Since gaining independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar’s many ethnic groups have fought bloody civil wars almost non-stop. The country has struggled with a ruthless military, rampant poverty, and human rights abuses.

Suu Kyi returned to Myanmar from Britain in 1988. She went to care for her mother—and to push for democracy there. She helped form the National League for Democracy (NLD) political party. In the 1990 elections, the NLD won a parliament majority.

Honors and Arrests

But Myanmar’s military leaders refused to give up power. Threatened by her influence, the military had arrested Suu Kyi before the elections. She remained under house arrest (serving jail time at home) for almost 15 years. In 1991, she received the Nobel Peace Prize for “her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights.”

In 2011, the military regime lost control. Suu Kyi and other political prisoners emerged from house arrest. Four years later, the NLD again won a majority.

Many global leaders thought Suu Kyi would become Myanmar’s president. But the country’s constitution prevents Suu Kyi, whose husband and children have foreign citizenship, from taking that office. Instead, she accepted a role similar to prime minister. It was created especially for her: state counsellor.

Leader on Trial

Many people criticize Suu Kyi’s leadership. As state counsellor, she defended military abuses against the country’s Rohingya minority (see Myanmar Coup) and limited freedom of the press.

In February 2021, Myanmar’s military overthrew the elected government, again arresting Suu Kyi and other top NLD party members.

Suu Kyi faces corruption charges filed by the military-installed government. They include accepting bribes, sedition (spreading information that could cause public alarm or unrest), breaking pandemic restrictions, and illegally importing walkie-talkies for her bodyguards. Many people say the charges are bogus—an attempt to discredit her and make the military takeover seem legal.

Phil Robertson is deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch. His group doubts Suu Kyi will receive a fair trial. Robertson says, “Clearly there are double standards being applied.”