(AP Photo/Office of Senator Jim Webb)
Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, who was kept under a long period of house arrest for advocating democracy, gave her Nobel speech in Norway on Saturday, 21 years after she was awarded the peace prize. Her visit to Europe was seen as a sign of change, which she credited to those who spread awareness about her country globally.
"It is because of recent changes in my country that I am with you today; and these changes have come about because of you and other lovers of freedom and justice who contributed towards a global awareness of our situation," Suu Kyi said in her speech, about one and a half years after she was freed from roughly two decades of house arrest in Burma, officially known as Myanmar.
The 66-year-old opposition leader, locally known as the Lady, visited Europe for the first time in 24 years.
She cited the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, telling the audience why she was fighting for human rights in Burma.
"…Disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspirations of the common people, … it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law...," she quoted.
"If I am asked why I am fighting for democracy in Burma, it is because I believe that democratic institutions and practices are necessary for the guarantee of human rights," she said.
Suu Kyi acknowledged the reforms the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has introduced since the 2010 general election, after decades of military rule. Observers says the ruling party, led by former military generals, brought in reforms to make a case for lifting of sanctions by Western countries and to get the chair of the regional bloc Association of South-East Asian Nations.
She said the peace prize encouraged her in her efforts. "When the Nobel Committee chose to honor me, the road I had chosen of my own free will became a less lonely path to follow. For this I thank the Committee, the people of Norway and peoples all over the world whose support has strengthened my faith in the common quest for peace." The prize, she said, "had made me real once again; it had drawn me back into the wider human community."
Suu Kyi has cautioned the global community against being overly optimistic about the change in the country.
"There have been changes in a positive direction; steps towards democratization have been taken," she said. "If I advocate cautious optimism it is not because I do not have faith in the future but because I do not want to encourage blind faith."
Democracy activists in Burma point out that the reforms are not irreversible. And human rights groups say the government of Buddhist-majority Burma has not brought any significant change in ethnic minority states along the country's borders with India, Thailand and China. Burmese soldiers are at war with armed resistance groups in ethnic minority groups, where most Christians live, that have been demanding autonomy for decades. The war has witnessed thousands of civilian casualties.
Suu Kyi appealed for the "earliest, unconditional release" of all prisoners of conscience.
She also cautioned the world against seeking peace with negativity. "Fires of suffering and strife are raging around the world. In my own country, hostilities have not ceased in the far north; to the west, communal violence resulting in arson and murder were taking place just several days before I started out on the journey that has brought me here today."
Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland, who introduced Suu Kyi, said her life was "a message to all of us." "You have paid a high price but you have been spreading hope, and the world needs hope," he said.