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US Senators Introduce Bill to Grant Burma’s Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Congress’ Most Prestigious Honor, Congressional Gold Medal (click to view PDF)

For Immediate Release to Media
February 13th, 2008, 2:15 PM
Contact: Jeremy Woodrum (202) 234-8022

(Washington, DC) Weeks after the House of Representatives voted 400 – 0 to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the leader of Burma’s democracy movement Aung San Suu Kyi, 75 US Senators have introduced an identical measure today in the US Senate.

The effort is spearheaded in the US Senate by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The measure is supported by Presidential front-runners Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama.

“Thousands of our members across the United States have worked very hard to ensure that this great honor is bestowed on Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Aung Din, executive director of the US Campaign for Burma and a former political prisoner in Burma. “Aung San Suu Kyi is a giant for human rights and democracy, and we hope this award will strengthen her efforts even further.”

Added Jack Healey, Director of the Human Rights Action Center, “We also want this award to send a strong signal to China. China has paralyzed United Nations efforts on Burma while providing billions in arms to Burma’s military regime. There should be no ‘business as usual’ between China and the US as long as China continues to prop up this brutal regime.”

The Congressional Gold Medal, launched in 1776, is considered the most prominent award given by the United States government. The first medal was awarded by the Second Continental Congress to then-General George Washington during the American Revolutionary War. Recipients include Thomas Edison, Sir Winston Churchill, Robert Kennedy, Elie Wiesel, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

Since the Gold Medal’s inception 232 years ago, only 19 foreigners have received the award, and Aung San Suu Kyi would be the 20th. Under Congressional rules, 2/3 of both the House and Senate must co-sponsor and pass resolutions authorizing the award. The 75 Senators introducing the bill exceed the required number of co-sponsors.

In the House, the effort was led by Representatives Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Donald Manzullo (R-IL).

Reads the legislation: “[Aung San Suu Kyi] is the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient, spending more than 12 of the past 17 years under house arrest.” The bill further states that “Despite an assassination attempt against her life, her prolonged illegal imprisonment, the constant public vilification of her character, and her inability to see her children or to see her husband before his death, Ms. Suu Kyi remains committed to peaceful dialogue with her captors, Burma’s military regime, and Burma’s ethnic minorities towards bringing democracy, human rights, and national reconciliation to Burma.”

Aung San Suu Kyi is the leader of Burma’s democracy movement, rising to national prominence in 1988 after the country’s military regime gunned down up to 10,000 civilians during nationwide nonviolent marches calling for an end to military rule. Subsequently, she led her political party the National League for Democracy to win 82% of the seats in parliament in Burma’s last democratic election in 1990. The military annulled the results of the election and locked up hundreds of her supporters. She has been held under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years while her supporters wage a peaceful struggle for human rights and democracy. Burma was catapulted onto the front pages of newspaper in September and October 2007 when Buddhist monks and students led nationwide peaceful demonstrations calling for an end to military rule.

Suu Kyi’s admirers around the world include Nobel Peace laureates Desmond Tutu, Jody Williams, and Adolfo Perez Esquivel, musicians R.E.M., Damien Rice, and Ani DiFranco, and Hollywood stars Jim Carrey, Anjelica Huston, Julie Benz, Jennifer Aniston, Eric Szmanda, Walter Koenig, and many more. Successive US administrations under Presidents Clinton and Bush have stood strongly in support of Suu Kyi, while 60 former Presidents and Prime Ministers signed a united call for her release in June 2007.

Progress in Burma has been mainly blocked by China, which serves as the Burmese military regime’s chief supplier of military hardware. China also vetoed a peaceful resolution at the UN Security Council that would have required Burma’s military regime to participate in negotiations with Aung San Suu Kyi. China scheduled the opening of the 2008 Olympics on the anniversary of a major democracy uprising in Burma, and activists plan to use the occasion to focus attention on how China is unilaterally paralyzing UN and international efforts to support peaceful change in Burma.