From receiving the highest American civilian award, to ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange and to meeting the local Burmese community, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will have a busy program during her nearly three-week visit to the U.S. beginning on Sunday.
It will be her first U.S. trip in the more than two decades during which she was mostly held under house arrest by Burma's former military rulers.
The 67-year-old Nobel laureate travels to the U.S. on Sept. 16 and upon her arrival will be ushered to a variety of events in her honor, capped off three days later by her reception at the U.S. Congress where she will receive the Congressional Gold Medal at the Capitol building on Sept. 19.
The highest civilian award of the U.S. Congress was approved for Aung San Suu Kyi in 2008, when the opposition leader was under house arrest and unable to travel out of the country.
It was given to her in recognition of her “courageous and unwavering commitment to peace, nonviolence, human rights and democracy in Burma.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton extended an invitation to Aung San Suu Kyi to visit Washington during her historic trip to Burma in December. She has already visited Thailand and Europe earlier in the year.
During her visit to Washington, Aung San Suu Kyi has reportedly been invited by First Lady Michelle Obama to stay at the White House, where a dinner in her honor will be attended by former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the Irrawaddy online journal reported. No date was mentioned.
In addition to meeting with U.S. lawmakers and officials, she will receive several other awards and address a variety of public and think-tank meetings in Washington, including one where she will receive the Asia Society’s Global Vision Award in a Sept. 18 ceremony jointly hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Two days later, she will give a speech when the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) honors five leading activists from Burma who will accept the NED’s 2012 Democracy Award honoring the democracy movement in the country.
“The activists have endured prison and torture, and in some cases exile, in their efforts to secure freedom and democracy for the people of Burma,” the NED said in a statement. The award presentation will take place in the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 20.
"For nearly a quarter century, the people of Burma have been fighting for democracy against great odds," said NED President Carl Gershman.
Aung San Suu Kyi is the iconic leader of the democracy movement, “but beside her are many unsung heroes, brave people who have risked everything to advance their shared goal of a democratic Burma. With this award, we honor them all."
Aung San Suu Kyi, who was elected to parliament in May after being freed from house arrest in November 2010, is also expected to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, the Irrawaddy reported, quoting sources in her National league for Democracy (NLD) party.
On Sept. 21, in New York, she will receive the Global Citizen Awards from the Atlantic Council think-tank, which said Suu Kyi would be honored for her “unwavering devotion to democracy and human rights, serving as an international symbol of freedom and dignity.”
Burmese President Thein Sein is expected to travel to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly, roughly around the same time she will be in the U.S.
Aside from Washington and New York, Aung San Suu Kyi is also scheduled to make trips to Indiana and California.
In Indiana, she would speak to the Burmese community of Fort Wayne and Indiana-Purdue University of Fort Wayne on Sept. 25.
“The public speech is an opportunity for the citizens of Fort Wayne and the world to hear her inspiring message of democracy and liberty,” Minn Myint Nan Tin, executive director of the Burmese Advocacy Center in Fort Wayne, said in a statement.
She will also hold a town hall meeting with the local Burmese community in the San Francisco Bay Area on Sept. 29, organizers said.
Aung San Suu Kyi was jailed in 1990 after Burma’s former military junta refused to accept election results which would have seen her NLD party take power after a resounding win at the polls.
She was released from house arrest following historic elections which saw Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government take power from the former military regime.
Since March last year, Thein Sein has enacted a number of democratic reforms, including allowing Aung San Suu Kyi to run for a seat in parliament—which she won handily—and lifting all travel restrictions against her.
Beginning earlier this year, Aung San Suu Kyi has traveled to Thailand, Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, Britain and France, where she was received enthusiastically by supporters of the democracy movement and recent reforms in Burma.
While in Norway, she was finally able to give her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to her in 1991 after she was put under house arrest.
The Burmese government’s lifting of a political ban against Aung San Suu Kyi, along with other reforms, led the Obama administration last month to waive visa restrictions on Burmese officials.
Obama also recently sent a U.S. Ambassador to Burma for the first time in more than 20 years and has lifted restrictions on investment by U.S. companies in Burma.
Reported by Joshua Lipes.