Editor’s note: Kai Nestman of Sechelt will be participating in the Rotary Global Peace Forum in Hawaii, Jan. 25 to 27, through a partnership with the Rotary Club of the Sunshine Coast. This is the first of two articles Nestman will be penning on his experiences.
Aung San Suu Kyi is known by many people for having spent much of the past 20 years under house arrest in Myanmar. As the chairperson of a pro-democracy party, Suu Kyi is a symbol in her efforts of non-violence and peace while engaging with the repressive military-backed government in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her “non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights” — a prize that was accepted by her two sons and British husband. Suu Kyi was held under house arrest in Burma and could not risk leaving the country to claim her prize.
She was released from house arrest in November 2010, following bouts of freedom and detention, but full restrictions on Suu Kyi’s movement and associations were not relaxed until 2011.
Last year in a landslide by-election victory, Suu Kyi was elected to sit in parliament along with other members from her National League for Democracy Party. This marked significant progress for a military power that had denied Suu Kyi’s previous victory as a member of parliament. The military junta has enforced a strong influence over the country since its 1962 coup d’état.
Myanmar has experienced significant change over the past year. Canada’s foreign minister visited the country in a first-of-its-kind stopover, and most notably U.S. President Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Myanmar following a preparatory visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in 2011.
Obama’s visit marked progressive announcements by the government of Myanmar to ease border conflict, allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) greater access to prisons, and investigate political detainees. The change of pace in Myanmar brought forth statements by the governments of Canada and the U.S. to begin slowly easing strict sanctions meant to apply political pressure to Myanmar and its military-backed government.
Conflict has been ongoing in Myanmar and most recently has continued in the northern state of Kachin where internal struggles have existed between ethnic minorities and the government.
Suu Kyi continues her work to build peace through non-violence. She recently wrote, “Myanmar remains firmly under military rule” when she described the conflict in Kachin.
Rotary International, though its work in humanitarian and volunteer service, has also focused on peace. Each year Rotary sponsors up to 110 Rotary World Peace Fellows who study peace and conflict resolution at one of six Rotary Centres for International Studies located around the world.
On Jan. 25, in Honolulu, Hawaii, Rotary International will host its second Rotary Global Peace Forum, the first of which was held in Berlin, Germany, at the end of November. A third forum will be hosted in Hiroshima, Japan in May. The forum will bring together more than 800 participants from around the world — many of them youth. I will have the honour of attending the forum through a partnership with the Rotary Club of the Sunshine Coast.
The Rotary Global Peace Forum will include workshops that look to Hawaiian culture and peace while highlighting the special importance of conserving and protecting shared environmental resources, and encouraging young adults to be catalysts for peace. The forum looks to empower a new generation’s vision of world peace — peace that could extend to conflicts such as that in Myanmar. Suu Kyi will be the keynote speaker.