Address to Aung San Suu Kyi
Thursday 21 June 2012
This Hall has hosted many events over the past 900 years. In recent times only a few international figures - Charles de Gaulle, Nelson Mandela, Pope Benedict XVI and Barack Obama - have spoken here. Today Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will become the first figure other than a Head of State, the first woman from abroad and the first citizen of Asia to do so.
This is not a break from precedent without a purpose. The courage of our guest is legendary. She has withstood the unimaginable suffering of separation from her family and her people with a dignity, fortitude and resolve which most of us can barely conceive. Her connections with the United Kingdom, reinforced in Oxford yesterday, are intimate. She has been the symbol of resistance to a regime which even in an imperfect world has been exceptional in its barbarity. As the UN has documented, and from three trips to Burma's borders I can myself attest, this is a cabal guilty of rape as a weapon of war, extra-judicial killings, compulsory relocation, forced labour, deployment of child soldiers, use of human minesweepers, incarceration of opponents in unspeakable conditions, destruction of villages, obstruction of aid and excruciating torture. Burma has become a beautiful but benighted land where fear runs through society like blood flowing through veins. One woman has now defied a dictatorship of such depravity for two decades. That is why Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a leader and a stateswoman, is here with us this afternoon.
However, there is room for cautious optimism. The recent election to Parliament of our guest, accompanied by 42 of her colleagues, and the release of many political prisoners are welcome signs of reform. We earnestly hope that further, and fundamental, reform will ultimately lead to the freedom, democracy and rule of law which we have so long enjoyed and the people of Burma have too long been denied. There is an Asian saying that a journey of a thousand miles must start with a single step. We are proud that one such step will be taken in this Parliament today.
Parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, it is my privilege to welcome the conscience of a country and a heroine for humanity, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.