Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the emblematic figure of the Burmese opposition and Nobel Peace Prize winner, received the Vaclav Havel for Creative Dissent award from the Human Rights Foundation, during the San Francisco Freedom Forum on September, 28 at the Bently Reserve.
Moments before receiving the prize, San Suu Kyi called for fostering “true friendship,” such as the one she had with the late Czech president for whom the award is named, in order to direct attention to human rights violations. Her participation in the forum was part of a 15-day tour throughout the United States, including cities where the Burmese diaspora lives such as Fort Wayne, Indiana. She gave talks at various universities and visited Washington D.C. to meet with President Obama in the White House where she was given the Congressional Medal of Honor.
San Suu Kyi's passionate speech, called “The Long Road to Freedom,” was also a retrospective look at her life as an activist. “Living in peace with my conscience,” she said, “has been the road to freedom.” In terms of the situation of her country, she promised to build a Myanmar “that lives in peace with its own conscience. In Myanmar, there are prisoners of conscience, but a society with a peaceful conscience can free those people.” However, the Nobel Prize winner added that her people are prepared for the inevitable challenges. “The road to freedom does not end,” she emphasized.
Among other major players on the global scale was George Ayittey, a professor of Ghanaian ancestry who launched strong criticisms at current African dictatorships when he stated that “for every dictator that we bring down, another emerges. It's like playing Whac-A-Mole,” and mentioned that “the only good dictator is one that is dead.” Among other things, Manal Al-Sharif [es] of Saudi Arabia shared her experiences of challenging her country's leadership by getting behind the wheel even though women are not allowed to drive. Al-Sharif closed her presentation with the music video “Bad Girls” by singer M.I.A., which, according to Al-Sharif, was made in support of her cause.
Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance, provided the Latin American touch. Nadelmann applauded the intervention of presidents of Mexico, Colombia, and Guatemala at the recent United Nations General Assembly, where the three leaders called for a reexamination of the failed policies of the war on drugs, which has cost hundreds of thousands of lives in the last four decades.
Using the hashtag #SFFF, alluding to the start of the event, participants and online spectators shared their impressions on Twitter. For example, Matisse B H (@matissebh) tweeted:
@matissebh: The long road to freedom is one where you need friends: Aung San Suu Kyi; count me in…
Others like weddady (@weddady) highlighted parts of Ayittey's presentation:
@weddady: George Ayittey: “20 of the countries on the bottom of the list of the human dev report were ruined by military regimes”
Bint Battuta (@BintBattuta87) echoed Al Sharif's words during the forum:
@BintBattuta87: @manal_alsharif: Dreams of a #Saudi where mothers will not need permission from their sons to travel. #SFFF Amen.
Here are some images from the forum (all taken by the author):