10 Nobel Laureates Whose Work Changed the World


10

Aung San Suu Kyi

Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi gives a speech at the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo, Norway, on June 16, 2012.
Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi gives a speech at the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo, Norway, on June 16, 2012.
Ragnar Singsaas/Entertainment/Getty Images

Let's review some of the circumstances of our first laureate. Oppressive, violent regime? Check. Indefinite political imprisonment? Check. That's just a day in the life of Aung San Suu Kyi, perhaps one of the most persistent political dissidents ever and the winner of the 1991 Peace Prize.

She wasn't allowed to leave Burma (also known as Myanmar) to receive her prize, however, until 2012, or two decades after winning. In the meantime, she'd been detained by Burma's militaristic regime, which saw her work for democracy and human rights as a threat to the established power structure.

Aung San Suu Kyi actually won the country's general election in 1990. But even before all of the votes were counted, she was placed under house arrest and would remain so intermittently until 2010. To ward off loneliness and despair, she meditated, she planned and she persisted.

Upon her final release from house arrest, she jumped immediately into politics again. The party she heads, National League for Democracy, won by a landslide in a 2015 election, although she is barred from becoming president because of her sons' foreign citizenship. However she is seen as the de-facto leader, though her actual title is state counselor.

Since then, Suu Kyi's reputation as a human rights advocate has been tarnished. Critics have chided her for doing nothing to stop the Myanmar military's persecution of the Muslim-minority Rohingyas, who have been forced to flee in their thousands to Bangladesh. Her defenders say she has little choice since the military retains serious power.