By Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland
It was, in the words of Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the “unforgettable days” of her life.
From the moment she arrived in Ireland, Daw Suu stole our hearts.
As she took to the stage in Dublin to accept Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award, Daw Suu spoke of the commitment she had made to the cause of human rights and freedom almost a quarter of a century ago.
“To receive this award is to remind me that 24 years ago, I took on duties from which I have never been relieved,” she said.
She spoke of the strength she had drawn from Amnesty International members’ support over the past two decades in fulfilling her role.
“You have shown me that I shall never be alone as I go about my discharge of these duties.”
“Amnesty International…has helped us to keep our small wick of self-respect alive, you have helped us to keep the light and we hope that you will be with us in the years to come, that you will be able to join us in our dreams, and not take either your eyes or your mind off us, and that you will help us to be the country where hope and history merges.”
One such a day, being privileged to attend such an incredible event, and to see extraordinary artists sing, speak, dance and perform one might focus on the colour of that spectacle. And it was both beautiful and spectacular. But that was not what made it so unforgettable. The heart of the event, the very soul of it, was Daw Suu. In her quiet, but fierce, dignity and clarity of purpose, we could see the reason why military might could never defeat the spirit of a people determined to be free.
In her words we heard of the importance of the role ordinary people, undertaking activism with that same fierce commitment, played in bringing about her release and the first hopeful blooms of freedom for the people of Myanmar.
As the concert ended Daw Suu moved outside to speak to the five thousand strong crowd which had gathered for an open-air celebration of her visit.
“This will be one of the unforgettable days of my life. I have been welcomed to Ireland as though I belong to you,” she told the crowd. “You have stood by us in our times of trouble. These troubles are not yet all over and I am confident that you will continue to stand with us.
“And please believe that when I say that you are a part of my heart, I really mean it with my whole heart.”
I remember the night back in July 2009 when Bono took to the stage in Dublin to announce that Amnesty International had conferred our Ambassador of Conscience Award on Aung San Suu Kyi.
Speaking to the global media who covered that announcement, I rebuffed suggestions that her freedom might never be secured. We knew different. And as we move into our fifty-first year, we saw proof once again that change is always possible, that freedom can be won, no matter how intransigent the oppressor, by the determined actions of ordinary people.
And in Dublin last night we witnessed the seemingly impossible realised, as an iconic prisoner of conscience became instead an Ambassador of Conscience.
Burma’s long road from military state to democracy (Op-ed, 15 June 2012)
Timeline: Aung San Suu Kyi and Amnesty International (Timeline, 15 June 2012)