Burma’s Suu Kyi an ‘Ambassador of Conscience’

Amnesty International has named Burma’s detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as the 2009 recipient of its Ambassador of Conscience Award.

Her selection, AI Secretary General Irene Khan said, is a reflection of her status as “a symbol of hope, courage and undying defense of human rights, not only to the people of Myanmar but to people around the world.”

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won elections in 1990. But the military refused to recognize the results, instead opting to unleash a campaign of brutal repression against dissent that continues today. “The Lady,” as her followers adoringly call her, was named winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her determined stand for democracy.

She has spent 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest despite consistent international pressure over the years from governments and right advocates for her release. Suu Kyi now faces a possible 5 years in prison on charges she violated the terms of her house arrest by giving quarter for a night to an American man who swam to her family compound.

Suu Kyi supporters believe the charges — and likely further imprisonment — are intended to keep her from participating in elections scheduled for next year. A verdict in the case is expected Friday.

The Ambassador of Conscience Award, AI’s highest honor, was first awarded in 2003. Past winners include former Czech President Vaclav Havel, rock superstars U2 and Peter Gabriel, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and former Irish President Mary Robinson.