Twenty years ago, in 1998, the Catholic University of Louvain awarded Daw Aung San Suu Kyi an honorary doctorate: the university sought to commend her dedication to the struggle to advance the cause of democracy in Burma, but, even more, to call attention to the remarkable manner in which this extraordinary figure had gone about this endeavor, undertaking to express her singular force of will through nonviolent action. The university community saw its own goals reflected in her approach, and wished to express its identification with and support of her principled and humane struggle to bring down the military dictatorship that ruled her country.
As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi knew all too well, she could not be present to receive her doctorate and regalia: if she left Burma, the military junta would bar her return. She had already made the choice to remain under house arrest, close to the Burmese people, rather than finding freedom in another country. The political situation in Burma and the geostrategic context have changed now, thanks in large part to her actions and to the immense support she gained around the world, including in Louvain, and a decade and a half later, in autumn 2013, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was at long last able to meet with and thank the university community at Louvain.
Extending the University’s support of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s nonviolent activism through academic work in teaching and research related to the key terms mobilized in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s nonviolent struggle was a fitting celebration of her visit, and on October 19, 2013, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi indicated her support for the project and agreed that the University’s new research program on Democracy, Cultures, and Action would bear her name.
"Charity and compassion in politics" : the integral conference by Aung San Suu Kyi at UCL on 19 october 2013
Aung San Suu Kyi proved herself a woman of both thought and action, who had long been dedicated to the non-violent struggle to bring democracy to Burma. In addition to her personal engagement in on-the-ground political activism, she had written several major works on the connections between ethics and politics that seek to locate the Burmese tradition within the broader historical context of democratic principles adapted to the contemporary world. It is to honor this commitment that the Catholic University at Louvain announced the creation of the Aung San Suu Kyi Fund for Democracy, Cultures and Action. This Fund is intended both as a tribute and an invitation. Any project honoring Aung San Suu Kyi must not only recognize her remarkable actions, but also deepen our understanding of her exemplary relationship with the world, a relationship exemplified by all those engaged in the pacifist struggle to make the democratic ideal a concrete reality. Our goal in endowing this Fund has been to foster a deepened vision of the University’s own calling in society, a vision in which academic work is indivisible from the promotion of fundamental freedoms and critical thinking skills.
As of 2017, The “Democracy, Cultures, and Action Fund” is extremely concerned by the current political unrest in Myanmar, as well as by the numerous reports of violent situations, human rights violations and ethnic cleansing, notably in the Rakhine State amongst the Rohingyas communities.
An information platform on human rights in Myanmar has been created, that is meant to provide a better understanding of the situation and to give resources for action. Its content includes links to information websites of multiple sources, as well as official reports by international organizations. It will also relay initiatives supported or endorsed by the Fund. An thorough assessment of the situation has been done by the members of the Fund and its results are compiled in a file that can be accessed freely.
In December 2016, a letter signed by the four scholars of the Fund was sent to the State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, which voiced our concerns about the human rights situation in Myanmar. We conveyed to her our feeling that “the magnitude of the atrocities needs to be met with a clear message”, an “unequivocal condemnation of the violence targeted at the Rohingya People”, and that this message “is becoming more urgent by the day”.