I found myself directly in front of Aung San Suu Kyi at the 2013 World AIDS Day launch on December 1. It was an amazing day and I was humbled to be there. Here is Daw Suu’s speech which I transcribed from a video I shot (available on request). I thought it might be useful to post the full speech online.
I was invited to this event at Government House as VCA Theatre are working with Living Positive Victoria to commission two new works for AIDS 2014 inspired by the ENUF stories. AIDS 2014 will be the biggest conference ever held in Australia with an expected 20,000 international delegates. The two new works will be developed by third year BFA Theatre Practice students directed by two brilliant Melbourne directors, Maude Davey and Noel Jordan. BFA Production students will collaborate on the design and realisation of these works.
Aung San Suu Kyi is Chairperson of the National League for Democracy, Burma, and UNAIDS Global Advocate for Zero Discrimination. She is also a Laureate of The Nobel Peace Prize.
Read on for highlights and the full transcript of Daw Suu’s speech.
Aung San Suu Kyi World AIDS Day 2013 Speech Highlights
We must have our differences and we must recognise them, but these differences should be an opportunity to be more complete human beings.
Now this is not something that only happens in fiction, people are taken away in the night in countries with authoritarian regimes. I’ve never quite understood why it was so much more difficult for them to come during the day. Perhaps they don’t like places which have too much light?
I do believe in a distinction between the mind and the heart. The mind, of course, is a little bit more calculating.
First of all look to the people you truly wish to help, then I think the heart must take first place. There must be less aggravation and more warmth, more love, more affection, more compassion. You never know when you will need it yourself.
It’s a great pleasure to be here in your country and to be here for World AIDS Day. It is on this day that we advocate for zero discrimination against those suffering from HIV and AIDS.
I would like to explain why I agreed to take up this honour to be United Nations global advocate for zero discrimination against HIV and AIDS victims. Because discrimination for us, the fight against discrimination, is an extension of all our fights for freedom from fear. Discrimination is based on fear and ignorance. People discriminate against others because they are frightened of them and ignorant of what joins us together and they only see what keeps us apart. It is the same for victims of HIV/AIDS. People are afraid and it is out of this fear that they discriminate against those with HIV and AIDS. Not only that, but it is the perception that it is a behavioural disease, that it’s something to do with your behaviour. ‘It’s wrong behaviour that leads to HIV/AIDS,’ this is a perception that leads to discrimination. For me it is a human issue, a challenge.
I am proud of the fact that my party was the first to hold a public seminar on HIV/AIDS in my country. This was way back in 2002 I think. At that time the government of our country was in denial mode about HIV – it simply was not a problem. We recognised that it was a problem, so we held a seminar to make people understand that HIV/AIDS was something that we should all face together. And that it was a problem that would be solved by discriminating against anyone. We had been discriminated against for our political beliefs. To be discriminated against on any grounds, grounds of race, religion, belief or physical disability or physical disease is just not acceptable in civilised society. And I would like to think that we do live in a civilised world, or at least that we are trying to civilise the world in which we live. Anyway, I am trying to civilise my government. It’s quite as hard as the fight for zero discrimination.
When we think of discrimination, very often we don’t think about what is involved for the person who is discriminated against. How it feels to be regarded and to be treated as somebody who is below the normal standards of the society in which he or she lives. That is what discrimination is all about – you are not treated as an equal in the world in which you live. You are treated as inferior or even worse, as undesirable. I do not think there is any one in this world who is born undesirable or inferior. It’s behaviour, that is why I said that I can’t accept that HIV/AIDS has to do with behaviour. It’s behaviour in the sense of cruelty, in the sense of lack of understanding, in the sense of discriminating against others that is unacceptable in our world.
So what we have to do is create a dialogue with those who engage in discrimination so they know it is absolutely unacceptable. We must have our differences and we must recognise them, but these differences should be an opportunity to be more complete human beings.
When we had this seminar in Burma, in Rangoon in our very, very modest headquarters (which would fit very comfortably into one corner of this room), we talked about what HIV/AIDS is all about. The meeting was packed with members of our party which was suffering great discrimination at that time in the form of political oppression. The majority of the audience were young people who were very interested in this questions: what is HIV/AIDS? They had not been allowed to discuss it freely in their homes or where they lived in their streets, their towns. It was a time when people just didn’t talk openly about such things, and for a lot of people they didn’t know what it was anyway. So we were lucky enough to be joined by a doctor who is well known for research into HIV/AIDS. He spoke about what it was, how you contract it, why you do not need to discriminate against people who have contracted HIV, why we can sit down and talk with them and eat with them, talk with them, shake hands with them and be friends with them and not be frightened. Then he took questions and it was amazing how ignorant our young people were. How much they wanted to fight this thing, they wanted to know more. Not just out of curiosity for the illness, but because the illness might well be something that they had to cope with themselves. So it was a very successful seminar and the main thrust of questions that came back afterwards were around the behaviour of those who did not have HIV/AIDS towards people who did have it.
We decided that two things were necessary. First of all openness. Openness that we would stop the spread of HIV. Unless we knew what it was about, how it was contracted, how we could take precautions against it, they would not be able to help in containing the spread of HIV. So openness was the first requirement. And the second, we decided, was compassion, with regard to those who had already contracted HIV/AIDS. We would not view those who had contracted HIV/AIDS as culprits or animals, but as those who were deserving of our understanding and our compassion. Because we don’t know when one day ourselves might require understanding and compassion. But we are already more aware of this than most people in my country because were in need of compassion and understanding practically every day. We were so much discriminated against for our political beliefs that we knew what it as to struggle from day to day. The members of my party had to struggle, not just to keep their beliefs alive, but to keep themselves free, because there was always the possibility that one of us could be taken away in the night. Now this is not something that only happens in fiction, people are taken away in the night in countries with authoritarian regimes. I’ve never quite understood why it was so much more difficult for them to come during the day. Perhaps they don’t like places which have too much light. In the dark they felt safer.
So we were aware of the need for understanding and compassion which we were prepared to give. I take great pride in saying that the first centre for HIV/AIDS victims, HIV/AIDS patients, was opened by a private person in Burma. She was one of the first to attend a UN course on peer education with regards to HIV/AIDS. And she came back from this course which was just a fortnight’s course, totally dedicated, and started running a very well known centre in our country which is nothing like enough to cope with the challenge of HIV/AIDS but we take great pride in this centre, because when we talk about looking for those who have contracted HIV/AIDS we mean working with openness and compassion. The facilities are not good. They are very poor compared with what might be available at state hospitals. But some of our patients, who got moved to the state hospitals, came back and said they were happier with us because they were treated like valued human beings at our centre. They did not have the best care in the world but they received a lot of compassion.
So my simple message as the Global Advocate to Zero Discrimination, it all starts in the mind and the heart. I do believe in a distinction between the mind and the heart. The mind of course is a little bit more calculating. First of all look to the people you truly wish to help, then I think the heart must take first place. There must be less aggravation and more warmth, more love, more affection, more compassion. You never know when you will need it yourself. Thank you.
Daw Suu’s first visit to Australia was widely reported in the international press. For more video resources visit: