Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi will on Thursday address both houses of parliament — a rare honour bestowed on only four foreign dignitaries since World War II.
Suu Kyi will follow in the footsteps of US President Barack Obama and Pope Benedict XVI when she speaks in the 11th-century Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the parliament complex.
The prestigious engagement is part of Suu Kyi’s week-long trip to Britain, part of her first trip to Europe since 1988.
The democracy leader will also meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
The pair previously met in Myanmar in April when Cameron announced moves to lift sanctions on the Southeast Asian nation in recognition of its moves towards democracy.
Suu Kyi said she was deeply moved Wednesday as she was honoured by Oxford University, in the city where she studied and brought up the family she would later leave behind.
“Today has been very moving,” Suu Kyi, 67, said in a speech after she was presented with an honorary doctorate in civil law in the grand surroundings of Oxford’s 17th century Sheldonian Theatre.
“During those difficult years I spent under house arrest I was upheld by my memories of Oxford. They helped me cope with the challenges I had to face,” she said.
After her speech she received a standing ovation from an audience of more than 1,000 dons and students from the university where she studied politics, philosophy and economics in the mid-1960s.
She was awarded the doctorate in 1993 but, like the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1991, she was unable to pick it up at the time, fearing that if she left Myanmar she would not be allowed to return.
Suu Kyi spent nearly two decades in Oxford, and brought up her sons Alexander and Kim there with her English husband, Michael Aris.
When she left for her homeland to care for her dying mother in 1988, she could not have imagined it would be nearly a quarter of a century before she would return.
She only saw her husband and two sons a handful of times in the intervening years. When her husband was dying in 1999 he urged her to remain in Myanmar and pursue her struggle.
She was released from house arrest in November 2010 and is now a member of parliament.
“The road ahead is not going to be easy, but Oxford, I know, expects the best of its own,” she said in her speech.
On her 67th birthday on Tuesday, she made an emotional return to Oxford where her former college St Hugh’s threw a birthday party.
In an interview with BBC television on Wednesday, she confirmed her desire to lead the people of Myanmar “if I can lead them in the right way”.
She rejected the suggestion that her release from more than two decades of house arrest in 2010 had been a “confidence trick” aimed at getting sanctions on the country lifted.
She also warned foreign companies rushing to invest in Myanmar since the military-backed civilian government began to implement reforms that they would be closely watched.
Her visit to Britain has been clouded by continued violence in western Myanmar where dozens of people have been killed and an estimated 90,000 people have fled clashes between Buddhist Rakhines and stateless Muslim Rohingya.