WASHINGTON—The International Crisis Group (ICG) will present Burmese President Thein Sein with the top honor at its annual In Pursuit of Peace Award Dinner in New York City on April 22, 2013.
The event is deemed an opportunity to celebrate inspirational figures from government, diplomacy and public policy whose visionary leadership has transformed the lives of millions and brought forth the promise of a world free of conflict.
ICG President Louise Arbour said, “Myanmar has initiated a remarkable and unprecedented set of reforms since President Thein Sein’s government took over in March 2011, including freeing hundreds of political prisoners, liberalizing the press and promoting dialogue with the main opposition party.”
Former Brazilian President Lula will also be honored at the event for his work propelling his country into a new economic and political era that took millions out of poverty.
“At a time when so much of the world seems to be headed in the wrong direction, Myanmar and Brazil stand out as clear examples of presidents working for a better path for their people,” said ICG Chairman Thomas R. Pickering.
Meanwhile, both Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and Thein Sein have been ranked as this year’s top global thinkers “for showing that change can happen anywhere, even in one of the world’s repressive states.”
The former adversaries have been jointly ranked in first place in the list of 100 global thinkers for 2012 released by the prestigious Washington-based Foreign Policy magazine. This is apparently the first time that the top position on this exclusive annual list has gone to Burmese leaders.
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki takes second place, while former US President Bill Clinton and his wife Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have jointly been ranked third. President Barack Obama was ranked seventh, a step behind Malala Yousufzai, the young Pakistani peace activist who was shot in the head by the Taliban for trying to educate girls in tribal areas of the country.
Explaining why Suu Kyi and Thein Sein were top, Foreign Policy said that they have been instrumental in “one of the most remarkable and unexpected” political reversals as Burma, long among the world’s most repressive dictatorships, began to reform under the leadership of two very unlikely allies.
“For nearly 20 years, dissident Aung San Suu Kyi was sealed under house arrest by Burma’s paranoid military junta, which had drawn an iron curtain over the country since 1962. Now she’s a duly elected member of the country’s Parliament—and it’s partly thanks to reformist President Thein Sein, a former general often described as an awkward, bookish bureaucrat. To the astonishment of many, Thein Sein began loosening restrictions on free speech and opening the economy after coming to power in 2011,” said the magazine.
In an article titled “The Lady and the General” in Foreign Policy, Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said the most unlikely of political partners are driving the astonishing democratic transition in Burma.
“One of them is no surprise—Aung San Suu Kyi, the inspirational global icon who for recent generations has defined nonviolent struggle against oppression. The other, President Thein Sein, is an unassuming former general who rose to the senior ranks of the very military junta seen as responsible for Burma’s decades of misery, but then had the courage to steer the country in a new direction. Neither sought this unusual pairing, but together they represent the most hopeful turn for Burma in half-a-century,” said Campbell.
The top US diplomat said that sustaining the momentum of reform will be difficult, adding that much will depend on getting others to follow the courageous example of Suu Kyi and Thein Sein in setting aside bitter enmities and deep distrust for the common good.
“Their shared stake in a better future led both leaders to take off a uniform—she the mantle of international sainthood and he the insignia of the military institution that brought him to absolute power,” said Campbell. “Having done so, they can now meet on equal terms, as citizen and patriot, striving and struggling together for a new Burma. Along the way, they are inspiring us all.”