When I Met Aung San Suu Kyi

10/19/2012 06:25 pm ET | Updated Dec 19, 2012

"Indifference is never an option" -- Elie Wiesel

She was in front of me, just a few meters away, standing on the stage, illuminated by a soft light. I listened to her speak with a spiritual peacefulness, the result of having dealt with and risen above the terrible experience she suffered, locked away for more than 15 years on the orders of a military dictatorship in her country, Burma.

Aung San Suu Kyi today is a leader of her country, and the world, who teaches us that in extreme situations -- especially when a human being is arbitrarily deprived of her liberty -- the courage to fight on behalf of the people strengthens us. This situation is not comparable to those that are sentenced by free courts that dispense fair justice.

For her resistance and her courage she was recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize. She was unable to accept this distinction in person until she was released from prison, like many other awards she was given during her years of incarceration.

How does one remain so serene and lucid after 15 years of imprisonment? By not losing faith in the possibility of a return to liberty and democracy. This hope was perhaps the best food for the soul of this fighting woman.

At the end of the conference, when I took her hands to greet her, I too felt the sensation of peace radiating from this slender, yet strong, woman. I felt the same sensation when I visited the Dalai Lama in India, where he lives in exile. There is a sense of serenity and knowledge that is attained by certain incredible individuals who manage to rise above hate.

International pressure finally succeeded in liberating this extraordinary woman. Those of us who were invited to the public recognition ceremony, hosted by the San Francisco Freedom Forum a few weeks ago, felt proud to have added more pressure through a petition to the United Nations, which was signed by important figures from all over the world. Among them was our Former President Alejandro Toledo from Peru.

It is impossible to not draw a comparison between this woman's fight and the fight of people all over the world for freedom. This includes the fight we just had in Peru to topple a corrupt dictatorship in 2001, thanks to massive participation from civil society. This dictatorship today is trying to reverse the democratic process and escape just punishment.

I think, like Elie Wiesel thought, that when facing corruption, cruelty, or human rights violations, which some weak individuals will swallow when confronted by a powerful opponent, indifference is never an option.

As I remember the way Aung San Suu Kyi spoke in front of me, with softness in her voice, a voice that conveyed at the same time intelligence and peace, I cannot do anything but rejoice. I rejoice in the beauty of feeling like part of the human family that still believes in dignity, self-worth, and preservation of its identity. She shows us that it is worth fighting for, even though one may risk one's own life.

We have lived through moments like this in Peru, I think. And we might have to do it again if the past dictatorship tries to erase democratic gains obtained, at the cost of many lives, during the past decade.