Myanmar: time for Aung San Suu Kyi to return (at least some of) her many human rights awards?

September 3, 2017

While receiving sharply worded emails and social media messages that the Rohingyas in Myanmar do not exist or have been ‘invented by the Saudis’, other more sober contributions put the serious question – whether with hindsight – Aung San Suu Kyi should not give back the many international awards she has received.  Aung San Suu Kyi is the recipient of at least 15 international awards (e.g. Nobel Peace Prize, Rafto, Sakharov, AI’s Ambassador of Conscience, Vaclav Havel Price for Creative Dissent). The UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence (SIC) seems especially awkward.

Almost a year ago I referred in a blog post [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/20/how-awards-can-get-it-wrong-four-controversial-decisions-in-one-week/] to “a serious expression of concern by an ethnic minority: Prensa Latina reported on 19 September that hundreds of Muslim students demonstrated against the Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award 2016 given to Minister of State of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi by the Harvard Foundation. According to the website of the Harvard Foundation recent prizes of that foundation were given to education activist Malala Yousafzai, Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon. According to the Mizzima news agency, the young people consider that Aung San Suu Kyi does nothing to handle the persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority. According to the local press, Suu Kyi herself considered, while receiving the prize, that in her country there is still a long way to go before saying that the people are free and safe.

Now Reuters reports that about 120,000 people – mostly displaced and stateless Rohingya Muslims – in Rakhine camps are not receiving food supplies or healthcare after contractors for the World Food Program suspended operations following the government accusations. Staff have been too afraid to show up for work. “As a result of the disruption of activities in central Rakhine state, many people are not receiving their normal food assistance and primary healthcare services have been severe disrupted,” said Pierre Peron, a spokesman for the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs.

Suu Kyi’s government refuses to allow UN investigators and the media access to parts of Rakhine where rights monitors fear a campaign of ethnic cleansing is underway.

Suu Kyi was idolised while spending 15 years as a prisoner of Myanmar’s army generals. Now she refuses to speak up for 1.1 million stateless and long persecuted Rohingya. She may not control her country’s armed forces but, since taking high office, Suu Kyi has refused to acknowledge the plight of the Rohingya in any meaningful way. She deflects questions about the persecution of Rohingya, saying only the “rule of law” must apply in Rakhine. She also dismisses the independent UN inquiry as “not suitable for the situation of our country.”

……Some human rights activists who campaigned for years for Suu Kyi’s release when she was a political prisoner now feel a deep sense of betrayal from the woman they formerly saw as a heroine. Perhaps it is time for her to hand back her Noble Peace Prize. (The story The ‘human catastrophe’ that betrays Suu Kyi’s Nobel prize first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.)

Front line Defenders reported on 2 August that human rights defender Ko Swe Win was prevented from travelling and detained in connection with defamation charges on 30 July 2017,  at Yangon International Airport as he was trying to fly  to Bangkok. He was reportedly taken into police custody in relation to a defamation case brought by a follower of extremist Buddhist monk U Wirathu, who told the police he believed Ko Swe Win was attempting to flee the country. Despite the defamation lawsuit filed against him, no travel restrictions were issued against Ko Swe Win. The human rights defender was released on bail on 31 July 2017. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/11/23/burma-continued-prosecution-of-human-rights-defenders-and-peaceful-demonstrators/

Sources:

http://sea-globe.com/myanmar-war-on-terror/

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/ko-swe-win

Arakan and traces of blood on Nobel Prize – Saadet Oruç – Daily Sabah

http://www.northerndailyleader.com.au/story/4896812/the-human-catastrophe-that-betrays-suu-kyis-nobel-prize/?cs=4141

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