Another one bites the dust: Amnesty International only the latest to strip Suu Kyi of honor

Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at the on ASEAN World Economic Forum in Hanoi on Sept. 13, 2018. Photo: Ye Aung Thu / AFP
Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at the on ASEAN World Economic Forum in Hanoi on Sept. 13, 2018. Photo: Ye Aung Thu / AFP

A little over a year after Myanmar troops launched internationally condemned “clearance operations” that have displaced more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims, Amnesty International yesterday stripped Aung San Suu Kyi of its highest honor, the Ambassador of Conscience Award.

“Today, we are profoundly dismayed that you no longer represent a symbol of hope, courage, and the undying defense of human rights,” Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International, wrote in an open letter to the State Counselor and one-time human rights icon.

Amnesty is far from alone.

Over the past 12 months, her failure to denounce the military’s persecution of Rohingya and routine denials of ethnic cleansing has led to her being stripped of numerous honors she received while campaigning for democracy during the country’s years under military dictatorship.

Back in August, we did a quick tally and came up with nine awards or honors that had been revoked. Today, we estimate the total to be 14, which we’ve detailed below – along with the rationale given by each organization — starting with Amnesty.

1. Amnesty International, Ambassador of Conscience Award

“Our expectation was that you would continue to use your moral authority to speak out against injustice wherever you saw it, not least within Myanmar itself,” Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty’s secretary general said in a letter to Suu Kyi.

“The denial of the gravity and scale of the atrocities means there is little prospect of the situation improving,” he said, adding that that her silence is “a shameful betrayal of the values she once stood for.”

2. Elie Weisel Award (2012 – 2018)

“It is with great regret that we are now rescinding that award. We did not take this decision lightly… The National League for Democracy, under your leadership, has instead refused to cooperate with United Nations investigators, promulgated hateful rhetoric against the Rohingya community, and denied access to and cracked down on journalists trying to uncover the scope of the crimes in Rakhine State,” Sara J. Bloomfield wrote in an open letter to Daw Suu rescinding the award.

3. Freedom of the City of Edinburgh (2005 – 2018)

“I no longer believe her receipt of this award or the reasons it was presented are appropriate or accurate. It is not a decision we take lightly to revoke the honour granted to her in 2005,” Lord Provost Frank Ross said in a meeting with the city council.

4. Freedom of the City of Oxford (1997 – 2017)

The Oxford City Council voted unanimously to remove the honor given to the State Counselor in 1997, saying “it did not want to celebrate those who turn a blind eye to violence.”

5. Freedom of the City of Glasgow (2009 – 2017)

Glasgow City Council, “wrote to Aung San Suu Kyi voicing the city’s concerns about the human rights atrocities occurring under her watch and urging her to intervene.

“The response we received was disappointing and saddening. Withdrawal of the offer of this honour is unprecedented and the council’s decision has not been taken lightly.”

6. Freedom of the City of Newcastle (2011-2018)

While the Newcastle City Council has voted to remove the honor from Daw Suu, they have no idea how to actually do it. According to the constitutional committee, “there is no express power in the legislation to revoke the Freedom of the City.” The unprecedented move hit a legal roadblock because there was no established legal practice to formally move forward with the removal of the honor.

7. Freedom of the City of Dublin (2000 – 2017)

“She betrays everything for which we award the freedom of the city,” said Sinn Féin councillor Críona Ní Dhálaig at a City Hall meeting.

8. Freedom of the City of Sheffield (2005 – 2017)

In a Sheffield City Council Meeting, Counselor Julie Dore said she “believes that whilst the military’s actions will have been carried out without any direct command from Aung San Suu Kyi, she has failed to condemn the military’s actions and has shown willful ignorance as to the Rohingya crisis.”

9. Freedom of the City of Dundee (2008 – 2018)

The Dundee City Council voted unanimously to strip Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of the Freedom of the City of Dundee award, saying that she had “failed to show moral leadership”, despite her inability to overrule the Myanmar army.

10. Unison’s (UK’s second largest trade union) honorary membership

UNISON president Margaret McKee said: “The situation facing the Rohingya of Myanmar is appalling. Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary membership has been suspended, and we hope that she responds to international pressure.”

11. Honorary presidency of the LSE (London School of Economics) student union

“This will act as a strong symbol of our opposition to her current position and inaction in the face of genocide,” Mr Pasha, general secretary of the LSE student union, told The Independent.

12. Honorary Canadian Citizenship (2007 – 2018)

After the Lower House approved a motion to strip Daw Suu’s honorary Canadian Citizenship, Canada’s senate voted to revoke the symbolic honor over her refusal to call out the Tatmadaw for what the UN human rights chief has called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

13. Aung San Suu Kyi portrait removed from Oxford College, St. Hugh’s hall

Suu Kyi’s alma mater, St. Hugh’s college, where she studied politics, philosophy and economics, decided to remove the painting of the Nobel laureate from its main entrance after the college’s governing body. The painting belonged to Aung San Suu Kyi’s husband, the late Michael Aris, and was gifted to St. Hugh’s after his death.

14. Aung San Suu Kyi’s name from St. Hugh’s common room

In the same vote, it was also decided that her name was to be removed from the St. Hugh’s common room.

What’s Next?

While the stripping of awards from Suu Kyi has shed light on the ongoing persecution of Rohingya Muslims, rescinding these honors is largely seen as interventionist by local media, and damaging to the country’s “fragile democratic transition”.

At least one award, however, is safe. The Norwegian Nobel Institute has gone on record saying it cannot revoke her Nobel Peace Prize.

Among the other awards she’s received that remain untouched are the Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize, the Sakharov Prize, Jawaharlal Nehru Award, the Olof Palme, and the Congressional Gold Medal.

Supporters of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi watch her speech on the big screen outside Yangon's City Hall. Photo: Jacob Goldberg
Supporters of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi watch her speech on the big screen outside Yangon’s City Hall. Photo: Jacob Goldberg

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