Almost exactly a year after Myanmar troops launched a campaign of violence that would displace around 700,000 Rohingya civilians from the country, de facto government leader Aung San Suu Kyi was stripped of her seventh award since the crisis began by yet another institution that believes she has failed to stand up for the oppressed.
On Thursday, the city council of the Scottish capital of Edinburgh voted to revoke the Freedom of Edinburgh, which she received in 2005 in recognition of her sacrifice for the cause of Burmese democracy. She was under house arrest at the time.
In Nov. 2017, the city council’s leader, Lord Provost Frank Ross, wrote to Suu Kyi asking her to use her “immeasurable moral courage and influence” to grant the United Nations a role in safely repatriating Rohingya who had been displaced to Bangladesh. She never responded.
“This award is granted to individuals who have distinguished themselves through their work or efforts or to recognize the respect and high esteem in which they are held by the people of Edinburgh. In particular, for Aung San Suu Kyi, the award was in recognition of her personal courage and relentless pursuit of democratic justice,” said Ross after the vote.
“I believe that is no longer appropriate or relevant given the lack of response to our formal writing – we know the letters have been delivered – and the actions we have seen.”
The Freedom of Edinburgh is the latest in a series of awards Myanmar’s state counsellor has lost over her role in allowing the military’s human rights atrocities. The first institution to remove an honor from the former political prisoner was Unison, the UK’s second largest trade union. The union announced in Sept. 2017, while the displacement operations in northern Rakhine State were still underway, that “Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary membership of Unison has been suspended, and we hope that she responds to international pressure.”
Later that month, a portrait of Suu Kyi that hung on a wall of St. Hugh’s College at the University of Oxford was replaced with another painting, but the move was never officially related to her complicity in the expulsion of the Rohingya. However, in October, undergraduates at St. Hugh’s College voted to remove her name from the title of their junior common room.
The following week, she was also stripped of her honorary presidency of the London School of Economics student union. The treasurer of the student union said at the time: “The Rohingya people deserve a voice, and if Suu Kyi won’t lend hers, we will.”
In late November, the Oxford city council voted to take away her freedom of the city. One councilor said at the time: “Today we have taken the unprecedented step of stripping her of the city’s highest honor because of her inaction in the face of oppression of the minority Rohingya population.”
In Dec. 2017, the city council of Dublin also took away her freedom of the city after singer Bob Geldof requested to return his honor in protest against Suu Kyi’s behavior. Geldof accused Suu Kyi of being “a handmaiden to genocide”. The Irish band U2 also backed the move.
In Feb. 2018, the city council of Newcastle voted to remove her freedom of the city, with the city council leader saying: “This is about us standing shoulder to shoulder with the affected community. What we are doing tonight is showing that we stand in solidarity with those affected and that we uphold our values by guarding them.”
However, after the vote, the city council admitted it was unsure of how to formally revoke the honor because no process is laid out in the city’s lawbooks.
Earlier this month, the state counsellor’s name was deleted from an exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, and an illuminated portrait of her in another exhibit was dimmed.
Some institutions, however, have refused to revoke honors they gave Suu Kyi in the past. The Norwegian Nobel Institute has said it will not consider revoking the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1991, and the University of Oxford has said it will not review the honorary degree it awarded her in 2012. However, the university did say it “hopes the Myanmar administration, led by Oxford alumna Aung San Suu Kyi, can eliminate discrimination and oppression and demonstrate to the world that Myanmar values the lives of all its citizens.”
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