The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum revoked the Elie Wiesel Award it had bestowed on Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, after she failed woefully to respond to the ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority.
The museum gave the prestigious award to Suu Kyi in 2012 for her solitary fight against the military dictatorship in Myanmar. The so-called civil rights leader — who has been compared to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 — spent 15 years under house arrest for challenging the military status quo. After she was freed, she became a rallying point for the Burmese people. In 2015, her party won in a landslide victory and she became the state counselor. Her success led President Barack Obama to relax sanctions in Myanmar and give it financial aid. He also became the first sitting president to visit the South East Asian country.
Given her long campaign for freedom and democracy, the international community looked up to Suu Kyi as a renowned political figure. However, they were disappointed when, despite knowing about the terrible tortures inflicted on the Rohingya, Suu Kyi chose to remain silent. In fact, she has become complicit in the genocide of the ethnic minority and does not even prefer to call the Rohingya people by their name, often just calling them people from the Rakhine state.
There were over 1 million Rohingya who lived in Myanmar for centuries, but the Buddhist-majority country doesn’t recognize them as Burmese ethnicity. The people suffer from state-sanctioned discrimination and are called “illegal” immigrants. In recent years, they have been subjected to arson, beatings, rape and torture by the military and Buddhist extremists. These acts amount to crimes against humanity and have forced roughly 700,000 of Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.
In recent years, the Holocaust museum has been trying to raise awareness of the plight of Rohingya and also published a paper that gave evidence of genocide committed by Buddhist extremist and the military of Myanmar.
Suu Kyi, for her part, does not oversee the country’s military, which to this day exerts immense control over Myanmar; however as de-facto leader, she cannot avoid responsibility for the genocide. Her government has made excuses and defended the military operations in the northern Rakhine state. She has also been complicit in preventing freedom of speech and prosecuting and arresting journalists who reported upon the crisis. United States investigators who want to probe the sites where violence against Rohingya has taken place have also been denied access by her government.
In light of this overwhelming evidence of her guilt, the Holocaust Museum has rescinded the award bequeathed to her.
“We had hoped that you — as someone we and many others have celebrated for your commitment to human dignity and universal human rights — would have done something to condemn and stop the military’s brutal campaign and to express solidarity with the targeted Rohingya population,” the museum wrote in a March 6 letter to the Myanmar leader.
Suu Kyi’s political party “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,” the letter continued.
Zaw Htay, Suu Kyi's spokesman, said the museum decision was based on “wrong information.”
"Myanmar has always been supportive of the Holocaust Museum's principles and activities and the purposes of the museum. But now, now the latest situation in Rakhine state, we see that the museum has no balance perceptions on us,” he said. "We assume that the decision of revoking the award is also based on of the wrong information they have received. The Myanmar government is very disappointed and sad on the decision made by the museum. And this decision will not have any effect on the supports from Myanmar people to the state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi."
Suu Kyi has also been criticized by her fellow Nobel laureates — Iran’s Shirin Ebadi, Yemen’s Tawakkol Karman and Northern Ireland’s Mairead Maguire — who said they would sue Myanmar’s government over infringement of human rights if Suu Kyi does not put an end to the massacre.
Activist Malala Yousafzai, the Dalai Lama and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu are some of the international figures who have urged Suu Kyi to defend the Rohingya.
Tutu wrote in an open letter: “My dear sister: If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”
This is just the latest hit on Suu Kyi’s popularity.
In November, the Oxford city council unanimously voted to strip the Freedom of the City of Oxford, from Suu Kyi, a humiliating blow, since she studied at St. Hugh's College, Oxford.
Banner/Thumbnail: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst