Former friends, admirers condemn Myanmar leader for failing to speak out against military abuses
Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to speak out against the mass killing of Rohingya Muslims has seen her reputation as a force for democracy and liberty greatly tarnished.
The Nobel Peace prize winner was once feted by world leaders, civil rights activists and rock stars as a beacon of peaceful resistance to Myanmar’s generals.
Now, two years after her National League for Democracy won a landslide victory and she was installed as the country’s de facto leader, she is accused of complicity in a campaign of murder and rape by soldiers that has seen more than 617,000 Rohingya flee since late August.
On Tuesday, rights groups told a committee of British lawmakers that Suu Kyi was “part of the problem” and implicated in the “ethnic cleansing” underway in the western state of Rakhine, The Guardian newspaper reported.
Since the scale of brutality carried out by the military in Rakhine emerged, Suu Kyi’s former supporters have moved to denounce her for not condemning the army.
Many have called for her Nobel prize — awarded in 1991 while she was under military house arrest — to be revoked.
The Irish musician Bob Geldof, a long-time advocate of civil rights and a fellow recipient of the Freedom of Dublin, referred to Suu Kyi as “a handmaiden to genocide” on Monday as he returned the award in protest.
“Her association with our city shames us all and we should have no truck with it, even by default,” he said in a statement. “We honored her, now she appalls and shames us.”
The Live Aid organizer, who was awarded the city’s freedom in 2005, six years after Suu Kyi, added: “In short, I do not wish to be associated in any way with an individual currently engaged in mass ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people of northwest Burma.”
Fellow Irishman Bono is also a recipient of the Dublin honor and over the weekend his band U2 criticized Suu Kyi, 72.
“The violence and terror being visited on the Rohingya people are appalling atrocities and must stop,” the band said in a statement on its website.
“Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence is starting to look a lot like assent.”
Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a hero of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, called on Suu Kyi to stand up to the military and halt the slaughter in Rakhine.
“For years I had a photograph of you on my desk to remind me of the injustice and sacrifice you endured out of your love and commitment for Myanmar’s people,” he said in a letter posted on social media in September.
He added: “But what some have called ‘ethnic cleansing’ and others ‘a slow genocide’ has persisted — and recently accelerated. It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country.
“If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”
In the English city of Oxford, where Suu Kyi studied in the 1960s, St. Hugh’s College removed her portrait from display by its main entrance.
Students at the college, where Suu Kyi read politics, philosophy and economics from 1964-67, also voted to remove her name from the title of their common room.
“Aung San Suu Kyi’s inability to condemn the mass murder, gang rape and severe human rights abuses in Rakhine is inexcusable and unacceptable,” the motion said.
“She has gone against the very principles and ideals she had once righteously promoted.”
Last month, the city council said it would strip her of the Freedom of Oxford, bestowed in 1997.
The London School of Economics student union also said it would strip Suu Kyi of her honorary presidency and Glasgow City Council in Scotland voted to withdraw an offer of freedom of the city.
The military clampdown in Rakhine has seen security forces and Buddhist mobs kill men, women and children, including babies, according to the UN. Rohingya homes have been looted and villages torched.
In September, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali said around 3,000 Rohingya had been killed in the crackdown.
Rohingya, described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
A UN report on a previous military operation launched in October last year documented gang rapes, killings, brutal beatings and disappearances committed by security personnel.
The report said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.