Withdrawal of human rights award from Aung San...
The image of Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was one of untrammeled moral rectitude, remote dignity and immense personal authority. She was named as Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience in 2009, in recognition of her peaceful and non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights. At the time she was held under house arrest, which she was eventually released from exactly eight years ago. “When she was finally able to accept the award in 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi asked Amnesty International to “not take either your eyes or your mind off us and help us to be the country where hope and history merges.”
“Our relationship with the army is not that bad,” the Nobel peace prize laureate and the face of Myanmar’s democratic awakening, said at an event in Singapore On 22 August, in response to a question about whether she feared another military coup.
Suu Kyi did not mention by name the Rohingya Muslims, more than 700,000 of whom have fled from the north of Rakhine State into Bangladesh since an army crackdown that began a year ago after attacks on security posts by Rohingya insurgents. The Rohingya, who regard themselves as native to Rakhine State, are widely considered as interlopers by Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and are denied citizenship.
Two years since Suu Kyi’s assumption of her self-declared ‘Above-the-President’ office as State Counsellor with her reportedly autocratic control over all ministries save the security-related ministries such as Home Affairs, Defense and Border Affairs, her leadership is noted only for serial failures.
The commissions she has formed to address the country’s defining problem — crimes against Rohingyas — have become a butt of international jokes. As the country’s most revered politician since her father’s murder in 1947, Suu Kyi has been unable to deliver on every one of the party’s official major priorities: “rule of law, peace, development, amendments to the Constitution”.
The UN report on the violence against the Rohingya minority found that, while she had no power over the generals it named as responsible, she had “not used her de facto position as head of government, nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events in Rakhine”. It said that her government – she is state counsellor, akin to prime minister – had contributed to what had happened by denying the generals’ culpability, spreading false narratives and preventing independent investigations.
The UN findings echo the condemnation voiced by many at the time, to the effect that by saying nothing, by not using the admittedly limited room for manoeuvre she had, Aung San Suu Kyi had become complicit with the very generals she had spent so much of her life opposing. It goes so far as to argue that the generals concerned should be investigated for genocide.
Finally, On 11 November, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Kumi Naidoo wrote to Aung San Suu Kyi to inform her the organization is revoking the 2009 award. Half way through her term in office, and eight years after her release from house arrest, Naidoo expressed the organization’s disappointment that she had not used her political and moral authority to safeguard human rights, justice or equality in Myanmar, citing her apparent indifference to atrocities committed by the Myanmar military and increasing intolerance of freedom of expression.
“As an Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience, 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,” wrote Kumi Naidoo. “Today, we are profoundly dismayed that you no longer represent a symbol of hope, courage, and the undying defence of human rights. Amnesty International cannot justify your continued status as a recipient of the Ambassador of Conscience award and so with great sadness we are hereby withdrawing it from you.”
Although the civilian government does not have control over the military, Aung San Suu Kyi and her office have shielded the security forces from accountability by dismissing, downplaying or denying allegations of human rights violations and by obstructing international investigations into abuses. Her administration has actively stirred up hostility against the Rohingya, labelling them as “terrorists”, accusing them of burning their own homes and decrying “faking rape”. Meanwhile state media has published inflammatory and dehumanizing articles alluding to the Rohingya as “detestable human fleas” and “thorns” which must be pulled out.
Amnesty International also highlighted the situation in Kachin and northern Shan States, where Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to use her influence and moral authority to condemn military abuses, to push for accountability for war crimes or to speak out for ethnic minority civilians who bear the brunt of the conflicts. To make matters worse, her civilian-led administration has imposed harsh restrictions on humanitarian access, exacerbating the suffering of more than 100,000 people displaced by the fighting.
“Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to speak out for the Rohingya is one reason why we can no longer justify her status as an Ambassador of Conscience,” said Kumi Naidoo. “We will continue to fight for justice and human rights in Myanmar – with or without her support.”