Burma’s (Myanmar) de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under harsh criticism in recent months, due to her apparent apathy toward the violence toward the Rohingya people. This criticism has begun to manifest itself into real action in taking away some of the honors she has earned during her years before she took power in Burma.
Suu Kyi’s list of accolades is long. Though her crowning achievement was the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, she has also won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the Professor Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize and the two highest awards the U.S. government can award a civilian: the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. The list actually goes on and on.
Most people who have been in the military know that awards mean nothing by themselves. They are simply physical reminders of the great achievements one has accomplished–be it for their country, countrymen or international community. So when organizations threaten, debate and plan on revoking these awards–it’s a heavy statement that these those tasked with handling such awards can make. They are doing what they believe will help nudge Suu Kyi into taking action while the Rohingya are being driven from their homes, raped, robbed and murdered.
There has been talk of revoking Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize, though there has been no evidence to suggest that this will happen quite yet. However, students and faculty at the London School of Economics (LSE) have reportedly voted to revoke Suu Kyi’s honorary presidency award. A painting of her has already been removed from St. Hugh’s College (Oxford University), which might seem like an aesthetics choice–but as a statement has added to the mounting controversy against Suu Kyi.
The Rohingya have been driven from their homes after rising conflicts in the regions sparked an incredibly violent response by the Burmese Army, against anyone Rohingya–to include children. There are currently over 600,000 refugees, and many of them have fled into the neighboring country of Bangladesh. There, they face a whole different slew of problems, often found in such refugee border towns. The UN has described this effort by the Burmese as “textbook ethnic cleansing.”
Aung San Sui Kyi has been loved by her people since she suffered years of house arrest for their sake–she fought tooth and nail to put herself in a position where she could help her people. The winnings from her Nobel Peace Prize all went to developmental healthcare in Burma–she has long been seen as a servant of the people and nothing more. But after the Rohingya crisis began, she fell deadly silent on the subject. Though most people understand that she is somewhat separate from the actions of the military, she is still the country’s de facto leader and seems to be politically maneuvering her way around any real conversation regarding the crisis.