Archbishop Tutu condemns Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence on Myanmar’s genocidal violence against Rohingya Muslims

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meeting with Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in London on September 12, 2016. Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office | Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

By Obert Madondo |  | Published Sep 10, 2017

Retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu is fed up with fellow Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s continuing silence on the genocidal violence being perpetrated against Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar security forces and extremist Buddhists under her watch. This week, Tutu penned a letter condemning the de facto Myanmar leader’s silence.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, is also one of the six holders of honorary Canadian citizenship. Calling her “a dearly beloved younger sister,” the 85-year young Tutu wrote on Facebook:

“I am now elderly, decrepit and formally retired, but breaking my vow to remain silent on public affairs out of profound sadness about the plight of the Muslim minority in your country, the Rohingya…

“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. A country that is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people, is not a free country.”

In 1982, Myanmar passed a law that rendered the Rohingya a stateless Muslim minority, the Guardian reported back in 2012, the year Aung San Suu Kyi easily won a by-election that paved her National League for Democracy (NLD) party’s landslide victory in Myanmar’s 2015 elections. The Guardian further reported: “Waves of ethnic violence since 1991, some of it state-sponsored, have pushed more than 250,000 Rohingyas into Bangladesh, where they live in squalid, makeshift camps with little or no access to healthcare or education.” Today, the Rohingya are “the world’s most persecuted minority.

According to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, when violence is “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” genocide has been committed.

In a report (pdf) released in February, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded that “while discrimination against the Rohingya has been endemic for decades” in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, “the recent level of violence is unprecedented.” The report, which was based on testimonies from Rohingyas fleeing from Myanmar since October 2016, listed the following types of violations reported and experienced by the victims:

Extrajudicial executions or other killings, including by random shooting; enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention; rape, including gang rape, and other forms of sexual violence; physical assault including beatings; torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; looting and occupation of property; destruction of property; and ethnic and religious discrimination and persecution.

According to the UN and Yanghee Lee, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, since August 25, 2017, the Myanmar violence has claimed the lives of 1000 Rohingya and forced 270,000 others to flee to Bangladesh.

“Ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”

In an editorial piece published in May,  2016, The New York Times assailed Aung San Suu Kyi’s “cowardly stance on the Rohingya.” In an open letter sent to the UN Security Council last December, Tutu and other Nobel laureates warned her of a tragedy “amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” In a recent editorial, the Guardian declared the “brutal, bloody, and ultimately pointless mistreatment” of the Rohingya “a crime against humanity” that also “shames Aung San Suu Kyi.” Last week, Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Laureate, urged Aung San Suu Kyi to act and stop her government’s violence.

Tutu’s letter captures the world growing sense of betrayal and impatience with Aung San Suu Kyi:

In my heart you are a dearly beloved younger sister. 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. You symbolised righteousness. In 2010 we rejoiced at your freedom from house arrest, and in 2012 we celebrated your election as leader of the opposition.

Your emergence into public life allayed our concerns about violence being perpetrated against members of the Rohingya. But what some have called ‘ethnic cleansing’ and others ‘a slow genocide’ has persisted – and recently accelerated. The images we are seeing of the suffering of the Rohingya fill us with pain and dread.

Earlier this week, prominent author and Guardian columnist George Monbiot stated that it was time to revoke Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize. Calling her “a Nobel peace laureate complicit in crimes against humanity,” Monbiot wrote: “I believe the Nobel committee should retain responsibility for the prizes it awards, and withdraw them if its laureates later violate the principles for which they were recognised.”

As of Sunday, Sep. 10, a petition to revoke Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel honour, hosted on Change.org, had just surpased 408,000 signatures.

Honorary Canadian Citizenship

This Canadian petition is asking the Canadian government to “unequivocally condemn the atrocities committed by Myanmar’s military and Myanmar nationalist groups against that nation’s Rohingya Muslim minority”. Importantly, the petitions asks Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to revoke Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship. She received the honour in 2007, joining Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg (1985), Nelson Mandela (2001), the 14th Dalai Lama (2006), and the Aga Khan (2010). Malala Yousafzai received her honorary citizenship in 2017. The Harper government then claimed that Aung San Suu Kyi’s “long struggle to bring freedom and democracy to the people of Burma has made her the embodiment of these ideals of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law.” Former foreign affairs minister John Baird “delivered” Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary citizenship in person during a visit to Myanmar in 2012.

Still, even as human rights groups increasingly equate Myanmar’s state violence to “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing,” Ottawa still considers Aung San Suu Kyi the embodiment of her country’s long fight for democracy.

Archbishop Tutu’s letter concluded with: “As we witness the unfolding horror we pray for you to be courageous and resilient again. We pray for you to speak out for justice, human rights and the unity of your people. We pray for you to intervene in the escalating crisis and guide your people back towards the path of righteousness.”

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, activist, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. He’s the founder and editor of these blogs: The Canadian ProgressiveZimbabwean Progressive, and Charity Files. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad

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Obert Madondo

Publisher and editor
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, activist, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. He's the founder and editor of these independent publications: The Canadian Progressive, a political blog dedicated to progressive Canadian journalism; The Zimbabwean Progressive, a political blog dedicated to producing fearless, progressive, adversarial, unapologetic, and activism-oriented Zimbabwean journalism; and Charity Files, a publication dedicated to journalism in the charitable public's interest. Follow Obert on Twitter: @Obiemad