Nobel Laureates Assailed Honorary Canadian Citizen Aung San Suu Kyi Over Myanmar’s Persecution Of Rohingya People

By: Obert Madondo |  | Published April 10, 2017, by The Canadian Progressive

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

This week, Nobel Prize Laureate and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai joins five prominent foreign nationals who have received honorary Canadian citizenship. She joins Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg (1985), Nelson Mandela (2001), the 14th Dalai Lama (2006), Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (2007), and the Aga Khan (2010).

In light of this important moment, which was announced back in 2014, just after she’d jointly won that year’s Nobel Peace Prize, its proper to shine a light on Suu Kyi, another Nobel Peace Laureate and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Former foreign affairs minister John Baird “delivered” her honorary citizenship in person during a visit to Myanmar in 2012.

As the State Counselor or de facto head of government in Myanmar, Suu Kyi currently presides over a state that’s committing genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state.

In December, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other Nobel Laureates signed open letter that assailed Suu Kyi over Myanmar’s ongoing persecution Rohingya people. The letter, sent to the UN Security Council, warned of a tragedy “amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

In an editorial piece published in May,  2016, The New York Times had called Suu Kyi out, and assailed her “cowardly stance on the Rohingya.”

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 nRS, as described in a High Commissioner’s report to the Human Rights Council in 2016, 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.”


Here’re the full text of the Nobel Laureates’ letter:

Dear President and Members of the Security Council,

As you are aware, a human tragedy amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity is unfolding in Myanmar.

Over the past two months, a military offensive by the Myanmar Army in Rakhine State has led to the killing of hundreds of Rohingya people. Over 30,000 people have been displaced. Houses have been burned, women raped, many civilians arbitrarily arrested, and children killed. Crucially, access for humanitarian aid organisations has been almost completely denied, creating an appalling humanitarian crisis in an area already extremely poor. Thousands have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, only to be sent back. Some international experts have warned of the potential for genocide. It has all the hallmarks of recent past tragedies – Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, Kosovo.

The head of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on the Bangladesh side of the border, John McKissick, has accused Myanmar’s government of ethnic cleansing. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee has condemned the restricted access to Rakhine State as “unacceptable.”

The Rohingyas are among the world’s most persecuted minorities, who for decades have been subjected to a campaign of marginalisation and dehumanisation. In 1982, their rights to citizenship were removed, and they were rendered stateless, despite living in the country for generations. They have endured severe restrictions on movement, marriage, education and religious freedom. Yet despite the claims by government and military, and many in society, that they are in fact illegal Bengali immigrants who have crossed the border, Bangladesh does not recognise them either.

Their plight intensified dramatically in 2012 when two severe outbreaks of violence resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands and a new apartheid between Rohingya Muslims and their Rakhine Buddhist neighbours. Since then they have existed in ever more dire conditions.

This latest crisis was sparked by an attack on Myanmar border police posts on 9 October, in which nine Myanmar police officers were killed. The truth about who carried out the attack, how and why, is yet to be established, but the Myanmar military accuse a group of Rohingyas. Even if that is true, the military’s response has been grossly disproportionate. It would be one thing to round up suspects, interrogate them and put them on trial. It is quite another to unleash helicopter gunships on thousands of ordinary civilians and to rape women and throw babies into a fire.

According to one Rohingya interviewed by Amnesty International, “they shot at people who were fleeing. They surrounded the village and started going from house to house. They were verbally abusing the people. They were threatening to rape the women.”

Another witness described how her two sons were arbitrarily arrested: “It was early in the morning, the military surrounded our house, while some came in and forced me and my children to go outside. They tied my two sons up. They tied their hands behind their backs, and they were beaten badly. The military kicked them in the chest. I saw it myself. I was crying so loudly. When I cried, they [the military] pointed a gun at me. My children were begging the military not to hit them. They were beaten for around 30 minutes before being taken away”. She has not seen them since.

Despite repeated appeals to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi we are frustrated that she has not taken any initiative to ensure full and equal citizenship rights of the Rohingyas. Daw Suu Kyi is the leader and is the one with the primary responsibility to lead, and lead with courage, humanity and compassion.

We urge the United Nations to do everything possible to encourage the Government of Myanmar to lift all restrictions on humanitarian aid, so that people receive emergency assistance. Access for journalists and human rights monitors should also be permitted, and an independent, international inquiry to establish the truth about the current situation should be established.

Furthermore, we urge the members of UN Security Council to put this crisis on Security Council’s agenda as a matter of urgency, and to call upon the Secretary-General to visit Myanmar in the coming weeks as a priority. If the current Secretary-General is able to do so, we would urge him to go; if not, we encourage the new Secretary-General to make it one of his first tasks after he takes office in January.

It is time for the international community as a whole to speak out much more strongly. After Rwanda, world leaders said “never again”. If we fail to take action, people may starve to death if they are not killed with bullets, and we may end up being the passive observers of crimes against humanity which will lead us once again to wring our hands belatedly and say “never again” all over again.


Professor Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Laureate
José Ramos-Horta, 1996 Nobel Peace Laureate
Máiread Maguire, 1976 Nobel Peace Laureate
Betty Williams, 1976 Nobel Peace Laureate
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 1984 Nobel Peace Laureate
Oscar Arias, 1987 Nobel Peace Laureate
Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel Peace Laureate
Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate
Tawakkol Karman, 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate
Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate
Malala Yousafzai, 2014 Nobel Peace Laureate
Sir Richard J. Roberts, 1993 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Elizabeth Blackburn, 2009 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Emma Bonino, Former Italian Foreign minister
Arianna Huffington, Founder and Editor, The Huffington Post
Sir Richard Branson, Business Leader and Philanthropist
Paul Polman, Business Leader
Mo Ibrahim, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist
Richard Curtis, SDG Advocate, Film Director
Alaa Murabit, SDG Advocate, Voice of Libyan Women
Jochen Zeitz, Business Leader and Philanthropist
Kerry Kennedy, Human Rights Activist
Romano Prodi, Former Italian Prime Minister

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Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad