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Aung San Suu Kyi stripped of Amnesty’s highest honour

  • Published at 11:53 pm November 12th, 2018
Aung San Suu Kyi
Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at the plenary session of the World Economic Forum on ASEAN at the Convention Center in Hanoi, Vietnam September 12, 2018Reuters

The secretary general of the global rights body, Kumi Naidoo, wrote to Suu Kyi on November to inform her of the organization’s decision to revoke the Ambassador of Conscience Award, which was presented in 2009

Amnesty International has stripped de facto Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi of its highest honour in light of the Nobel laureate’s “shameful betrayal of the values she once stood for”.

The secretary general of the global rights body, Kumi Naidoo, wrote to Suu Kyi on November to inform her of the organization’s decision to revoke the Ambassador of Conscience Award, which was presented in 2009.

Naidoo expressed Amnesty’s disappointment that Suu Kyi 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 against the Rohingya ethnic minority.

“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,” Kumi Naidoo wrote, according to an Amnesty press release.

“Today, we are profoundly dismayed that you no longer represent a symbol of hope, courage, and the undying defence of human rights.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.”

Perpetuating human rights violations

Amnesty International has repeatedly criticized the failure of Aung San Suu Kyi and her government to speak out about military atrocities against the Rohingya population in Rakhine State, who have lived for years under a system of segregation and discrimination amounting to apartheid. 

During the campaign of violence unleashed against the Rohingya last year, the Myanmar security forces killed thousands, raped women and girls, detained and tortured men and boys, and burned hundreds of homes and villages to the ground.

More than 720,000 Rohingya have since fled to Bangladesh, while a UN report has called for senior military officials to be investigated and prosecuted for the crime of genocide.

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 even denying allegations of human rights violations, and by obstructing international investigations into abuses. 

Her administration has actively stirred up hostility against the Rohingya by labelling them as “terrorists”, accusing them of burning their own homes, and by decrying “faking rape”.

Attacks on freedom of speech

Despite the power wielded by the military, there are areas where the civilian-led government has considerable authority to enact reforms to better protect human rights, especially those relating to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. 

In the two years since Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration assumed power, however, human rights defenders, peaceful activists and journalists have been arrested and imprisoned while others face threats, harassment and intimidation for their work.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration has failed to repeal repressive laws – including some of the same laws which were used to detain her and others campaigning for democracy and human rights. 

Instead, she has actively defended the use of such laws, in particular the decision to prosecute and imprison two Reuters journalists for their work documenting a Myanmar military massacre.

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