US Holocaust Museum withdraws award to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi

Memorial says recognition no longer fitting in light of former human rights icon’s failure to stop ethnic cleansing of Rohingya

Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a national address in Naypyidaw on September 19, 2017. (AFP/Ye Aung Thu)
Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a national address in Naypyidaw on September 19, 2017. (AFP/Ye Aung Thu)

The United States Holocaust Museum has withdrawn the human rights award it gave to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi over her failure to stop or even recognize the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority in the Buddhist-majority country.

“We did not take this decision lightly,” the museum wrote in a letter dated Tuesday and posted on its website Wednesday.

Aung San Suu Kyi became a human rights icon during her 15 years of house arrest under Myanmar’s former military dictators. In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize — just one of many prestigious honors.

She was the second person to receive the Holocaust Museum’s award, after the late Holocaust survivor, author and museum co-founder Elie Wiesel, for whom the award is named.

The Elie Wiesel Award is given annually “to an internationally prominent individual whose actions have advanced the Museum’s vision of a world where people confront hatred, prevent genocide and promote human dignity.”

But, the museum said, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was no longer living up to that ideal.

“We had hoped that you — as someone we and many others have celebrated for your commitment to human dignity and universal human rights — would have done something to condemn and stop the military’s brutal campaign and to express solidarity with the targeted Rohingya population,” the letter read.

Instead, her National League for Democracy had “promulgated hateful rhetoric against the Rohingya community,” refused to cooperate with the UN and blocked access to journalists, the letter said.

The museum acknowledged “the difficult situation you must face in confronting decades of military misrule,” but urged her to cooperate with United Nations investigators and to help bring those responsible to justice as well as to amend a 1982 law that stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship.

The letter ended by quoting from Elie Wiesel: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Some 700,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to Bangladesh since late August, when Myanmar security forces began sweeps through Rakhine after attacks by a Rohingya insurgent group. There are credible accounts of widespread human rights abuses, including rape, the torching of homes and killings, carried out against the Rohingya, leading to accusations that Myanmar is guilty of “ethnic cleansing,” or even genocide.

Rohingya Muslim refugees carry food distributed by the Bangladeshi army at the Balukhali refugee camp near Gumdhum on September 26, 2017. (AFP/Dominique Faget)

On Tuesday, the senior UN official for human rights said it is impossible to safely send Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh back to Myanmar because widespread and systematic violence appeared to be continuing against them in Myanmar, amounting to “ethnic cleansing.”

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour said in a statement that during a four-day visit to Bangladesh, refugees told him “credible accounts of continued killings, rape, torture and abductions, as well as forced starvation” in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine.

Myanmar’s government denies such abuses and announced in January that it was ready to accept the refugees back.

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