Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi Just Lost Another Human Rights Honor

“Our decision to exclude Aung San Suu Kyi formally from the community of Sakharov Prize laureates is a response to her failure and acceptance of ongoing crimes against the Rohingya community,” EU lawmakers said.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Rohingya, Myanmar
Aung San Suu Kyi at her hearing on the Rohingya genocide case at International Court of Justice in The Hague in December 2019. Photo: AFP 

In another crushing blow to what’s left of her reputation as a global democracy icon, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been ousted from the prestigious Sakharov Prize community.

The coveted prize, named after Russian nuclear scientist and peace dissident Andrei Sakharov, is meant to honor individuals and groups who have dedicated their lives to defending universal human rights and freedom of speech. But Suu Kyi critics say she stopped doing that a long time ago, most notably with her handling of the 2017 Rohingya refugee crisis, which has not been resolved more than three years after it started.


“The decision to exclude Aung San Suu Kyi formally from all activities of the community of Sakharov Prize laureates is a response to her failure to act and her acceptance of the ongoing crimes against the Rohingya community in Myanmar,” European lawmakers said in a statement issued on Thursday, September 10. Suu Kyi was awarded the honor back in 1990 during her time as a political prisoner who was fighting for human rights against the junta - a year before she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.

The news comes days after appalling reports emerged of two Myanmar soldiers who say they helped massacre up to 180 Rohingya people during the late 2017 crackdown on the Muslim minority, though the military has cast doubt on their stories, which were recorded by insurgents. It was the first time former members of the secretive military admitted to taking part in the campaign of atrocities that UN investigators labeled genocide.

Suu Kyi has remained silent about the unprecedented testimony from the soldiers, who are now believed to be in The Hague where they could serve as witnesses in future trials and investigations. In December, Suu Kyi travelled to the International Court of Justice in The Hague to personally defend Myanmar against genocide charges in a case brought by The Gambia, in actions that won scorn abroad but praise at home, where she remains popular ahead of November elections.

Supporters maintain that much of her actions are meant to avoid antagonising the powerful military after her landslide victory at historic polls in 2015, the first democratic vote in more than two decades. But the arc is still hard to fathom - in the space of five years, she has gone from globally renowned political prisoner and emerging democratic leader to the head of a defence team in a genocide trial.


“No figure has fallen so far and so fast as Aung San Suu Kyi,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia deputy director Phil Robertson told VICE News. “Her promises of a more democratic, rights respecting and economically prosperous Myanmar have failed. Had she used her immense popularity and vast parliamentary majority in a more concerted way to rid the country of its repressive laws and practices, she would have accomplished so much more.”

Human Rights Watch also applauded the EU’s official decision.

“The EU parliament’s decision to boot Aung San Suu Kyi out of their circle is a symbolically important move to demonstrate their disgust with her collaboration and connivance in covering up the Burmese military’s atrocities against the Rohingya people,” Robertson said.

Suu Kyi’s Sakharov Prize community ouster - which she has remained characteristically silent about - was the latest in a series of many lost honors, awards and prizes. While efforts to have her Nobel recalled were brushed aside, others were more successful. Here’s a brief rundown of the many honors that have been revoked.

Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award

This was awarded to Suu Kyi in 2009 while she was still living under house arrest. Rights group Amnesty International stripped her in 2018 of its highest honor over her “shameful betrayal” of the values she once stood for and also cited her “apparent indifference” towards atrocities being carried out against the Rohingya Muslim community. “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,” Amnesty’s then-secretary general Kumi Naidoo said in an open letter to the fallen democracy icon.

Honorary citizenship from Canada

Suu Kyi was awarded honorary Canadian citizenship in 2007 for her pro-democracy campaigns in Myanmar but would become the first-ever recipient to have that honor revoked.

Aung San Suu Kyi with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Aung San Suu Kyi meets with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ontario (Credits: AFP)


The honor had also been bestowed on five other personalities including Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Malala Yousafzai. “She has been complicit in stripping the citizenship and the security of thousands of Rohingya, which has led to their flight, their murder, their rapes and their current deplorable situation,” local senator Ratna Omidvar said. “Stripping her of her honorary citizenship may not make a tangible difference to her, but it sends an important symbolic message.”

Freedom Awards, Plaques, Images

In 2017, the Oxford-educated Suu Kyi saw the removal of her city freedom award given to her in 1997.

“Oxford has a long tradition of being a diverse and humane city and our reputation is tarnished by honouring those who turn a blind eye to violence,” council member Mary Clarkson told the BBC. “We hope that today we have added our small voice to others calling for human rights and justice for the Rohingya people.”

Undergraduates of her alumni St Hugh’s college also voted to remove her name from the title of their junior common room.

Cities in Scotland also followed suit, with local councils in Glasgow and Edinburgh unanimously voting to withdraw their city freedom offers from her. “The response we received was disappointing and saddening. Withdrawal of the offer of this honour is unprecedented and the council's decision has not been taken lightly,” Glasgow's Lord Provost Eva Bolander said. A plaque bearing Suu Kyi’s name and image was also taken down in Aberdeen.