Burma’s Suu Kyi to Be Stripped of Freedom of Edinburgh Award

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
August 22, 2018 Updated: August 22, 2018

Aung San Suu Kyi is set to be stripped of her Freedom of Edinburgh award for refusing to condemn the army-led violence against the Rohingya in Burma, described by the UN as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

This will be the seventh honor over the past year that has been taken away from the former Nobel Peace Prize winner, and only the second time in 200 years that the British city of Edinburgh has revoked such an award, the Guardian reported.

By stripping Suu Kyi of the accolade, Edinburgh will follow in the footsteps of Oxford, Glasgow, and Newcastle, which also took away Suu Kyi’s Freedom of the City awards.

Aung San Suu Kyi receives an official welcome in Australia
Aung San Suu Kyi (L) receives an official welcome on the forecourt during her visit to Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on March 19, 2018. (Mark Graham/AFP/Getty Images)

Frank Ross, a senior city official in the British city of Edinburgh, wrote to Suu Kyi in November of last year, calling on her “immeasurable moral courage and influence” to ensure the safe return of the Rohingya to the Rahkine region of Burma, according to the Guardian.

After no reply from Suu Kyi, Ross put in motion on Thursday, Aug. 16, a process that will culminate with her Freedom of the City award being taken away.

Suu Kyi received the award in 2005 in recognition of her role as an advocate for peace and democracy in Burma, where she was living under house arrest.

Back then, the lord provost (a function similar to a mayor) of Edinburgh describing her as “a symbol of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression. By honouring her Edinburgh citizens will be publicly supporting her tireless work for democracy and human rights,” according to the Guardian.

Military-led Massacres

But in her role as state counselor in Burma, Suu Kyi has repeatedly refused to speak out against the violence committed by the military on the Rohingya.

Rohingya men shortly before they were killed by security forces
Ten Rohingya men with their hands bound kneel as members of Burmese security forces stand guard in Inn Din village, Sept. 2, 2017. Pictures reportedly later emerged of the same men’s bodies in a shallow grave. (Reuters/File Photo)

Human rights groups widely report that since a military-led crackdown of the Rohingya was launched in August of last year, more than 700,000 people have fled over the border to Bangladesh.

Entire villages have been wiped out, tens of thousands have been killed–including children–and women assaulted and raped.

A Rohingya woman recounts the horror of being raped and set on fire by Burmese soldiers
Rohingya refugee Mumtaz Begum, 30, becomes emotional as she touches the wounds she received when the military set her house on fire after raping her and killing her husband in the Aug. 25 attack on the Tula Toli village in Burma. The photo was taken on Dec. 2, 2017, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

The U.S. Treasury recently imposed sanctions on Burmese officials, The Epoch Times reported, citing four military and police commanders and two army units for their involvement in what it called “ethnic cleansing” and other human rights abuses.

Burmese security forces have engaged in violent campaigns against ethnic minority communities across Burma, including ethnic cleansing, massacres, sexual assault, extrajudicial killings, and other serious human rights abuses,” said Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker.

Meanwhile, in tandem with Suu Kyi’s persistent silence, her international reputation has become tarnished.

In a speech in Singapore on Aug. 21, she blamed terrorism, not the military, for the violence in Rahkine and criticised the international community, saying “the outside world can choose the issues on which they wish to focus.”

The Rohingya as Perpetrators

The narrative of the Rohingya as victims of unprovoked violence has been challenged by the emergence of evidence of mass slaughter perpetrated by the Rohingya against Hindu villagers.

“A Rohingya armed group brandishing guns and swords is responsible for at least one, and potentially a second, massacre of up to 99 Hindu women, men, and children as well as additional unlawful killings and abductions of Hindu villagers in August 2017,” Amnesty International reported in May, after carrying out a detailed investigation in Rakhine State.

Yet despite evidence that massacres have been carried out by the Rohingya, rights groups say the state-sanctioned violence against them is disproportionately more severe.

“The killings came just days after ARSA [Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army] fighters unleashed a series of attacks on around 30 Myanmar security posts on 25 August 2017, prompting an unlawful and grossly disproportionate campaign of violence by Myanmar’s security forces. Amnesty International and others have documented in detail how this campaign was marked by killings, rape and other sexual violence, torture, village burning, forced starvation tactics, and other violations which constitute crimes against humanity under international law,” said Amnesty International.

Suu Kyi ‘Living in a Bubble’

U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson, who in January quit his job on an international panel advising the Burmese government on the Rohingya crisis, said Suu Kyi is “living in a bubble” and has developed a “siege mentality.”

“The relationship with the west, with human rights groups, with the United Nations, with the international media is terrible,” he said, the Guardian reported.

“And I think Aung San Suu Kyi has brought this upon herself, the constant disparagement of the international community, which I think can be helpful to her … She seems isolated. She doesn’t travel much into the country. I think she’s developed a classic bubble.”

Richardson resigned from the advisory board during the panel’s first visit to troubled Rakhine state, saying it was conducting a “whitewash.”

The former governor of New Mexico said Suu Kyi lacks “moral leadership” and that the panel was a “whitewash” and a “cheerleading squad for the government.”

Other revocations of awards from Suu Kyi include the high-profile Elie Weisel award given by the U.S. Holocaust museum.


Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'