The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on Tuesday revoked a human rights award it had bestowed on Myanmar civil leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012, citing the ongoing massacre of Rohingya Muslims under her watch.
The Rohingya, a Muslim minority group from Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state, have long suffered state-sponsored discrimination and what the United Nations has deemed to be crimes against humanity. Roughly 700,000 of them have fled across the border to Bangladesh amidst waves of violence after insurgent attacks sparked a vicious security crackdown last year.
Suu Kyi, who lived for 15 years under house arrest for challenging the military dictatorship then ruling Myanmar, was just the second person the Holocaust museum had honored with its award. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, for whom the award is named, was the first.
Suu Kyi’s opposition to that earlier era of military rule helped foster her image as a human rights advocate. But on the Rohingya crisis, she has been conspicuously quiet.
“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 museum wrote in a March 6 letter to the Myanmar leader.
Suu Kyi’s political party “has instead refused to cooperate with United Nations investigators, promulgated hateful rhetoric against the Rohingya community, and denied access to and cracked down on journalists trying to uncover the scope of the crimes in Rakhine State,” the letter continued.
Although Myanmar is home to over a million Rohingyas, the Buddhist-majority country doesn’t recognize their rights. Myanmar classifies them as illegal immigrants, not citizens.
In recent years, the violence against the Rohingya carried out by state officials and Buddhist extremists has included rape, arson, shootings, beatings and torture. These acts amount to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, according to international rights organizations. Some human rights groups argue the violence looks increasingly like genocide.
Her government has also blocked U.N. investigators from entering Rakhine to assess the abuses and permits few aid organizations to operate there. Two Reuters journalists were detained after reporting on a mass grave of Rohingya men and charged under the country’s Official Secrets Act. They face 14 years in prison.
The Dalai Lama, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and activist Malala Yousafzai are among the many international figures who have spoken out against the violence and urged Suu Kyi to protect the Rohingya. Three fellow Nobel Peace Prize winners ― Iran’s Shirin Ebadi, Yemen’s Tawakkol Karman and Northern Ireland’s Mairead Maguire ― have warned that they would take Myanmar’s government to the International Court of Justice if Suu Kyi did not step in to end the massacre.