Myanmar’s Nobel Peace Prize winning Aung San Suu Kyi is facing intense scrutiny over her response to the plight of her nation’s Rohingya population.
Almost 300,000 Rohingya have fled into neighbouring Bangladesh, according to the UN, since renewed violence between state security forces and the minority group began more than two weeks ago.
The disruption started on August 25 after Rohingya fighters attacked police posts in Rakhine State, on Myanmar’s (formerly Burma) western coast, triggering a military crackdown.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation’s state counsellor and de facto leader, claimed this week that the situation is being twisted by a “huge iceberg of misinformation”.
“We make sure that all the people in our country are entitled to protection of their rights as well as, the right to, not just political but social and humanitarian defence”, she reportedly told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a phone call on September 5.
The Rohingya, frequently described as “the world’s most persecuted minority”, are a mostly Muslim ethnic group, who have lived in majority-Buddhist Myanmar for centuries.
There are currently around 1.1 million residents in the Southeast Asian nation, which is home to more than 100 ethnic groups and approximately 55 million people.
A number of high-profile individuals have publicly criticised Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her campaign supporting democracy in Myanmar, in light of the crisis.
However, not all world leaders have been united in condemning Aung San Suu Kyi.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for example, has refused to speak out and has instead offered his support to her.
“We share your concerns about extremist violence in Rakhine State and especially the violence against security forces,” he said during a state visit to Myanmar on September 6.
More than 400,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Aung San Suu Kyi to be stripped of her accolade, accusing her of doing “virtually nothing to stop this crime against humanity in her country”.
“The… [prize is] only to be given to ‘people who have given their utmost to international brotherhood and sisterhood.’ These peaceful values need to be nurtured by the laureates of the Nobel Peace Prize, including Aung San Suu Kyi, until their last days,” the change.org petition reads.
“When a laureate cannot maintain peace, then for the sake of peace itself the prize needs to be returned or confiscated by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.”
Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani Nobel Peace laureate, has condemned Aung San Suu Kyi’s apparent inaction in response to the emerging crisis in Myanmar.
“Every time I see the news, my heart breaks at the suffering of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar,” Yousafzai, who famously survived being shot in the head by the Taliban, tweeted on September 3.
Yousafzai, 20, called on the international community to provide sanctuary for those fleeing the violence.
“Other countries, including my own country Pakistan, should follow Bangladesh’s example and give food, shelter and access to education to Rohingya families fleeing violence and terror,” she wrote.
“Over the last several years I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment. I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same.”
— Malala (@Malala) September 3, 2017
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending South Africa‘s policy of apartheid, has also called on Aung San Suu Kyi to end the Rohingya’s suffering.
Denouncing the “unfolding horror”, the 85-year-old implored his “dearly beloved younger sister” to intervene in the crisis and “guide your people back towards the path of righteousness again”, in an open letter published on September 7.
“If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep,” he wrote.
“A country that is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people, is not a free country. It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country; it is adding to our pain.”
Shirin Ebadi, a prominent human rights activist and 2003 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has accused Aung San Suu Kyi of having “turned her back on democracy once she came to power”.
Though stopping short of calling for the prize to be stripped, Ebadi said Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to live up to the prize’s ideals.
“Aung San Suu Kyi received this prize for her peaceful resistance in the face of oppression. She deserved to win it,” she told Deutsche Welle. “How the Nobel peace laureates behave after taking the prize has nothing to do with the Nobel committee. It is up to the laureates to honour the award. Aung San Suu Kyi fails to do.”
Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, has appealed to Myanmar’s officials in a bid to end the ongoing crisis.
Guterres expressed concern that continued disruption could descend into a “humanitarian catastrophe with implications for peace and security that could continue to expand beyond Myanmar’s borders” in a letter sent to the UN Security Council.
Although he has not directly criticised Aung San Suu Kyi, the secretary-general condemned Myanmar’s leaders.
“I appeal to all, all authorities in Myanmar, civilian authorities and military authorities, to indeed put an end to this violence that, in my opinion, is creating a situation that can destabilise the region,” he told reporters on September 5.
“The grievances and unresolved plight of the Rohingya have festered for far too long.”
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, has claimed he will press world leaders to help Myanmar’s Rohingya who he said are facing a genocide.
Turkey will raise the issue at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York this month – which will run from September 12 to September 25 – according to Erdogan.
“You watched the situation that Myanmar and Muslims are in … You saw how villages have been burnt … Humanity remained silent to the massacre in Myanmar,” he said on September 4.
Erdogan refrained from openly criticising Aung San Suu Kyi directly, but reportedly told her in a September 5 phone call that the violence perpetrated against Myanmar’s Rohingya population was a violation of human rights.
During the discussion, he made clear that the Muslim world was deeply concerned about the situation, according to the Reuters news agency.
Turkey has agreed with Myanmar the right to provide aid to the country’s northwestern region, where the Rohingya crisis is most acute.
Approximately 1,000 tonnes of food, clothes and medicine were delivered to Rakhine State on September 6.
Peter Popham, biographer of two books about the life and work of Kyi, has called on Aung San Suu Kyi to resign.
Citing her decision in December 2011 to abide by Myanmar’s constitution, which provides the army with a “right to take over all powers of government whenever they feel it’s necessary”, Popham labelled her situation “desperate” in an opinion piece published by The Independent on September 8.
“Instead of challenging the military, she is now its poodle, its patsy, its flak-catcher in chief. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing – responsible for operations against the Rohingya – is off the hook,” he wrote.
“As Burma’s de facto ruler, Suu Kyi bears ultimate responsibility for this grotesque over-reaction. As the most admired and famous Burmese person in the world, she owed the world an explanation for it. But her response has been lamentable … [giving] No indication at all that she shares in or even understands the outside world’s indignation.
“She has only one possible recourse: accept that in December 2011 she made a fatal error, and call it a day. The world would understand.”
Boris Johnson, the UK’s foreign secretary, has decried Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya population, claiming it is “besmirching the reputation of Burma”.
The UK hopes Kyi will now use her “remarkable qualities” to end the crisis, Johnson said in a statement on September 2.
“Aung San Suu Kyi is rightly regarded as one of the most inspiring figures of our age,” he said. “I hope she can now use all her remarkable qualities to unite her country, to stop the violence and to end the prejudice that afflicts both Muslims and other communities.”
Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s crisis response director, has been a vocal critic of Myanmar’s actions near the nation’s border with Bangladesh.
Though not explicitly referencing Aung San Suu Kyi, Hassan has called on the nation’s leaders to end the suffering, and expressed the importance of a swift resolution to the situation.
“Rakhine State is on the precipice of a humanitarian disaster. Nothing can justify denying life-saving aid to desperate people,” she said on September 4.
“By blocking access for humanitarian organisations, Myanmar’s authorities have put tens of thousands of people at risk and shown a callous disregard for human life.”
Hassan has also openly lamented the reported use of antipersonnel landmines on the nation’s border with Bangladesh, which Amnesty International claims are being used by Myanmar’s security forces to target those escaping the country.
“Authorities must immediately end this abhorrent practice against people who are already fleeing persecution,” she said.