A Holocaust museum in the US has rescinded an award to Myanmar’s state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi for failing “to condemn and stop the military’s brutal campaign” against the majority-Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine State.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which honoured Aung San Suu Kyi with the Elie Wiesel award in 2012 for her advocacy for freedom and human rights, said in an open letter to her – published on Wednesday – that she disappointed them.
“As the military’s attacks against the Rohingya unfolded in 2016 and 2017, 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 said.
The museum reminded Aung San Suu Kyi that Wiesel once said: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented.”
It said the museum had undertaken numerous visits to Myanmar and Bangladesh to obtain first-hand evidence so that it could fully understand the extent of the persecution and crimes committed against the Rohingya minority.
The museum said it documented crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and what it called “mounting evidence of genocide” committed by the Myanmar military against Rohingya civilians since October 2016.
It also accused the National League for Democracy under Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership of promulgating hateful rhetoric against the Rohingya, denying access to and cracking down on journalists trying to uncover the scope of the crimes in Rakhine State.
“We understand the difficult situation you must face in confronting decades of military misrule and violence in your country and that institutions still powerful constitutional role,” the museum wrote to Aung San Suu Kyi.
“However, the military’s orchestration of the crimes against Rohingya and the severity of the atrocities in recent months demand that you use your moral authority to address this situation.”
We had hoped that you ... would have done something to condemn and stop the military's brutal campaign and to express solidarity with the targeted Rohingya population.
It urged Aung San Suu Kyi to use her “unique standing” and her role as state counsellor and foreign minister to cooperate with international efforts to establish the truth about the atrocities committed in Rakhine State and secure accountability for perpetrators.
“We also urge you to lead an effort to review and amend the 1982 Citizenship Law, which has rendered most Rohingya stateless, so that it is aligned with international standards and allows equal access to full citizenship rights regardless of ethnicity,” it said.
“You can expand access for both local and international aid workers to administer life-saving assistance. Finally, we urge you to condemn the hateful, dehumanising language directed toward the Rohingya.”
The Rohingya, one of the most persecuted communities in the world, are not recognised as citizens of Myanmar and face widespread discrimination from the authorities.
Prior to the current exodus, tens of thousands of Rohingya have already been living as refugees in several neighbouring countries.
The plight of the Rohingya reached its peak in Myanmar six months ago when the country’s military cracked down on the minority group in Rakhine State, sparking a mass exodus.
About 700,000 Rohingya have fled over the border to Bangladesh since the violence erupted in August, bringing with them consistent testimony of murder, rape and arson by soldiers and vigilante mobs.
Doctors Without Borders (known by its French acronym, MSF) has estimated that at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the first month of the crackdown alone.
Hundreds of Rohingya villages were torched, and recent satellite imagery showed at least 55 villages have since been completely bulldozed, removing all traces of buildings, wells and vegetation.
Myanmar’s military says its crackdown was needed to root out Rohingya armed rebels who attacked border police posts in August, killing about a dozen people.
In January, Myanmar and Bangladesh announced a repatriation deal, but rights groups and Rohingya have raised concerns about the agreement, saying it does not guarantee full citizenship, or safety, for those who return.