Petition grows to strip Suu Kyi of Nobel prize

Denial: Suu Kyi has dismissed the Rohingya crisis as a “misinformation campaign”. © Getty

Could Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence on the Rohingya crisis mean she is stripped of her Nobel peace prize? That is the opinion of a growing chorus appalled at the “ethnic cleansing” in Myanmar.

"They came for us," says Zakir Mamun. "People were ordered indoors. Then the military and the mobs threw bombs at our homes, setting them on fire."

The next morning, they saw their village in ruins. Smoke was rising from the smouldering homes. "Everything was gone," he says.

Zakir is a Rohingya, the name for the Muslim minority of Myanmar (also known as Burma). After violence flared in Rakhine state, the Burmese military have responded with a brutal military operation. Over 300,000 have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. According to the UN human rights chief, it seems “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the heroine of democracy who lived under house arrest for 15 years before becoming leader in March, is facing a barrage of criticism for her silence on the violence. In April Suu Kyi denied that the troubles amounted to ethnic cleansing.

Now her fellow Nobel laureates have joined her throng of critics. Malala Yousafzai has said that “the world is waiting” for her to act, while Desmond Tutu has said that “silence is too high a price”, emphasising how Aung had once “symbolised righteousness”.

Suu Kyi’s control over the immensely powerful Burmese military is limited, but some are nonetheless demanding that she be stripped of the Nobel peace prize she won for "her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights" .

Writing in The Guardian, George Monbiot says that she is not using her “power to speak out”, adding that she has “denied the very identity of the people being attacked”.

A petition demanding that she lose her prize has already been signed by over 400,000 people.

Would it be possible? Not according to the organisation that oversees the prize. Olav Njolstad, head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, said that neither the will of prize founder Alfred Nobel nor the Nobel Foundation’s rules provide for the possibility of withdrawing the honour from laureates.

But with the situation in Rakhine deteriorating, does she deserve to keep it?

A Nobel cause

“Power has made Suu Kyi corrupt and complacent,” say some. She is denying others the freedom that she once fought for, therefore violating the principles for which she was recognised. This surely invalidates her prize. As Monbiot says, “We now contemplate an extraordinary situation: a Nobel peace laureate complicit in crimes against humanity.”

“What an absurd overreaction!” reply others. You cannot ignore the constraints of Suu Kyi’s position. She has to satisfy both the military, which holds a quarter of the seats in the Burmese parliament, and the people, who are generally hostile towards the Rohingyas. Yes, she could do more, but this does not invalidate her past achievements.

You Decide

  1. Should Aung San Suu Kyi be stripped of her Nobel peace prize?
  2. Should the West intervene in Burma to protect the Rohingyas?

Activities

  1. Divide into pairs. Design a poster advertisement for a charity that is raising awareness about the Rohingya crisis.
  2. Research a historical figure you believe should have won a Nobel peace prize. Write 500 words explaining your choice.

Some People Say...

“It is not power that corrupts, but fear of losing power.”

Aung San Suu Kyi

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar in the past months. The Burmese military says it is responding to attacks by Rohingya militants. Over 300,000 Rohingyas have now fled to Bangladesh. The Burmese government does not recognise the Rohingyas as Burmese citizens, instead viewing them as Bangladeshi migrants. Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s new leader who fought for democracy and human rights in the country for decades, is facing criticism for her response (or lack of it) to the crisis.
What do we not know?
To what extent the claims of the Burmese military are true. Reporting from Rakhine, one of the country’s remotest and poorest states, is extremely hard. We do not know whether a peaceful solution can be found in the near future.

Word Watch

Also known as Burma
Burma was renamed Myanmar by the military junta in 1989, but many countries, including Britain, do not recognise the legitimacy of the regime which changed the name, leading to the confusion.
Under house arrest for 15 years
During this time, Suu Kyi refused to go visit her dying husband in Britain out of fear that she would never be allowed back into Myanmar.
Malala Yousafzai
Yousafzai was 15 when she was shot in the head and neck by the Taliban in Afghanistan for writing about the rights and life of girls and women under the Taliban. In August this year she was admitted to Oxford University.
Alfred Nobel
A Swedish chemist, engineer and businessman who invented dynamite. After reading a premature obituary which condemned him from profiting from arms sales, he bequeathed his fortune to start the Nobel prizes.
Military
The Burmese military, the Tatmadaw, retains control of many key ministries, including home affairs, defence and borders.

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