Aung San Suu Kyi has been stripped of Amnesty International’s highest honor in light of her “shameful betrayal of the values she once stood for,” the UK-based rights group announced Tuesday.
Amnesty’s secretary general, Kumi Naidoo, wrote to Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s civilian leader, Sunday informing her of the decision to revoke the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award, which she received in 2009.
“Today, we are profoundly dismayed that you no longer represent a symbol of hope, courage, and the undying defense of human rights,” Naidoo wrote. “Amnesty International cannot justify your continued status as a recipient of the Ambassador of Conscience award and so with great sadness we are hereby withdrawing it from you.”
Amnesty criticized the Nobel laureate in a press release for failing to use her “political and moral authority” to safeguard human rights in the country, citing her “apparent indifference” to military atrocities in ethnic areas and “increasing intolerance of freedom of expression.”
Once an icon of the international human rights community, Suu Kyi has been stripped of a number of prestigious awards amid allegations of genocide of the country’s minority Rohingya Muslim population.
CNN has reached out to Suu Kyi’s representatives for comment.
In September, Suu Kyi said that, with hindsight, her government could have better handled the situation in Rakhine state.
Suu Kyi ‘actively shielded the military from scrutiny’
The announcement comes as officials in Myanmar and Bangladesh get ready to repatriate more than 2,000 Rohingya refugees who fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State last year.
The Myanmar military has been accused of using rape, murder and arson in a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing that drove more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh, where they languish in what has become the world’s largest refugee camp.
The UN has called on the International Criminal Court to investigate Myanmar’s military leaders on charges of genocide.
In the letter, Naidoo said Suu Kyi has “chosen to overlook and excuse the brutal oppression and crimes against humanity committed by the military” and adds that her administration “actively shielded the military from international scrutiny and accountability.”
Rohingya refugees flee Myanmar
Government propaganda portrays the Rohingya as illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh and labels them “Bengali,” despite many Rohingya families living in Myanmar for generations. Online hate speech, especially on Facebook, against religious and ethnic minorities has been used to fuel political division and bloodshed.
“We have also been appalled to witness your administration spread hate narratives against minorities, fostering rather than challenging discrimination and hostility,” Naidoo said in the letter.
As well as abuses in Rakhine State, Amnesty pointed to the military’s operations in other areas of the country, including the northern Kachin and Shan states, where more than 100,000 people have been displaced in years of civil war.
Activists and journalists imprisoned
Myanmar’s civilian government shares power with the military, which retains control of a quarter of the seats in parliament. But Amnesty criticized Suu Kyi for not using the power she does have in her official position as State Counselor to enact reforms that would benefit human rights. Since she took office in 2015, human rights activists and journalists have continued to be arrested and imprisoned for their work under repressive colonial-era laws, Amnesty said.
Earlier this year, two Reuters reporters were sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty of breaching the country’s Official Secrets Act. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been investigating military atrocities in Rakhine State, including the massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys.
“We are dismayed that your government has not only failed to repeal or amend repressive laws but has actively used them to curb freedom of expression, and arrest and imprison human rights defenders, journalists and other peaceful activists,” Naidoo said.
No longer an icon
Suu Kyi has had a string of awards and accolades revoked amid the Rohingya crisis. In March, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum announced it was rescinding the prestigious Elie Wiesel Award granted to Suu Kyi in 2012 because she had failed to intervene in Rakhine.
In November 2017, Suu Kyi was stripped of the Freedom of the City of Oxford award, which honored her in 1997 for “her opposition to oppression and military rule in Burma.” Suu Kyi studied at Oxford University’s St. Hugh’s College as an undergraduate, but her portrait in the college has since been removed.
And in September, Canada’s House of Commons voted unanimously to revoke her honorary citizenship, recognizing that “the crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingyas constitute a genocide.”
Suu Kyi was serving time under house arrest when she was named Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience in 2009. She was awarded the honor in recognition of her peaceful and nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights.
“We will continue to fight for justice and human rights in Myanmar – with or without her support,” Amnesty’s Naidoo said.