Aung San Suu Kyi Stripped Of Another Honour: The International Community Must Focus On Solutions Not Punishments

Amnesty International has withdrawn their ‘Ambassador of Conscience’ honour from Aung San Suu Kyi, expressing that they “could no longer justify her status as an Ambassador of Conscience” when she “no longer represents a symbol of hope, courage and the undying defence of human rights.” The withdrawal follows a number of organizations rescinding its awards from Suu Kyi including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and numerous awards from universities. Meanwhile, the Rohingya community continue to overcrowd in gruelling conditions within Bangladesh refugee camps with inadequate food, water and sanitation services with no end in sight.

Aung San Suu Kyi was once the face of hope for Myanmar but has faced international condemnation for not speaking or taking action against the Myanmar military performing what many accept to be crimes against humanity. Myanmar has been the focus of human rights concerns with an increase in campaigns of ethnic-based violence that forced an estimated 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee into neighbouring nations, resulting in an estimated 25,000 deaths. The Rohingya have been rendered stateless by the Myanmar government for decades and aren’t even considered a Myanmar minority. The Myanmar Times reported they are frequently referred to as ‘Bengalis’ and that they are subject to an apartheid “more appalling than South Africa’s.”

The Rohingya refugee crisis has led to increasing regional pressure to house increasing numbers of displaced persons. Unicef reports that Bangladesh has received more than half a million Rohingya as of April 2018; more than half of them children. This has resulted in intense strain on Bangladesh’s already lacking resources. They received more than $480 million in funding to help with the crisis but these are short term solutions. Bangladesh recently announced they want to send these asylum seekers back to Myanmar where they are not yet safe from harm. To return to Myanmar as a Rohingya Muslim is considered a death sentence. The Guardian reported that the announcement has re-ignited fear in the refugee camps, with some choosing to flee to avoid repatriation while others are so terrified of returning that they attempt suicide.

International tribunals and judicial systems through international institutions are effective as both deterrent and punitive measures; examples lie within Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Nothing can repair the damage that leaders have done or allowed to occur, but past cases have taught us that post-conflict punitive measures in their respective courts have led to some amount of justice. The latest U.N. report stated that the Rohingya crisis was “textbook ethnic cleansing.” It also went so far as to name six senior military figures as suspects to the war crimes, giving the United Nations a strong case for I.C.C. prosecution.

Withdrawal of honours sends a signal to recipients that they have not upheld the expectation that the international community has of them, but punishing Suu Kyi brings little positive improvement to Myanmar’s current situation. The international community must remember there are lives at stake amongst a distressing lack of basic rights. Rohingya citizens have been trapped in a brutal system of limited healthcare and apartheid for many years. Protection, reconciliation and constitutional reform must be the priority.