The U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. is the latest organization to revoke a human rights award from Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar. Suu Kyi was considered to be a human rights icon, but her indifference to the plight of the Rohingya Muslim people in her country has frustrated many in the international community who once praised her.
Suu Kyi received the museum’s Elie Wiesel award in 2012 for her opposition to her country’s military dictatorship. The museum announced that it would be stripping her of the award on Wednesday.
While she may not have the power to stop the rampant persecution of the Rohingya single-handedly, Suu Kyi has also made no attempt to speak out against it or even acknowledge it, and has stood in the way of others who have tried. Holocaust Museum director Sara Bloomfield accused Suu Kyi and her political party of having "refused to cooperate with United Nations investigators, promulgated hateful rhetoric against the Rohingya community, and denied access to and cracked down on journalists trying to uncover the scope of the crimes in Rakhine State."
Myanmar’s D.C. embassy hit back against the decision, releasing a statement that said in part, "we immensely regret that the ... Holocaust Museum has been misled and exploited by people who failed to see the true situation in making fair judgment on the situation in Rakhine State."
Myanmar’s minority Rohingya population has faced intense persecution, particularly since 2016. The United Nations estimates that 809,000 Rohingya have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh. 603,000 of these have been since August 25. At least 288 Rohingya villages have been destroyed since August of last year. Once in Bangladesh, the Rohingya have been living in makeshift refugee camps, where as many as 100,000 of them could be at risk once monsoon season comes to the region.
Roughly one million Rohingya were living in Myanmar at the beginning of 2017. The U.N. has condemned this as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released a statement in November 2017 stating that, “[t]he situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.”
The Rohingya, along with groups like the U.N. and Amnesty International, have accused both local Buddhist mobs and the national military of killing civilians and burning villages.
The Rohingya, who live in an area of Myanmar called the Rakhine state, have routinely been discriminated against by Myanmar’s government. In 1982, Myanmar recognized 135 different national ethnic groups that were legally allowed to claim citizenship, but left the Rohingya off the list. While the Rohingya are mainly Muslim with a minority being Hindu, the rest of Myanmar’s population is overwhelmingly Buddhist.
Even though the Rohingya have lived in the Rakhine state for around 500 years, the Myanmar government views them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.