Canada strips Aung San Suu Kyi of honorary citizenship

Canada strips Aung San Suu Kyi of honorary citizenship

Canada has revoked Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary citizenship, the latest of several honours taken away from Myanmar’s de facto leader since last year’s military crackdown on minority Rohingya Muslims.

The country’s Senate voted to strip her of the honour on Tuesday, following a vote by the House of Commons to approve the same motion last week. Canada bestowed the honour in 2007, and she is the first to have lost it.

Ratna Omidvar, the senator who introduced the motion, said Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence in the face of the violence against the Rohingya, which killed many thousands of people and sent more than 700,000 from the country’s Rakhine state into Bangladesh, needed to be condemned.

Myanmar’s de facto leader has no power over the military, but a UN fact-finding mission in August concluded that Aung San Suu Kyi, who serves as state counsellor and foreign minister, had “not used her de facto position as head of government, nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events in Rakhine state”. 

The body said that Myanmar’s top military generals should be investigated and prosecuted for genocide.

John Baird, Canadian foreign affairs minister (L) presented a certificate of Canadian honorary citizenship to Aung San Suu Kyi (R) in 2012. Canada bestowed the honour on her in 2007 © EPA

Oxford university’s St Hugh’s College, where the Myanmar leader studied, removed her portrait in 2017 after the Rohingya crackdown, and a number of other universities and cities have revoked honours granted during her years of house arrest under military rule. 

The US Holocaust museum in March revoked a human rights award named after the late Elie Wiesel it had granted her in 2012, saying she should have “done something to condemn and stop the military’s brutal campaign and to express solidarity with the targeted Rohingya population”. 

Myanmar’s leader acknowledged last month that her government could have handled the Rakhine crisis better, but has also spoken of need to fight “terrorism” in Myanmar, echoing the military’s justification for the crackdown on Rohingya armed militants, during which eyewitnesses say many civilians were raped, injured, or killed.

The Rohingya have little popular sympathy in majority Buddhist Myanmar, where many support the nationalist line that they are illegal “immigrants” from Bangladesh.

Two years after taking power after an election that marked the end of direct military rule, Aung San Suu Kyi remains popular with many in the country, where she is known by the honorific Daw Suu and remembered as the daughter of independence hero Aung San.

However, her government has come under criticism domestically for its handling of the economy, perceived corruption in business and political circles, and other issues.

Human rights groups have raised the alarm about a surge in prosecutions of journalists under various charges since she took power in 2016, including two Reuters journalists who were sentenced to seven years in prison last month after their arrest while reporting on the slaughter of 10 Rohingya men during the crackdown.

Speaking at length for the first time in Hanoi last month about the jailing, which has been condemned internationally, she said they were not in prison for their journalism, but because a crime found them guilty of violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act.

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