Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been stripped of a human rights award by the City of Oxford, where she was an undergraduate, as British institutions increasingly distance themselves from the beleaguered former rights icon.
Oxford City Council voted unanimously this week to recommend Suu Kyi’s Freedom of the City award be withdrawn, citing deep concerns over the treatment of Rohingya Muslims under her watch.
The city’s reputation is “tarnished by honoring those who turn a blind eye to violence,” local councilor and Labour party member Mary Clarkson said in a speech proposing the motion.
Over 500,000 members of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority have fled across the border to Bangladesh since late August, when militant Rohingya attacks led to a violent crackdown by the army.
Myanmar’s de facto leader Suu Kyi, previously renowned for her human rights activism, has been widely criticized for her silence on the subject.
“While the UN calls the situation a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’, Aung San Suu Kyi denies any ethnic cleansing and dismisses numerous claims of sexual violence against Rohingya women as ‘fake rape,'” Clarkson said.
In a speech in late September, her first public statement on the subject since the exodus of refugees began, Suu Kyi said her government condemned all human rights violations and promised to punish perpetrators.
But she did not address accusations of ethnic cleansing and did not criticize the army’s actions. Her speech was described as “little more than a mix of untruths and victim-blaming” by Amnesty International director for the region, James Gomez.
A similar Freedom of the City award is being considered for withdrawal by Sheffield city council in the north of England, after residents submitted a petition last month.
The award will likely be reviewed by councilors this month, the council’s democratic services team, which handles petitions, told Reuters.
Oxford University college St Hugh’s, Suu Kyi’s alma mater, removed her portrait last week from public display while Unison, Britain’s second-largest trade union, announced last month it would suspend her honorary membership.