It is yet another subtraction from the garland of accolades that were once reserved for the “lodestar of democracy”. That embroidery has frayed over time, to say the least. Amnesty International has eventually sized up Aung San Suu Kyi with Monday’s assertion that Myanmar’s civilian leader “is no longer a symbol of hope”. Hopeless too must be the country in the wider canvas.
Given the multiple whammy that she has suffered, it shall not be easy to shore up her standing… unless she effects a dramatic change in her response to the Rohingya issue. This seems improbable. Amnesty has withdrawn its highest honour ~ the Ambassador of Conscience award ~ because of what it calls a “shameful betrayal” of the values she once stood for, chiefly her “apparent indifference” to the relentless atrocities committed on the Rohingyas, not to forget the crackdown on journalists intent on exposing the truth and her increasing intolerance of the freedom of speech.
The fineprint of Amnesty’s action must be that she has over the past three years ~ after the purportedly democratic election ~ made a travesty of the certitudes of the democratic engagement. It is as much a reflection on the country’s Senior Counsellor as it is on the omnipotent junta, the pivotal entity of governance behind a civilian facade.
This is the latest in a series of accolades to be withdrawn from Suu Kyi, notably the US Holocaust Museum’s Elie Weisel award and Freedom of the City awards, which were revoked by Edinburgh, Oxford, Glasgow and Newcastle. However, she retains the Nobel Peace prize thanks to procedural contretemps. There was in point of fact a demand for the withdrawal of the Nobel in the wake of the action by Oxford University.
Much as the loop of setbacks lengthens, her withers remain unwrung. As the persecution of Rohingyas is stepped up and their privation intensifies, periodic assurances to Bangladesh that they will be repatriated mean little or nothing in tangible terms. It would be pertinent to recall Suu Kyi’s insistence on a citizenship document as a precondition for repatriation, let alone rehabilitation.
Amnesty International has called the bluff of a shambolic dispensation in a direly chaotic state. Remarkably succinct has been the letter of Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty’s secretary-general, to Suu Kyi that its “ambassador title” could no longer be justified. “Our expectation was that you would continue to use your moral authority to speak out against injustice wherever you saw it, not least within Myanmar itself,” was the core of the communication.
She hasn’t. On the contrary, her administration has stirred up hatred against Rohingyas by labelling them as “terrorists”, obstructed international investigations into abuses, and failed to repeal repressive laws used to silence critics. There has been a miscarriage of justice and Suu Kyi has emerged as a symbol of the suppression of expression in Myanmar.