Suu Kyi was given the award in 2005 to honour her role in championing peace and democracy in Burma, where she was living under house arrest. At the time the Lord Provost of Edinburgh compared Suu Kyi to Nelson Mandela, describing her as “a symbol of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression. By her Edinburgh citizens will be publicly supporting her tireless work for democracy and human rights.”
However, as state counsellor in Myanmar, Suu Kyi has repeatedly refused to speak out against violence committed by the military against the Rohingya in Rahkine state, which saw more than 700,000 people flee over the border to Bangladesh. The crackdown, which began in August last years, saw villages razed to the ground, tens of thousands killed and women assaulted and raped at the hands of the military. The United Nations have said the violence amounted to “ethnic cleansing”.
Frank Ross, the city’s Lord Provost, wrote to Suu Kyi in November calling on her “immeasurable moral courage and influence” and asking her to allow the safe return of the Rohingya to Rahkine. After no communication from Suu Kyi, Ross has now tabled a council motion on Thursday calling for her freedom of the city to be removed with immediate effect.
This will only be the second time in 200 years that Edinburgh has revoked a freedom of the city award, following Charles Parnell in 1890, an Irish nationalist who fell into disrepute for a scandalous affair.
The past year has seen Suu Kyi’s international reputation as a beacon of hope tarnished by what many see as her complicity or apathy towards the crimes committed in Rahkine. She has repeatedly refused to call the Rohingya by their name- which is seen as an acceptance of their belonging in Myanmar- and in a speech in Singapore yesterday, she described them simply as the “displaced persons from northern Rakhine.”
In the same speech, Suu Kyi blamed terrorism, not the military, for the violence in Rahkine and criticised the international community, saying: “The outside world can choose the issues on which they wish to focus.”
In response to the events in Rahkine, Suu Kyi has been stripped of a variety of accolades and awards. The most high profile withdrawal came from the US Holocaust museum in March, who revoked the Elie Weisel award, given to Suu Kyi in 2012, for her refusal to condemn the mass killing of the Rohingya. LSE students Union also stripped Suu Kyi of the title of honouraryPresident and UNISON revoked her honourary membership.