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Other Nobel winners failed to persuade Suu Kyi to speak up for Rohingya in 2013

September 08, 2017 - 1:06 PM

OTTAWA - Aung San Suu Kyi rebuffed three fellow Nobel laureates who tried in a private meeting four years ago to persuade her to speak up for Myanmar's persecuted Muslim minority, The Canadian Press has learned.

The result of the closed-door meeting in New York City in September 2013 foreshadowed the worldwide outrage she now faces for not defending her country's Rohingya Muslims.

All three attendees, including American Peace Prize winner Jody Williams, who worked with the Canadian government to ban landmines, added their voices Friday to the global condemnation of Suu Kyi.

An estimated 270,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar for neighbouring Bangladesh, saying they are running from attacks by government troops and Buddhist mobs.

Suu Kyi, who is an honorary Canadian citizen, has dismissed the complaints as misinformation and says the Myanmar government, which she now leads, is fighting a militant insurgency.

But there have been widespread global calls for her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize to be rescinded and for world leaders to denounce her silence.

Four years ago, three of her fellow female Peace Prize winners — Williams, Iran's Shirin Ebadi and Liberia's Leymah Gbowee — met her privately in what proved to be a futile effort to persuade her to recognize the Rohingya issue.

"We were disappointed in her reaction behind the scenes," said Rachel Vincent, the director of the Ottawa-based Nobel Women's Initiative, who was also at the New York meeting.

Suu Kyi was in the U.S. on a tour organized by the U.S. State Department. The meeting took place in office space provided by Human Rights Watch, Vincent said.

"We felt the appropriate thing to do was to voice our concerns, first, privately. But it has become clear that it was necessary to become public in our concerns."

On Friday, Williams, Ebadi and Gbowee and four other female Nobel laureates sent Suu Kyi a letter telling her she had betrayed the values of the Nobel Peace Prize with her silence.

"How many Rohingya have to die; how many Rohingya women will be raped; how many communities will be razed before you raise your voice in defence of those who have no voice?" said the letter.

"Your silence today casts a dark and disturbing shadow on the prize and its values, which we are privileged to represent."

Vincent said Williams and her fellow Nobel laureates stood up for Suu Kyi during her years of house arrest in Myanmar, defending her in numerous public statements. Williams was one of the few who managed to win permission from Myanmar's ruling military junta to visit Suu Kyi during her detention.

"When she asked people around the world to use their freedom to support freedom for her and many Burma democrats in prison, she entered into an unwritten compact," said Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division.

"But now it looks like she's reneging on the deal ... and it's a gut punch to the world community that supported her."

Suu Kyi visited Ottawa last spring and had a closed-door meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He raised concerns about the treatment of the Rohingya during the meeting, the Prime Minister's Office said at the time. Trudeau reiterated that concern this week during the Liberal caucus retreat in Kelowna, B.C.

"Prime Minister Trudeau needs to go further and make clear to Aung San Suu Kyi that unless her government ends the atrocities, Canada will do more than denounce abuses and needs to reassess Canada's bilateral relationship with Burma," said Farida Deif, the Canada director of Human Rights Watch.

So far, government officials say privately there is no consideration being given to rescinding her honorary Canadian citizenship. Suu Kyi is one of six international figures to receive that honour.

An online petition by Change.org has almost 390,000 signatures calling for Suu Kyi to be stripped of her Peace Prize. A Gatineau, Que. man has also launched a private petition calling on the government to revoke her Canadian citizenship.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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