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Calls for Aung San Suu Kyi to be stripped of Freedom of the City honour

ByGeorge Phillips

Oct 25, 2017
Image: European Parliament via Flickr

Calls have been made for the de facto head of government of Myanmar, politician and democrat, Aung San Suu Kyi, to be stripped of the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh.

The pro-democracy leader was awarded the honour in 2005 whilst under house arrest, however residents and politicians have recently expressed their concerns about her retaining the prestigious award.

A petition calling for the removal of the Freedom of the City from Suu Kyi has also been created, citing her “lack of action” with regards to the current Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.

The de facto leader has drawn increasing international criticism following her refusal to properly acknowledge or speak out on the state-driven ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority.

Rohingya Muslims living in the primarily Buddhist nation have been facing a campaign of violent persecution which the United Nations has publicly denounced, calling it a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Through systematic discrimination, many Buddhists see the Rohingya as being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite the Muslims having lived in the country for hundreds of years. As a result, many Rohingya face harsh travel restrictions and are denied citizenship, therefore rendering them stateless.

Edinburgh’s Lord Provost, Frank Ross, is understood to be writing to the Myanmar leader on behalf of the city, condemning the violence and to urge the leader to use her status to intervene in the worsening situation.

Just under 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since late August, and estimates suggest that a further 12,000 continue to leave each week – the majority of whom being women and children.

The full extent of the situation remains unclear, as the government in Myanmar has failed to grant access to UN teams, despite multiple requests.

In light of the state of affairs in the country, Green councillor for Leith, Chas Booth, has expressed his support for debate on whether the Myanmar leader should be allowed to retain the Freedom of the City.

Booth said: “Given what Amnesty International have said about what is happening to the Rohingya people in Mynamar – which has been defined as ethnic cleansing – and given the de facto leader is Aung Sun Suu Kyi, she is, in a sense, at least partly responsible for what happens there.

“In which case, we should definitely debate whether it is appropriate for her to have the Freedom of the City.

“The award is only given to people of outstanding achievement and I do wonder whether, given her inaction in the face of the horrific acts against Rohingya people, she still falls into that category.

“So, it’s absolutely right in mind that we debate the issue. I wouldn’t want to prejudge whether the Freedom should indeed be stripped from her but we should absolutely have the debate.”

Those who currently join Suu Kyi in holding the Edinburgh Freedom of the City include the Queen, Nelson Mandela and Sean Connery. The honour is the highest civic award which can be bestowed by the city and is used to acknowledge the respect and high esteem with which individuals are held by Edinburgh residents.

Other institutes across the UK have been engaging in similar debates regarding honours possessed by Suu Kyi. The leader has already been stripped of the Freedom of the City at Oxford, where she pursued her undergraduate studies, after a unanimous vote by the council.

More than 425,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the politician to be stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize.


Image: European Parliament via Flickr

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