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Myanmar's former peace icon suspended from Sakharov Prize

Rights group says the decision to bar Suu Kyi is meaningless as long as the EU does business with Myanmar's military

Myanmar's former peace icon suspended from Sakharov Prize

A supporter rides a vehicle decorated with a portrait of Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi during the National League for Democracy's motorcade campaign in Yangon on Sept. 9 for the upcoming general election. (Photo: AFP)

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been suspended from the Sakharov Prize Community by the European Parliament over her lack of action on the ill-treatment of Rohingya.

On Sept. 10, the European Parliament formally suspended Suu Kyi from all activities of the community.

Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner under the military regime, was awarded the Sakharov Prize in 1990 for embodying the Burmese people's fight for democracy.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded for outstanding achievements in the defense of human rights, safeguarding the rights of minorities and respect for international law, among other criteria.

“Today’s decision is a clear response to her lack of action, her aiding and enabling of the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar and her denial of responsibility of her country’s government for the ongoing crimes against this community,” Heidi Hautala, European Parliament vice-president, said in a statement.

She said Suu Kyi has ignored the European Parliament’s requests and has not lived up to the values which the Sakharov Prize stands for.

“On the contrary, she has made clear her support of the military that has led the assault against the Rohingya,” she added.

Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign-UK, slammed the move as “a completely meaningless gesture.”

“The EU is giving hundreds of millions of euros in aid to Suu Kyi’s government, is training the military-controlled police which took part in genocide, and the EU refuses to implement the UN fact-finding mission's recommendations,” Farmaner said on Twitter.

“Dozens of companies in the EU are doing business with the military and helping to fund genocide, but the European Parliament thinks suspending Suu Kyi from this award is a priority.” 

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Suu Kyi, who came to power following a landslide victory in the 2015 election that formally ended decades of military rule, has been criticized for her moral failure over the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine during a military crackdown.

The 75-year-old one-time democracy icon has also been stripped of several awards including Amnesty International’s Ambassador for Conscience Award.

Rights groups have called for the Nobel committee to revoke her Nobel Peace Prize that she received in 1991.

Suu Kyi remains popular at home, especially among the Bamar majority, but her reputation outside Myanmar has been tarnished over her silence on the ill-treatment of the Rohingya.

Myanmar’s genocide case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has tainted the country’s image but Suu Kyi herself went to The Hague and defended her country against genocide claims, gaining much support from people inside Myanmar.

Businesses tainted by military links

A report by Amnesty International released on Sept. 10 has exposed international businesses financing Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, including many units directly responsible for crimes under international law and other human rights violations.

Leaked official documents revealed that the Tatmadaw receives huge revenue from shares in Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), a secretive conglomerate whose activities include mining, beer, tobacco and garment manufacturing.

MEHL has partnerships with a range of local and foreign businesses including Japanese beer multinational Kirin and South Korean steel giant POSCO.

Amnesty International uncovered detailed links between MEHL and the Western Command, which oversees operations in Rakhine state, including atrocities committed against ethnic minorities.

“These documents provide new evidence of how Myanmar's military benefits from MEHL’s vast business empire and make clear that the military and MEHL are inextricably linked. This is not a case of MEHL unwittingly financing human rights violations — its entire board is composed of high-level military figures,” said Mark Dummett, head of business, security and human rights at Amnesty International.

“The revenue that these military businesses generate strengthens the Tatmadaw’s autonomy from elected civilian oversight and provides financial support for the Tatmadaw’s operations with their wide array of international human rights and humanitarian law abuses,” Marzuki Darusman, chair of the UN’s fact-finding mission, said in August 2019.

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