EU parliament cuts Suu Kyi from rights prize honorees

This handout from Myanmar’s Ministry of Information taken and released on April 13, 2020 shows Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi talking to government officials from the Yangon region via a video conference from the presidential house in Naypyidaw during a television programme aimed at combating the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. (Photo by Handout / Myanmar’s Ministry of Information (MOI) / AFP)

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AFP) — The European Parliament on Thursday removed Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the “Sakharov Prize community” because of her “acceptance” of state crimes against the Rohingya community.

The EU assembly awarded the former democracy campaigner its top human rights prize in 1990, a year before she received the Nobel Peace Prize, but she will no longer take part in events for laureates.

A source close to the parliament said the prize had been awarded for Suu Kyi’s work before 1990 so could not be withdrawn, but that this exclusion was the strongest sanction available to MEPs.

A statement from the speaker and the group leaders in parliament said the decision was “a response to her failure to act and her acceptance of the ongoing crimes against the Rohingya community in Myanmar”.

Majority-Buddhist Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority has long been discriminated against and around 740,000 people fled to Bangladesh in August 2017 to escape a military offensive.

International pariah 

Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner who fought to end military rule and is now the country’s most powerful civilian official as “state counsellor”, was once honoured around the world as a champion of freedom.

But she has been accused of turning a blind eye to, or even condoning, abuses against the Rohingya.

Myanmar’s election campaign began this week, with Suu Kyi’s party hoping to build on its 2015 victory and secure its role as a counterweight to the still powerful military establishment.

But the refugees have been disenfranchised and most of the 600,000 Rohingya still in Myanmar have been stripped of citizenship and rights, despite pressure from Suu Kyi’s former international admirers.

Suu Kyi’s loss of her Sakharov Prize privileges is largely symbolic.

She is already a pariah in world capitals, especially after she travelled to the International Court of Justice in The Hague to rebut allegations against her country of rape, arson and mass killings.

At the court last year, Suu Kyi defended the military that once kept her locked up, arguing that her country was capable of investigating any allegations of abuse and warned that the case could reignite the crisis.

“The Sakharov Prize Community connects MEPs, laureates, and civil society to increase cooperation on human rights action in Brussels and internationally,” the parliament said, confirming the 75-year-old had been “formally suspended” all laureate activities.

“It serves as a channel of communication that enables the laureates and Parliament to address jointly human rights violations and issues.”

© Agence France-Presse