Violent Crisis in Myanmar Prompts Petition to Revoke Leader's Nobel Peace Prize

As violence plagues the Rakhine state, over 370,000 people have signed a petition calling for Aung San Suu Kyi's prize to be revoked.

Sep 7 2017, 9:47pm

Photo by Bloomberg via Getty Images

Hundreds of thousands of people have signed a petition calling for the de facto leader of Myanmar to be stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize for not doing more to protect a group of people once described as "the world's most persecuted minority."

In 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi received the prestigious award for her campaign to bring democracy to the dictatorship nation of Myanmar; today, however, she remains mostly quiet as violence continues to plague the Rakhine state, a poor region of the country that's home to a minority group of Rohingya Muslims. As of press time, 370,000 people have signed a petition calling for her prize to be revoked.

Read more: The Unspeakable Horrors Endured by the World's Most Persecuted Minority

The latest conflict was spurred by Rohingya militant attacks on police posts late last month, to which the military counterattacked. The clash has left hundreds dead and more than 123,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh; the UN's special rapporteur on human rights has called on the Myanmar government to offer assistance to all communities impacted by violence in Rakhine. "The humanitarian situation is deteriorating rapidly and I am concerned that many thousands of people are increasingly at risk of grave violations of their human rights," said Yanghee Lee in a statement. "The worsening cycle of violence is of grave concern and must be broken urgently."

She added: "I am saddened to receive reports that, while the authorities are helping Rakhine and other communities living in affected townships evacuate to safer locations, this assistance is not being extended to the Rohingya Muslims."

The Rohingya, who do not have citizenship in Myanmar, have long faced persecution. A UN human rights report that came out earlier this year offered a horrifying picture of what the population has endured, including: the burning of entire villages; killing of babies, women, and the elderly; mass rape and sexual violence; and deliberate destruction of food and food sources. The testimonies they gathered, the report's authors write, "speak volumes of the apparent disregard by [Myanmar military forces] that operate in the lockdown zone for international human rights law, in particular the total disdain for the right to life of Rohingyas."

In the past, Suu Kyi has denied reports of "ethnic cleansing," and has also downplayed the crisis in her country, appearing to put some of the blame on victims.

As far as the petition is concerned, it may end up serving as more of a flag to Suu Kyi's indifference than anything actionable. In an interview with Agence France-Presse, the head of the Nobel Institute said it was impossible to take an award away from a Nobel laureate. "Neither Alfred Nobel's will nor the statutes of the Nobel Foundation provide for the possibility that a Nobel Prize – whether for physics, chemistry, medicine, literature or peace — can be revoked," said Olav Njolstad. "Only the efforts made by a laureate before the attribution of a prize are evaluated by the Nobel committee," he said, and not any subsequent actions.

But in light of the Rohingya crisis, at least one scholar is calling for the Nobel committee to reconsider its position on rescinding these prizes and hold recipients of these prestigious awards more accountable. Hamid Dabashi is a professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University. "This prize is too important categorically to dismiss and discredit it," he tells Broadly. "I believe the committee that grants it needs to act more responsibly and reconsider its procedure and stipulate the terms of the award and the manners in which the recipients will be held accountable."

Dabashi says he's deeply troubled by the "state-sponsored genocide in Myanmar." It's why he penned an opinion piece for Al Jazeera, which published this morning. In it, he called Suu Kyi "the single most embarrassing name on the roster of the Nobel Peace Prize recipients." He also said that the Nobel committee needed to "restore its own credibility and the credibility of the future recipients it will honour by publicly rescinding this prize from a person so blatantly affiliated with genocide."

He tells Broadly: "Aung San Suu Kyi cannot have it both ways—use a globally celebrated recognition to win political gains and then dispense with it when reaching her political ambitions. That is pure charlatanism."