NEW YORK — The US Holocaust Memorial Museum has revoked a prestigious human rights award it had given to Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, now Myanmar’s civilian leader, faulting her for failing to halt or even acknowledge the violence against her country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
Suu Kyi, who endured 15 years of house arrest for taking on the military dictatorship in Myanmar, was only the second person to receive the award, in 2012. It was named after Elie Wiesel, a fellow recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and a Holocaust survivor who was one of the museum’s founders. Wiesel was the first recipient.
The award, according to the museum, is given annually “to an internationally prominent individual whose actions have advanced the Museum’s vision of a world where people confront hatred, prevent genocide and promote human dignity.”
But Suu Kyi, the museum said, has failed to live up to that vision.
“We had hoped that you — as someone we and many others have celebrated for your commitment to human dignity and universal human rights — would have done something to condemn and stop the military’s brutal campaign and to express solidarity with the targeted Rohingya population,” the museum said in a letter to Suu Kyi.
The letter, which was made available to The New York Times, was dated Tuesday and addressed to Suu Kyi via the Myanmar Embassy in Washington.
Instead, the letter said, she and her political party, the National League for Democracy, have refused to cooperate with United Nations investigators, blocked access to journalists and “promulgated hateful rhetoric against the Rohingya community.”
The museum’s decision is perhaps the strongest rebuke yet of Suu Kyi, who has been increasingly criticized as a seemingly unrepentant apologist for Buddhist nationalism and the Myanmar military’s campaign of ethnic violence.
Beginning last August, Myanmar’s military, joined by armed Buddhist civilians, systematically killed thousands of Rohingya in the western state of Rakhine. As many as 700,000 more fled across the border to Bangladesh, where they remain. Behind them, soldiers moved in to burn their villages and bury the dead in mass graves.
The United States and other countries have accused the Myanmar authorities of “ethnic cleansing,” while the UN special envoy on human rights in Myanmar said the killings bore “the hallmarks of a genocide.”
Meanwhile, Suu Kyi has refused to even utter the word Rohingya in public. In private, she becomes angry when the topic comes up, according to people who have spoken with her.
Though she has set up half a dozen commissions to look into the violence, which began after Rohingya militants attacked Myanmar security posts, authorities continue to insist that no Rohingya civilians have been harmed.
Bill Richardson, a former governor of New Mexico and longtime friend of Suu Kyi, recently quit an advisory board on the Rohingya crisis, calling it a “cheerleading squad.”