Queen’s undecided on status of Aung Sun Suu Kyi’s honorary degree

International outcry for Myanmar leader to be stripped of awards, Queen’s says “no process exists” to rescind honorary degrees

Aung Sun Suu Kyi.
Photo supplied

As Myanmar leader Aung Sun Suu Kyi continues to face widespread condemnation from the international community, conversations are starting regarding the revocation of her awards and distinctions. Currently, Suu Kyi’s honorary degree from Queen’s remains in her possession.

Suu Kyi has been criticized in recent months due to her response to the mass displacement of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine province. Calls to have Suu Kyi stripped of awards and honours over her response to the crisis have taken center stage as the crisis intensifies. 

The Journal asked Principal Woolf about the status of Suu Kyi’s honorary Doctorate of Law, awarded by Queen’s in 1995. 

“Should a longer view of events determine that rescinding an honorary degree might be warranted, the facts surrounding that decision would need to be duly considered [by the Senate Honorary Degrees Committee],” Woolf wrote.

Long seen as Myanmar’s icon of human rights, Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in 1989 for speaking out against the military junta leader Ne Win, who had been running the country for over a decade. Over the next 21 years, Suu Kyi spent 15 of them in custody, making her one of the world’s most famous political prisoners.

After her release in 2010, Suu Kyi entered the national spotlight, winning a seat in parliament. In 2015, she led the National League for Democracy to a landslide victory in parliament to become the country’s first democratically- elected leader. Though Suu Kyi leads Myanmar’s government, the country’s military is widely regarded as an independent entity with its own agenda. 

Since late August, nearly half a million Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh, escaping persecution and violence in Myanmar. The situation flared as Rohingya militants attacked police stations in the country’s western provinces earlier this summer. In response, Myanmar’s military took sweeping action in what the UN described as a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing.

Suu Kyi failed to condemn violent Buddhist nationalists and Myanmar’s military for their role in the crisis until recently.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced pressure in parliament this fall from Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, who raised the issue of Rohingya displacement 13 times in the commons. 

As well, a petition calling on Trudeau’s government to revoke Suu Kyi’s Honorary Canadian citizenship, awarded in 2007, has gained over 7,000 signatures.

Suu Kyi was awarded her honorary degree from Queen’s while she was still in custody and was unable to receive it in person. Her response to the violent clashes between Myanmar’s military and the Rohingya has prompted international calls for her honorary degrees to be rescinded from several institutions.

Recently, Oxford University, which awarded Suu Kyi an honorary degree in the 90s, removed a portrait of her from campus. As well, Oxford’s city council has stripped her of the Freedom of Oxford award. 

However, The Oxford Mail reported the University has “no plans” to strip Suu Kyi of her honorary degree. 

Queen’s Secretary of the University and Corporate Counsel Lon Knox told The Journal that to his knowledge, Queen’s hasn’t rescinded an honorary degree since it began awarding them in 1872.

“There is no process that exists to rescind honorary degrees but any such decision, if taken in respect of any individual honorary degree holder, would be made by the Senate,” Knox wrote.

According to Knox, Queen’s awards honorary degrees to individuals who have “made outstanding contributions to society on a national or international scale.” Degrees are handed down by the Honorary Degree Committee, chaired by Principal Daniel Woolf.  

“Current events can sometimes lead well-intentioned people to feel the revocation of an honorary degree is warranted or expedient,” Woolf wrote to The Journal. “[Y]et often times there is information surrounding a situation that may be unclear or obfuscated and only made clear with time.”

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