Queen’s pulls Aung San Suu Kyi’s honourary degree

Following her silence on the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar, Senate revokes LL.D.

Aung San Suu Kyi.
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Senate rescinded Myanmar State Chancellor and former human rights icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s Doctorate of Law on Tuesday. The move marks the first pulled honourary degree in Queen’s history.

Suu Kyi has drawn international criticism for refusing to oppose the military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine province. Theoffensive sparked the mass exodus of the Rohingya minority to Bangladesh, following reports of widespread killings, sexual violence, and ethnic cleansing.

In response, Senaterevoked Suu Kyi’s 1995 Honorary Doctor of Law for her “failure to live up to her commitment or avail herself of opportunities to speak in defense of the Rohingya people,” a Tuesday University press release read.

Queen’s has never pulled an honourary degree since the practice began 146 years ago.

The action is the latest Canadian development in Suu Kyi’s fall from grace.

A 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Suu Kyi first received international praise for peaceful resistance to the country’s military leadership, who detained her for nearly two decades between 1989 and 2010. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee chair called her “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless.”

She later received her 1995 Queen’s degree while in custody, but was unable to appear in person.

Almost two decades later, she gained power in a landslide 2015 election leading the National League for Democracy (NLD). Her win marked exactly five years since her release from house arrest as a political prisoner. 

However, a constitutional bar on foreign spouses or children meant Suu Kyi—who is married to English historian Michael Aris—couldn’t become president. She instead entered the role as State Chancellor, Myanmar’s defacto leader, in 2016.

As leader in 2017, she remained quiet when the country’s largely independent military began its offensive against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority who are denied citizenship and excluded from Myanmar’s census. 

Since the crackdowns began, the United Nations has called the exodus a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Meanwhile, the military denies targeting civilians, claiming it’s combatting Rohingya militants.

Suu Kyi has since failed to condemn the violence, and last year claimed potential evidence was “fake news.”

In September of 2017, Suu Kyi’s office wrote in a statement on Facebook that “fake news photographs” claiming to show the bodies of Rohingya falsely represented the violence, and were taken elsewhere.

“That kind of fake information … was simply the tip of a huge iceberg of misinformation calculated to create a lot of problems between different communities and with the aim of promoting the interest of the terrorists,” the statement said. 

However, UN investigators reiterated ethnic cleansing warnings this past August, saying Myanmar’s military’s actions hold “genocidal intent.” The investigators also recommended the army’s top commanders should be tried for genocide.

Suu Kyi slightly relented this past September at an international forum in Hanoi, Vietnam. The government, she said, might’ve erred in its response.

“There are, of course, ways in which, with hindsight, we might think that the situation could have been handled better, but we believe that for the sake of long-term stability and security, we have to be fair to all sides,” Suu Kyi said.

Also in September, the international community criticized Suu Kyi for her prosecution of journalists—two Reuters reporters jailed for breaching Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The reporters were investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya villagers. 

In the midst of this international outcry, Queen’s was called to revoke her honorary degree last year.

At the time, Principal Daniel Woolf, who chairs the Honorary Degree Committee, said more time had to pass before Suu Kyi lost her degree. 

“Current events can sometimes lead well-intentioned people to feel the revocation of an honorary degree is warranted or expedient,” Principal Woolf wrote to The Journal in October of 2017. 

“[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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