Mahathir Throws Shade at Aung San Suu Kyi at ASEAN Summit

Amnesty International recently revoked their highest honour from Myanmar's de facto leader.
Tuesday 13 November 2018
We sense some tension in the air. Photo: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP

[Update 14/11/18]

The ASEAN Summit took place 13 November in Singapore where leaders of member nations gathered to discuss important ways to develop the region. It was only inevitable then, that Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed and de facto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, would rub shoulders.

Things are frosty between them, with Mahathir censuring Suu Kyi and her government for trying to “defend the indefensible” in a short interview following a speech he gave at the summit, adding that “They are actually oppressing these people to the point of killing them, mass killing.” He’s not one to mince words and he’s certainly not holding back now.

It’s not the first time he’s criticised her for her inaction over the Rohingya crisis and has made it clear he will no longer support her leadership.


Aung San Suu Kyi has been stripped of Amnesty International’s highest honour in light of her “shameful betrayal of the values she once stood for,” the UK-based rights group announced Tuesday. Suu Kyi was serving time under house arrest when she was named Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience in 2009. She was awarded the honour in recognition of her peaceful and nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights.

Amnesty’s secretary general, Kumi Naidoo, wrote to Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s civilian leader, Sunday informing her of the decision to revoke the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award, which she received in 2009.

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Aung San Suu Kyi remains a figure of contention. Photo: Roslan Rahman/AFP

“Today, we are profoundly dismayed that you no longer represent a symbol of hope, courage, and the undying defense of human rights,” Naidoo wrote. “Amnesty International cannot justify your continued status as a recipient of the Ambassador of Conscience award and so with great sadness we are hereby withdrawing it from you.”

Amnesty criticised the Nobel laureate in a press release for failing to use her “political and moral authority” to safeguard human rights in the country, citing her “apparent indifference” to military atrocities in ethnic areas and “increasing intolerance of freedom of expression.”

READ: The Rohingyas Have a ‘Lost Generation’ of Orphans. How Did They End Up Like This?

It’s certainly not the first award she’s had stripped from her mantle in light of her response to the Rohingya crisis. So far, she’s had these honours revoked:

Elie Wiesel award
Freedom of Edinburgh award (her revocation was only the second in the award’s 200 year history)
Freedom of the City of Oxford
Freedom of the City of Newcastle
Freedom of the City of Dublin
Freedom of the City of Glasgow
UNISON honorary membership
London School of Economics Honorary Presidency
Canadian citizenship


Suu Kyi ‘actively shielded the military from scrutiny’
The announcement comes as officials in Myanmar and Bangladesh get ready to repatriate more than 2,000 Rohingya refugees who fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State last year.

The Myanmar military has been accused of using rape, murder and arson in a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing that drove more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh, where they languish in what has become the world’s largest refugee camp. The UN has called on the International Criminal Court to investigate Myanmar’s military leaders on charges of genocide.

READ: Myanmar in Denial Over Genocide Against the Rohingya

In the letter, Naidoo said Suu Kyi has “chosen to overlook and excuse the brutal oppression and crimes against humanity committed by the military” and adds that her administration “actively shielded the military from international scrutiny and accountability.” In September, Suu Kyi said that, with hindsight, her government could have better handled the situation in Rakhine state.

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A Rohingya refugee man plays with his daughter by the entrance of their tent at the Kutupalong camp in Ukhia near Cox’s Bazar. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP

Suu Kyi’s administration has repeatedly denied abuses occurred in Rakhine State, saying the military was responding to attacks from Rohingya militants. Government propaganda portrays the Rohingya as illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh and labels them “Bengali,” despite many Rohingya families living in Myanmar for generations.

Online hate speech, especially on Facebook, against religious and ethnic minorities has been used to fuel political division and bloodshed. “We have also been appalled to witness your administration spread hate narratives against minorities, fostering rather than challenging discrimination and hostility,” Naidoo said in the letter.

As well as abuses in Rakhine State, Amnesty pointed to the military’s operations in other areas of the country, including the northern Kachin and Shan states, where more than 100,000 people have been displaced in years of civil war.

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Detained Myanmar journalists Kyaw Soe Oo (C-front) and Wa Lone (C-back) are escorted by police after a court trial in August 2018. They’d been investigating the massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims after militants attacked police posts in August 2017, triggering a brutal response from police and troops. Photo: Ye Aung Thu/AFP

Activists and journalists imprisoned
Myanmar’s civilian government shares power with the military, which retains control of a quarter of the seats in parliament. But Amnesty criticised Suu Kyi for not using the power she does have in her official position as State Counselor to enact reforms that would benefit human rights. Since she took office in 2015, human rights activists and journalists have continued to be arrested and imprisoned for their work under repressive colonial-era laws, Amnesty said.

READ: Aung San Suu Kyi Claims Jailed Journalists were “Treated Fairly”

Earlier this year, two Reuters reporters were sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty of breaching the country’s Official Secrets Act. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been investigating military atrocities in Rakhine State, including the massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys.

“We are dismayed that your government has not only failed to repeal or amend repressive laws but has actively used them to curb freedom of expression, and arrest and imprison human rights defenders, journalists and other peaceful activists,” Naidoo said. She added that “We will continue to fight for justice and human rights in Myanmar – with or without her support.”

Source: Helen Regan/CNN International, The Guardian, AFP, The Star, Channel News Asia

READ: Did Aung San Suu Kyi Betray the Democracy She Promised?