One of Britain’s largest trade unions has suspended an award given to Aung San Suu Kyi during her time as a political prisoner, as international criticism mounts over her tepid response to Myanmar’s humanitarian crisis.
The move comes as a number of British institutions say they are reviewing or removing honours bestowed on Aung San Suu Kyi during her campaign for democracy under Myanmar’s oppressive military junta.
Unison, the country’s second largest trade union, announced that it is to suspend Suu Kyi’s honorary membership, and urged Myanmar’s de facto leader to do more to denounce the plight of the country’s Rohingya people.
“The situation facing the Rohingya of Myanmar is appalling,” Margaret McKee, Unison’s president, told the Guardian. “Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary membership of Unison has been suspended, and we hope that she responds to international pressure.”
Bristol University, one of a string of universities that awarded honorary degrees to the Burmese leader during her time in opposition, also said it was reviewing its award in light of accusations of brutal mistreatment of the Rohingya, described by the UN as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
“The university shares the growing concern with the ongoing situation in Myanmar,” a spokesperson for Bristol university said.
“In 1998 we awarded an honorary degree of doctor of laws to Dr Aung San Suu Kyi, who at the time was leading the struggle for human rights and democracy in the then Burma.
“In terms of this award it would be wrong to make any decision at this time to consider revoking such an honour but we will continue to monitor and review the situation as necessary.”
The London School of Economics student union said it would be stripping the former political prisoner of her honorary presidency.
“We will be actively removing Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary presidency as a symbol of our opposition to her current position and inaction in the face of genocide,” said Mahatir Pasha, the union’s general secretary.
Over the last 30 years Aung San Suu Kyi has been awarded with honorary degrees from several UK universities including Glasgow, Bath and Cambridge, as well as the freedom of several cities, and other honours.
Oxford councillors have announced that they may reconsider the freedom of the city of Oxford awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi in 1997 at next month’s council meeting.
“If nothing changes, I think it is very likely that the city council will be stripping her of the freedom of the city,” John Tanner, an Oxford council board member, told the Oxford Mail.
“It’s something that we very much regret but clearly the reasons for giving her support have now changed.”
Aung San Suu Kyi has close links with the city of Oxford, having studied at St Hugh’s College there as an undergraduate in the 1960s. Her late husband, Michael Aris, was an academic at the university.
Oxford awarded an honorary doctorate to Aung San Suu Kyi in 1993 but she was unable to collect it until 2012.
As a leader of Myanmar’s opposition Aung San Suu Kyi won international praise and a Nobel peace prize in 1991. Despite being barred from running for president, she won a decisive victory in the country’s 2015 election, and was eventually given a title of state counsellor.
Aung San Suu Kyi: damned by her silence
But in recent months she has been the object of criticism for her failure to stem the attacks against the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority living along the border with Bangladesh.
Among the critics has been Malala Yousafzai, herself a Nobel peace prize laureate, who earlier this month called on Aung San Suu Kyi to condemn the “tragic and shameful” treatment of the Rohingya after violence that left hundreds dead.
The prime minister, Theresa May, has been under pressure to act after Myanmar’s military forces were accused of driving hundreds of thousands of Rohingya out of the country.
“We are very concerned about what’s happening to the Rohingya people,” May said, calling on Aung San Suu Kyi “to make it very clear that the military action should stop”.
On Tuesday May announced that the UK would be suspending the training of the Burmese military by the Ministry of Defence “until this issue is resolved”.
But in a speech this week Aung San Suu Kyi failed to roundly condemn the military forces, and instead claimed that there had been “no conflicts since 5 September and no clearance operations” against the country’s Muslim minority.
Amnesty International called the speech a “mix of untruths and victim-blaming”.