Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be awarded Washington’s highest honour next week amid criticism she has failed to speak up for almost one million persecuted Rohingya Muslims living in her country.
Suu Kyi, will receive the Congressional Gold Medal for enduring more than 20 years of personal denigration and 15 years of house arrest as she became the voice of Burma’s downtrodden.
Human rights groups and some academics have expressed disappointment in Suu Kyi who took a seat in Burma’s military-dominated Parliament in July and has dodged questions on the plight of the Rohingya, stateless people who are widely reviled by Burma’s Buddhist majority.
One academic has even suggested she return her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.
Ms Suu Kyi is likely to be questioned on her views about the Rohingya plight during her first trip to the US since she was put under house arrest by Burma’s generals in 1990.
But diplomats say she would face a backlash from Burmese Buddhists, including many of her own supporters, if she was to express support for the Rohingya.
Monks who had been long-time pro-democracy advocates took to the streets of Burma’s second largest city Mandalay for three days last week to demand the Rohingya be deported.
Since bloody clashes erupted between Rohingya and Arakan Buddhists in Burma’s western Arakan state in June – leaving an estimated 100,000 people displaced and at least 78 dead – Ms Suu Kyi has given only scripted answers about the bloodshed to journalists, referring to the need for a “rule of law”.
She has declined to say whether the Rohingya, who under a 1982 law are treated as non-citizens, should be granted citizenship.
The Rohingya, who speak a Bengali dialect and tend to have darker complexions than Burmese, are classified as immigrants from Bangladesh despite having lived in Burma for centuries.