RANGOON — Burma’s opposition leader and 1991 Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has come under fire in recent months for her apparent reluctance to condemn attacks on Muslims carried out by rioting Buddhists in various towns across the country.
The latest mini-furor kicked off last week with the publication by the Nobel Women’s Initiative (NWI) of a letter, signed by 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners, which called for an “immediate end to the violence against Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Burma.”
Among the international who’s who of peace promoters who put their names to the exhortation were Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta, microfinance mogul Mohamed Yunus and Iranian political exile Shirin Ebadi.
Absent from the list, however, was Burma’s own democracy icon and Nobel winner Suu Kyi, an omission that was quickly picked up on by high-profile human rights advocates and Burma watchers.
“Aung San Suu Kyi can’t get herself to join 12 Nobel Peace Laureates’ call for end to #Burma violence against Muslims,” tweeted Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth.
Asked by The Irrawaddy if Suu Kyi had been asked to sign or if she had snubbed the NWI, it turns out that as an elected parliamentarian, Suu Kyi is not part of the NWI.
“As per the by-laws of the organization, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as a member of Parliament, is not a member of the Nobel Women’s Initiative,” said Rachel Vincent, the NWI media and communications director.
“As you will see from the list of signatories, we do sometimes go beyond the women laureates to extend an invitation to male laureates to sign on to statements. You will also note that none of these male laureates are sitting politicians, though some, like Oscar Arias, were in the past,” Vincent added.
Suu Kyi has previously said that she does not know if all the Rohingya, an oppressed Muslim minority living mostly in Burma’s west, are entitled to Burmese citizenship, sparking anger and disappointment among her erstwhile supporters outside of Burma.
In recent weeks, however, the opposition leader has been somewhat more forthright, criticizing a proposal to limit Rohingya women to two children as discriminatory, while opposing another suggestion, made by Buddhist monks, that Buddhist Burmese women should face restrictions in marrying Muslim men.
The NWI has in the past supported Suu Kyi and other politically active Burmese women. In 2010, the NWI helped kick-start the now-moribund campaign to look at the possibility of setting up a war crimes or crimes against humanity tribunal on Burma, arguing that long-standing and widely documented cases of sexual violence carried out by Burmese soldiers against ethnic minority women warranted further investigation.