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Call to strip Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi of Ulster degree


Aung San Suu Kyi during a visit to Belfast in 2013

Aung San Suu Kyi during a visit to Belfast in 2013

Aung San Suu Kyi during a visit to Belfast in 2013

Ulster University has come under pressure to strip Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, of an honorary degree over the Rohingya crisis.

The university in 2009 awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree to the Nobel peace prize winner in recognition of her services to human rights.

But she is now facing international scrutiny for failing to condemn army violence in the northern state of Rakhine, which has seen 400,000 of the minority Rohingya Muslim population cross into Bangladesh.

The UN's human rights chief described the situation as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing", something Ms Suu Kyi has declined to challenge publicly.

Queen Mary University of London Professor Penny Green, the director of the International State Crime Initiative, of which Ulster University is a partner, said critics had a point.

"I think the criticism against her is more than justified," she added. "Everything she has done to date is a defence of Myanmar's persecution of the race."

She also insisted the "gushing praise" lavished upon Ms Suu Kyi by Ulster University after her release from 15 years of house arrest in 2010 was out of date.

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"She's clearly aligned herself with the military, and when they're criticised she's talked about fake news in 2016, when brutal village clearances of houses and killing of Rohingya was taking place," Professor Green said. "Taking away her UU degree plays a small part, but it's an important symbolic gesture."

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland director, also urged the university to call on Ms Suu Kyi to "live up to the ideals which that honour (the degree) celebrated".

"Our focus is and should remain on those who are bearing the brunt of this appalling situation - victims, their families and all those who for too long have had their rights denied," Mr Corrigan said.

Patrick Yu, from the Northern Ireland Council for Racial Equality, said the university should consider its position.

"It is very difficult for the university to make a decision because we don't have much information about what's going on in Myanmar," he added. "But I think Aung San Suu Kyi's not been convincing in her speech, and for me it's too little, too late."

Ms Suu Kyi said earlier this week that her government did not fear "international scrutiny" of its handling of the crisis.

In a speech to Myanmar's parliament, she told politicians she felt "deeply" for the suffering of all people in the conflict and insisted Myanmar was "committed to a sustainable solution… for all communities in this state".

Ms Suu Kyi, who has decided not to attend the UN General Assembly in New York this week, added she wanted to the international community to know what was being done by her government.

An UU representative said no decision had been made about revoking the degree. "Honorary graduates are representatives of the breadth of public life, politics and industry, external to the university," they added.

"As such, only they can respond to questions on the position or personal viewpoints they hold.

"The university does reserve the right to withdraw an honorary degree, however this would only happen after extensive consideration of the issues."

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