Take away Aung San Suu Kyis Nobel peace prize. She no longer deserves it | George Monbiot

Once she was an inspiration. Now, silent on the plight of the Rohingya, she is complicit in crimes against humanity, writes the Guardian columnist George Monbiot

Few of us expect much from political leaders: to do otherwise is to invite despair. But to Aung San Suu Kyi we entrusted our hopes. To mention her name was to invoke patience and resilience in the face of suffering, heroism and determination in the unyielding struggle for freedom. She was an inspiration to us all.

Friends of mine dedicated their working lives to the campaign for her release from the many years of detention imposed by the military totalitarianism of Myanmar, and for the restoration of republic. We celebrated when she was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1991; when she was finally released from house arrest in 2010; and when she won the general election in 2015.

None of this is forgotten. Nor are the many brutalities she suffered, including isolation, physical assaults and the junta’s curtailment of her family life. But it is hard to think of any recent political leader by whom such high hopes have been so cruelly betrayed.

By any standards, the treatment of the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, is repugnant. By the standards Aung San Suu Kyi came to symbolise, it is grotesque. They have been described by the UN as ” the world’s most persecuted minority “~ ATAGEND, a status that has not changed since she took office.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide describes five acts, any one of which, when” committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, their own nationals, ethnical, racial or religion group”, amounts to genocide. With the obvious and often explicit purpose of destroying this group, four of them have been practised more or less endlessly by Myanmar’s armed forces since Mrs aung san suu kyi became de facto political leader.

I recognise that the armed forces retain great power in Myanmar, and that Mrs aung san suu kyi does not exercise effective control over them. I recognise that the scope of her actions is limited. But, as well as a number of practical and legal measures that she could use directly to restrain these atrocities, she possesses one power in abundance: the power to speak out. Rather than deploying it, her answer amounts to a mixture of stillnes, the denial of well-documented proof, and the obstruction of humanitarian aid.

I doubt she has read the UN human rights report on the therapy of the Rohingyas, released in February. The crimes it revealed were horrific.

It documents the mass rape of women and girls, some of whom succumbed as a result of the sex traumata they suffered. It shows how children and adults had their throats slit in front of their families.

It reports the summary executions of teachers, elders and community leaders; helicopter gunships randomly spraying villages with gunfire; people shut in their homes and burnt alive; a woman in labour beat by soldiers, her baby stamped to demise as it was born.

It details the deliberate destruction of crops and the burning of villages to drive entire populations out of their homes; people trying to flee gunned down in their boats.

Rohingya
Rohingya refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine state arrive in Bangladesh: 120,000 people have been forced to flee in the past fortnight. Photo: KM Asad/ AFP/ Getty Images

And this is just one report. Amnesty International published a similar dossier last year. There is a mountain of proof suggesting that these actions are an attempt to eliminate this ethnic group from Myanmar.

Hard as it is to imagine, this campaign of terror has escalated in recent days. Refugees arriving in Bangladesh report widespread massacres. Malnutrition ravages the Rohingya, afflicting 80,000 children.

In reply Mrs aung san suu kyi has blamed these atrocities, in a chillingly remote interview, on rebels, and expressed astonishment that anyone would wish to fight the army when the government has done so much for them. Perhaps this astonishment comes easily to someone who has never visited northern Rakhine country, where most of this is happening.

It is obvious that some Rohingya people have taken up arms, and that the latest massacres were triggered by the killing of 12 members of the security forces last month, attributed to a group that calls itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. But the military answer has been to assault entire populations, regardless of any possible participation in the rebellion, and to spread such terror that 120, 000 people have been forced to flee in the past fortnight.

In her Nobel lecturing, Mrs aung san suu kyi remarked:” Wherever suffering is ignored, there will be the seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades and embitters and enrages .” The rage of those Rohingya people who have taken up limbs has been used as an excuse to accelerate an existing programme of ethnic cleansing.

She has not only denied the cruelties, attempting to shield the armed forces from criticism; she has also denied the very identity of the person or persons being attacked, asking the US ambassador not to use the term Rohingya. This is in line with the government’s policy of disavowing their existence as an ethnic group, and classifying them- though they have lived in Myanmar for centuries- as interlopers. She has upheld the 1982 Citizenship Law, which denies these people their rights.

When a Rohingya woman provided detailed accusations about her gang rape and associated injuries by Myanmar soldiers, Aung San Suu Kyi’s office posted a banner on its Facebook page reading” Fake Rape “~ ATAGEND. Given her reputation for micromanagement, it seems unlikely that such action would have been taken without her approval.

Not only has she snubbed and obstructed UN officials who have sought to investigate the treatment of the Rohingya, but her the administration has prevented aid agencies from distributing food, water and medicines to people displaced or isolate by the violence. Her office has accused assist employees of helping “terrorists” ~ ATAGEND, putting them at risk of assault, further impeding their attempts to help people who face starvation.

So far Mrs aung san suu kyi has been insulated by the apologetics of the individuals who refuse to believe she could so radically abandon the principles to which she once appealed. A listing of excuses is proffered: that she didn’t want to jeopardise her future of election; that she doesn’t want to offer the armed forces a pretext to stiffen their grip on power; that she has to keep China happy.

None of them stand up . As a great democracy campaigner once remarked:” It is not power that corrupteds, but dread. Anxiety of losing power corrupts those who wield it .” Who was this person? Aung San Suu Kyi. But now, whether out of racism or out of dread, she denies to others the freedoms she rightly claimed for herself. Her regime omits- and in some cases seeks to stillnes- the very activists who helped to ensure her own rights were recognised.

This week, to my own astonishment, I find myself signing a petition for the revocation of her Nobel peace prize. I believe the Nobel committee should retain responsibility for the prizes it awards, and withdraw them if its laureates afterwards violate the principles for which they were recognised. There are two cases in which this appears to be appropriate. One is Barack Obama, who, bafflingly, was given the prize before he was tested under office. His programme of droning strikes, which slaughtered large numbers of civilians, should disqualify him from this accolade. The other is Aung San Suu Kyi.

Please sign this petition. Why? Because we are today contemplate an extraordinary situation: a Nobel peace laureate complicit in criminal offences against humanity.

* George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

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