An online petition is calling for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to revoke the Myanmar leader’s honorary Canadian citizenship. It says Aung San Suu Kyi no longer deserves the recognition she once received while standing up for freedom and democracy.
The petition, launched Tuesday by Fareed Khan, is in response to the leader’s silence amid the ongoing persecution of Rohingya Muslims in the country.
“Someone like that cannot hold the honour of an honorary Canadian citizenship,” the Gatineau, Que.-based advocate told Global News.
“It diminishes other people who have received the honour.”
The Myanmar leader — who is also a Nobel Peace Prize winner — was awarded honorary citizenship in 2007 by the former Harper government.
“Her long struggle to bring freedom and democracy to the people of Burma has made her the embodiment of these ideals (of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law) and an inspiration to all of us,” read part of the throne speech made to Parliament at the time.
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But the petition says much has changed since then.
“What is happening under Aung San Suu Kyi’s watch in Myanmar right now is about as far as you could get from the ‘ideals of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law’ that were the basis of her receiving her honorary Canadian citizenship,” the petition reads.
There are about 1.1 million Rohingya in Myanmar, who largely live in Rakine state. The group has been denied citizenship in the country, which is mainly Buddhist, and have been subjected to the status of illegal immigrants with restrictions on basic services such as medical care and education.
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In a February 2017 report, the United Nation’s human rights arm reported “widespread human rights violations against the Rohingya population.”
The UN report outlined witness testimonies of killings, mysterious disappearances, rapes, beatings, and burning of property.
The tensions have been boiling for years and reached a new high in August when Rohingya insurgents attacked police outposts in Gawdu Zara and several other villages.
The Myanmar military has said nearly 400 people, mostly Rohingya, died in clashes and that troops were conducting “clearance operations.” It blames insurgents for setting the villages on fire but hasn’t offered proof.
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According to the UN, an estimated 123,000 Rohingyas have sought refuge in Bangladesh since last month. Reuters reported Thursday that number is expected to increase to 300,000.
Suu Kyi has been repeatedly criticized for her inaction amid growing unrest in her country, while several other prominent figures such as the Dalai Lama and Malala Yousafzai have spoken out.
“She has been asked to condemn, she has been asked to take action. But she has remained silent,” Khan explained.
Toronto-based human rights lawyer Mohamed El Rashidy says revoking an honorary Canadian citizenship would be “uncharted territory” — but it all comes down to Trudeau.
“It would require the prime minister to take steps to strip it. There’s no specific procedure, it just requires political will.”
The decision to revoke the citizenship may not end the violence, but it would send an important message, El Rashidy noted.
“This is an important moment for the Trudeau government to take leadership on the international stage on an easy, black and white issue,” he said.
“He’s not going to lose anything. It doesn’t affect your popularity to take a stand against ethnic cleansing in a faraway land.”
While the final call would be Trudeau’s hands, the petition has not yet been presented to the prime minister. It currently sits at 6,633 signatures, but Khan is hoping it reaches at least 10,000.
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When asked about the petition, Global Affairs Canada referred Global News to a statement made on Myanmar earlier this week.
“Canada is deeply concerned by today’s UNHCR report that over 123,000 refugees have fled Myanmar into Bangladesh since the beginning of violence last month,” the statement reads. “We call on the security forces to ensure the safety and protection of all civilians.”
During a press conference Thursday, Trudeau reiterated the government’s concern, skirting questions on whether the citizenship should be revoked.
“When Aung San Suu Kyi was in Ottawa, I expressed our deep concern for the situation the Rohingya were in then, and we continue to put pressure on the Myanmar government and all authorities to take concrete action to deescalate this terrible conflict.”
Foreign affairs secretary Omar Alghabra was more forthcoming in his criticism during an interview with The Global and Mail this week. The Mississauga MP pointed to the Myanmar government as partly to blame for the prolonged unrest.
“The violence is still ongoing so obviously there’s a failure on part of the military, on part of the government,” he said.
— With files from Reuters, The Associated Press