The Irish musicians Bob Geldof and Bono, as well as the other members of rock band U2, have attacked Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, accusing her of complicity in the “ethnic cleansing” of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people in the country.
Geldof announced that he on Monday would hand back his Freedom of the City of Dublin because the award is also held by Suu Kyi.
In a strongly worded statement, the Live Aid founder dubbed the Burmese Nobel Peace laureate a “handmaiden to genocide” and said her association with the Irish capital “shames us all.”
Meanwhile, in a statement signed “Adam, Bono, Edge, Larry,” U2 said in a post on their website that Suu Kyi’s “silence” on the issue “is starting to look a lot like assent.”
Suu Kyi, Burma’s civilian leader who won the Nobel Prize in 1991 “for her nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights,” has been the subject of global outrage over her failure to speak out against the country’s violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority, which has seen hundreds of thousands killed or flee the country, and has been described by the UN as “textbook ethnic cleansing.”
In his statement, Geldof said he would hand the award back at City Hall because while he was a “proud Dubliner” he did not want the ceremonial title while Suu Kyi also held it.
He said: “Her association with our city shames us all and we should have no truck with it, even by default. We honored her, now she appalls and shames us. In short, I do not wish to be associated in any way with an individual currently engaged in the mass ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people of northwest Burma.
“I am a founding patron of the Aegis Trust, who are concerned with genocide prevention and studies. Its founders built and maintain the National Holocaust Museum of the U.K. I spoke at the inaugural National Holocaust Memorial Day at Westminster and in my time, I have walked amongst peoples who were sectionally targeted with ethnic cleansing.
“I would be a hypocrite now were I to share honors with one who has become at best an accomplice to murder, complicit in ethnic cleansing and a handmaiden to genocide.”
More than 600,000 members of the minority group are said to have fled northern Rakhine State into neighboring Bangladesh since August, leading to a major humanitarian crisis.
The Buddhist majority in Burma, also known as Myanmar, regard the Rohingya as foreign immigrants rather than Burmese.
Suu Kyi, who became one of the world’s most celebrated political prisoners after she spent 15 years under house arrest, has been silent on the issue although she has called for national unity, saying efforts were being made to stem the humanitarian crisis in the makeshift refugee camps strung along the border with Bangladesh.
However, many have argued that she is relatively powerless to control the actions of the security forces.
The statement by U2 drew attention to the fact that the crackdown is being masterminded by the military, and called for greater international awareness of the role played by Min Aung Hlaing, the commander in chief of Myanmar’s military, warning that condemning Suu Kyi while ignoring Min Aung Hlaing “is a mistake.”
“While this in no way excuses her silence, Aung San Suu Kyi has no control, constitutional or otherwise, over his actions, and it is he who has authorized and overseen the terrorization of the Rohingya people under the guise of protecting Myanmar from terrorism,” said U2.
However, they added: “Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence is starting to look a lot like assent. As Martin Luther King said: ‘The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.’ The time has long passed for her to stand up and speak out.”
For his part, Geldof said he would re-accept the award “the moment” Suu Kyi is stripped of it.