Aung San Suu Kyi to be stripped of Freedom of the City of Oxford

Jamie Grierson
Aung San Suu Kyi on her way to receive her honorary degree from Oxford University in 2012. She was an undergraduate at St Hugh’s college, and was given the freedom of the city in 1997. Photograph: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

Aung San Suu Kyi is to be stripped of the Freedom of the City of Oxford, where she studied as an undergraduate, over her response to the Rohingya crisis.

Oxford city council voted unanimously to support a cross-party motion that said it was “no longer appropriate” to celebrate the de facto leader of Myanmar. The council is to hold a special meeting to confirm the honour’s removal on 27 November.

The council leader, Bob Price, supported the motion, reportedly calling it an “unprecedented step” for the local authority, according to the BBC.

In recent months, Aung San Suu Kyi has drawn increasing criticism for her apparent defence of Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya minority, described by the UN as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.


The Rohingya are Muslims who live in majority-Buddhist Myanmar. They are often described as "the world's most persecuted minority". 

Nearly all of Myanmar's 1.1 million Rohingya live in the western coastal state of Rakhine. The government does not recognise them as citizens, effectively rendering them stateless.

In 2012, deadly clashes with Buddhists in Rakhine caused 140,000 Rohingya to flee their homes. Many have since paid people smugglers to take them on dangerous sea voyages to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, where they are often exploited.

Extremist nationalist movements insist the group are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although the Rohingya say they are native to Rakhine state.

Rights groups accuse Myanmar authorities of ethnic cleansing, systematically forcing Rohingya from the country through violence and persecution, a charge the government has denied.




Oxford council bestowed the freedom of the city on her in 1997, when she was being held as a political prisoner by Myanmar’s military junta.

The decision to remove the award comes after the Oxford college where Aung San Suu Kyi studied recently removed her portrait from public display.

The governing body of St Hugh’s college decided to remove the painting of the Nobel laureate from its main entrance.

A number of British institutions say they are reviewing or removing honours bestowed on Aung San Suu Kyi during her campaign for democracy.

Unison, the UK’s second largest trade union, announced last month that it would suspend Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary membership and urged her to do more to denounce the plight of the Rohingya people.

Bristol University, one of a string of universities that awarded honorary degrees to the Burmese leader during her time in opposition, also said it was reviewing its award in light of accusations of brutal mistreatment of the Rohingya.

The London School of Economics student union said it would be stripping Aung San Suu Kyi of her honorary presidency.

As a leader of Myanmar’s opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi won international praise and a Nobel peace prize in 1991. Despite being barred from running for president, she won a decisive victory in the country’s 2015 election, and was eventually given the title of state counsellor.

Meanwhile, a major fundraising appeal has been launched to help the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing violence in Burma.

The 13 member charities who make up the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) took action to step up their humanitarian relief as more than half a million people sought medical care, food and sanctuary.

The majority have been Muslim Rohingya people, who have fled to Bangladesh amid atrocities and fatalities in Rakhine state, on Mayanmar’s western coast, following clashes between insurgents and security forces in recent weeks.

The UK government has pledged to match the first £3m donated by the public to the DEC emergency appeal.

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